Luke McNaney's Best of 2007: Part One
At the end of every year, there will always be at least a gazillion music critics who will sigh deeply and tell you that there was a lack of great albums over the last twelve months. Well, they're lying. There's always tonnes of great stuff and 2007 has been no exception. Shoe-gazing indie was made cool all over again with the return of The Shins, while newcomers Fields challenged the revitalised lineup of Modest Mouse on the dynamic rock football field. As ever with me, a number of female singer/songwriters shaped a lot of my listening time this year, with no fewer than five solo laydeez occuping spots in my countdown. Feist may have not made the cut but, along with Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and ex-Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy, she added a certain feminine magic to this year's output. Then there are the category-defining newbies; from Pop Levi's glam show-off pop to New Young Pony Club's achingly cool electro, there was something for everyone (even those grumbling, half-empty type musos) this year. And this is where I list the best of the bunch. Hold on to your armrest, things might get a bit messy from here...
Dance music snobs may right now be shaking their heads and tutting at me for not opting to pick a more underground dance act over SMD. The simple fact is that production duo James Ford and James Shaw have delivered an album full to the brim with great singles like It’s the Beat and Tits and Acid. It doesn't hurt that this album made me want to take shitloads of drugs, rave like an idiot, and fornicate with whoever was on the dancefloor - and all at the same time. Not that I did. Erm, next...
Best track – Hustler
Narrowly beating the Kissaway Trail as 2007’s choice act from the impressive Bella Union label, this Baltimore duo’s debut record was the soundtrack to autumn. While that doesn’t sound too exciting, these slow-burning soundscapes were lush and ghostly, marking out Victoria Legrand as a vocalist to watch. Album number two is out next spring, begging the question: an album for every season?
Best track – Apple Orchard
Following in our Lily’s footsteps, Mockney Kate was this year’s big pop hit. Regina Spektor for the masses, Nash was (and still is) a love/hate prospect. I, for one, found her oddball tales and soundbite lyrics ultimately engaging. Charmed.
Best track – Foundations
While Kings of Leon’s Because of the Times may be widely remembered as the best third album of 2007, I shall instead choose to celebrate the return of the wonderfully moody Interpol. Derided by some for wearing their Joy Division influence all too clearly on their black sleeve, these New Yorkers should instead be congratulated for making Editors sound utterly redundant. Not straying too far from the sound of their two previous albums, the songs here are bleak and gutsy emo for people who don’t like emo, the likes of Mammoth and No I in Threesome bringing some much-needed despair to this year's indie disco.
Best track – Mammoth
No doubt helped by the publicity surrounding Led Zep's reunion show, this collaboration was a surprising commercial success. Thank God it didn't get away! The 'you wouldn't think it' pairing of Plant and sometime Union Station singer Krauss was an unexpected treat, their voices entwining to create a lush album that wasn't rushing to get anywhere fast.
Best track – Gone Gone Gone
Receiving its UK release in February of this year, the debut from Cold War Kids astonished with its perplexing blend of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll. Think a grown-up, whiskey-downing Maroon 5 but not, well, shit. The band did well to keep the piano as integral as the guitars, although perhaps the most impressive aspect was lead singer Nathan Willett sounding like Jack White's pissed off brother - now that's pissed off. Acting as a cautionary tale to alcoholics everywhere, We Used to Vacation is the sonic equivalent of a perturbed rattlesnake. The cathartic Hospital Beds, on the other hand, manages the feat of being both distressing and uplifting at the same time. Hang Me Up to Dry? Single of the year, for sure.
Best track – Hang Me Up to Dry
Devoting herself to motherhood after the cocksure ambition of 2004's Medula, Björk finally returned this year as an alien freedom fighter on the superb tribal space-funk of Earth Intruders. However, as Volta proved with its wild eclecticism, she was a shapeshifting alien freedom fighter. In some ways, it is a return to the poppier sound of her earlier records; it's clear she's enjoying letting go on the Timbaland-assisted Innocence, while the fabulous Wanderlust sounds like a tougher upgrade of Hyperballad - with horns! Alas, horns are all over this record, one of the qualities that distinguishes this album from her previous work. Another is a pair of duets with Antony Hegarty, the poetic The Dull Flame of Desire especially helping me to appreciate a voice I have never really taken to. It is with the pounding techno-punk of Declare Independence that Björk really outdoes herself this time, and proves that there's more creative fire in her than the majority of her younger rivals.
Best track – Declare Independence
Continuing on their quest to prove that sweeping romance still does exist, Stars returned this year with a sort-of concept album centred around a fictional war. The conceit allows them to be at their heartbreaking best with ghosts of ex-soldiers, love amongst rioters and tales of heartbreak around every corner. The awful denouement of modern love story Personal will make your heart ache but most of the songs here will make you believe it's just a matter of time before you find your soulmate. Literate lyrics and never-boring instrumentation are the best of bonuses, proving that 2005's brilliant Set Yourself on Fire was no fluke.
Best track - The Night Starts Here
Maudlin, morose, morbid – surely, all these words convey the same thing. Well, one listen to Harvey’s White Chalk will have you searching for some more depressing ‘m’ words to describe this collection of eleven piano-led songs. Perhaps sensing upon her return that the market is overcrowded with guitar-toting rock chicks, Harvey has swapped her bluesy attitude for black, black, black. These gothic tales of death and loss, sung in Polly’s wrenching falsetto, managed to achieve what so few songs have this year: they creeped me the fuck out.
Best track – Grow, Grow, Grow
I might face lynching from 'Head fans now for daring to place them outside my top ten, when we all know this band are Britain's biggest and best. Why no number one then? Well, duh, I enjoyed the albums in the upcoming top ten more so than I did In Rainbows. Aside from that, with the physical release approaching in January, it still doesn't feel like a 'proper' album to me. Yeah, I know, downloading is the way forward and we're all going to have to get used to it, blah blah blah. While I admire them for their brave move (although the Crimea were way ahead of the game by giving their album away for free without any of the same publicity), the whole 'pay what you want' hook almost took the focus away from the music. It doesn't match the benchmark of OK Computer - what could, really? - but In Rainbows is nevertheless an impressive and cohesive work. The opening 15 Step plants us firmly in Radiohead territory but a succession of stunning ballads (Nude, All I Need, Reckoner) never rely on old tricks, Yorke's voice sounding as pure as ever and featuring, surprisingly, lyrics that veer away from the oblique and political, bringing us back to the personal and some of their best songs in a long while.
Best track - Reckoner
Phew. That's ten out of the way. If you're not too infuriated by my choices then please do return to CD Times land tomorrow evening, when my top ten shall be live and possibly provoking cursing from you, my dear readers. Until then!