Albums of 2007: numbers 10-1

Monday, 17 December 2007, 14:02 | Category : Uncategorized
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…and to the top 10. Again, alterations made up to the last minute, but I think I’ve got something I’m happy with. The top two were never in doubt for me – clearly ahead of the rest by some way, so the thing was working out which one came out first. It’s done. Here ye go…

10. St Vincent – Marry Me

Annie Clark’s debut album sounds like a labour of love from a woman who’s spent a long time listening to rich sources of influences, resulting in a diverse and wonderful album. There’s skewed guitar riffs interspersed throughout to scare off the Corrine Bailey Rae crowd, do-wop, brooding instrumental storms which smoothe out into something rich and silky, the simple beauty of title track with its strings and restrained soul horns, lush cabaret-pop, light jazzy touches, folksy harp and even a dash of the Nashville Sound. It’s a brilliant record and easily one of the strongest debuts of the year. Maybe even good enough for a few smitten fans to want to take Annie up on the proposition in her album title.

Read more of my review here.

Download: St Vincent – All My Stars Aligned

9. Beirut – The Flying Cup Club

Zach Condon is a talented chap, but how would he follow up The Gulag Orkestar only a year on? It turns out he’s stuck pretty much to the same formula but this is no bad thing. The official word is that The Flying Club Cup is much more Gallic in flavour, inspired by Zach’s sojourns in France, but I can’t really tell. Maybe I’m not acquainted with the intricacies of European folk music, but aside from the Francophone song titles, I’m not feeling the streets and lanes of Paris. But who cares? The music, although being the direct successor of Gulag, is wonderfully charming, romantic and evocative. It’s perhaps less fresh and interesting that its predecessor a year ago, but now we’re more acquainted with Condon’s music, it gives us more space to enjoy its depths.

Download: Beirut – Cherbourg

8. Bodies of Water – Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink

I only heard Bodies of Water few weeks back, so it’s a bit of a late entry into this chart, but they’ve been a bit of a revelation. I’m still a little suspicious because often albums this instantly appealing lose some of their initial sheen over time. But I’m beginning to lose count of the plays I’ve given this debut album already and there’s no sign of fatigue on my part yet. They come on like a cross between Danielson and Tilly and the Wall, having a bit of the former’s eccentricity and intensity but with the latter’s more straightforward pop sensibilities. There’s just something about their all-sing-at-once style, where even the verses seem like choruses that I’m finding impossible to resist. It’s the sort of album that turns a weary winter trudge to work into a playful spring-in-the-step stroll through the rain-splattered streets. Somehow after this anything seems possible. I keep hoping it won’t wear off. It hasn’t yet.

Read more of my review here.

Download: Bodies of Water - Doves Circled the Sky

7. Akron/Family – Love is Simple

Here’s another band I’ve only fairly recently become acquainted with. Although I had always associated Akron/Family with the outer reaches of American ‘freak folk’ (whatever that means), there’s nothing particularly weird or abstract here. Unless you count wild eclecticism as weird, that is. It’s almost exhausting just taking in all the styles and influences that the New York-based band have compressed into the 57 minutes of this album. There’s acoustic folk-pop, 70s rock riffs, four-part harmonising, chanting, tribal grooves, electronic effects and a big down-home singalong. And that’s just the first three tracks! There’s just so much in here, along with a healthy dose of the expected experimentation, that it seems to me that it must be impossible for anyone not to enjoy this aural feast.

Read more of my review here.

Download: Akron/Family – Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead

6. The Young Republic – 12 Songs From Winter City

12 Tales from Winter City isn’t a new album as such. It’s more of a collection of tracks from self-released albums and EPs that this Boston band has previously put out in America, so it’s essentially a new album in the UK. Although the band aren’t keen on the Belle and Sebastian comparisons, they’re going to continue to be made, especially since the Glasgow group are the best-known purveyors of this kind of high quality indie-pop. The main difference is that The Young Republic are more obviously American, with more than a little country influence. They’ve also clearly got a big love for The Beatles and no doubt that’s where the strong pop sensibility comes from. In other places where the strings really get going there’s even a reminiscence of Arcade Fire. Plenty to enjoy all round then.

Read more of my review here.

Download: The Young Republic – Goodbye Town

5. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

The first three months of this year seemed to belong to Win Butler and co, what with their now-legendary St John’s and Porchester Hall gigs, the much-anticipated release of their second album proper (which introduced me, and no doubt many others, to the word ‘lenticular’) and their triumphant return to play much bigger shows in March. They covered acres of press, and I listened to and loved the album loads, then I sort of left it for most of the rest of the year. I certainly wasn’t interested in the vast enormodome gigs last month. Earlier drafts of my top 20 featured Neon Bible much further down, but a couple of recent listens just served to confirm what a great record it is, and what a great band Arcade Fire are. They’re pretty unique (maybe along with only The White Stripes) as an arena-filling band who continue to make interesting and essential music.

Download: Arcade Fire – My Body is a Cage

4. The National – Boxer

It took me a while to warm to the National’s previous album Alligator and it was seeing them live that made all the difference for me. Two years on and the follow-up Boxer didn’t take me nearly so long, probably because there’s an immediacy it, as well as a warmth and general memorableness which makes it feel like an old friend before it really should. These qualities also mean that it’s got a lasting and immensely pleasurable aftertaste that lingers well after the final notes of Gospel have faded. Whilst this is an album that I’ve loved a lot through 2007, it’s not one that I’ve found easy to describe. There’s nothing fancy, not much in the way of innovations, or even an intriguing back story – it’s just good old fashioned straightforward decent songwriting, by a band who seem to have a real sense of integrity. And though that may sound like damning by faint praise, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Download: The National – Guest Room

3. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

Here’s another band that went more ‘pop’ this year. This might have been a move that didn’t go down so well with their hardcore fans, but won plenty plaudits round my way. However, like Deerhoof before, going pop in the Animal Collective world is still many light years from FM radio-world. The critics might have raved about AC member Panda Bear’s solo effort, to the extent of pushing his band’s recording out of the limelight. But Although Person Pitch was an album to admire, it was Strawberry Jam that really made me happy. It’s just such a euphoric album – right from the squelchy, bouncy start of Peacebone through to the burblings and harmonies of Derek, it’s such an unmitigated pleasure that I’ve hardly stopped playing it since it came out.

Download: Animal Collective - Fireworks

2. Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls

The end of the year brought the news that Electrelane were going on ‘indefinite hiatus’. I’m not totally sure what that means (and they might not either) but one thing that’s fairly sure is that there will be no more gigs and no new recordings for the foreseeable future. What a shame. But at least we’ve got No Shouts, No Calls, the fourth and possibly final album which really is the pinnacle of their achievements so far. As before, Electrelane are equally at home on instrumentals as they are with vocals. They’re also pretty hot at these wordless vocal ah-ah type tunes too. The harmonies are right on the button, the lyrics are interesting and emotive and there’s some of the best use of keyboards /piano/ organ that I’ve heard on a recent rock record. A couple of days ago, I was asked to describe this album for a Blog Fresh Radio end-of-year thing, and I hurriedly and rather ineloquently said something like “It’s just a really good record with really great songs”. That’s not the sort of sentence that’s going to win any writing awards, but it does go some way to describe what really is a wonderful album.

Download: Electrelane – At Sea

1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

This album is topping charts all over the internet right now, so maybe no surprises about its position here. But it really is my album of the year. In the end, I couldn’t have it any other way. Between this amazing record, the proper release of the majestic 45:33 and his superb Fabric Live mix CD (with Pat Mahoney) James Murphy totally owned 2007. Honestly, this scruffy, slightly podgy bloke heading towards middle age is so far ahead of the young skinny good-looking guys with post-punk guitars that it’s not even fair to talk about competition. In an age of individual tracks and shuffling, here’s an album that totally makes sense as an organic whole – from beginning to end in the right order. In one piece. With only nine tracks, Murphy can’t be accused of cramming too much in. Well, he can, but the cramming in is all about putting the effort into the quality of the tracks. If more bands had this level of quality control, the world would be a far better place.

Download: LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous!

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