Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top 20 Of 2007: 10 - 6

10. The National - Boxer
Of all the deep-voiced, melancholy singers to gain fame in the last few years (Interpol’s Paul Banks, Editors’ Tom Smith, etc.), Matt Berninger is definitely the creepiest. While Banks and Smith just seem to sing about how depressed they are, and maybe occasionally about killing someone, Berninger sings about sneaking into people’s apartments and wearing their clothes. For reals. That creepiness lends Boxer its edge, and The National’s songs are simply awesome, creeping along like black ooze into your ears. There are moments of true beauty (“Start a War,” “Green Gloves”) as well as full-on sinister moments and even a rocker or two. It’s a magnificent, dark album worth your time.

9. Marnie Stern - In Advance of the Broken Arm
Let me say right off the bat that Marnie Stern is really, really, really hard to listen to. Every time I’ve played her for someone, their lip kind of turns up and they look at me like I just gave them audio herpes. For the more adventurous, however, this is a fantastic album, right up there with Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. She shreds up one side of this record and down the other, and her unique finger-tapping style is more percussive than melodic. The songs are not devoid of melody, however, and some of them, like the opener “Vibrational Match,” are just a stone’s throw away from someone like Bjork. And no other artist this year can match the energy of this record. It explodes.

8. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
My God, they just keep getting better and better. My cousin Johnnie introduced me to the Avett Brothers a few years ago with their excellent live album. They were fantastic because they were raw, but that rawness also held them back from being among the elite in the alt-country community. That problem has as much to do with the community as it does with the Avetts; much as I love Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, they cater to an audience that isn’t really into wild and crazy. And the Avetts are like Old Crow Medicine Show on speed, so it's been hard for them to break through. With Emotionalism, however, they step up their game without diluting it. They still sound just as energetic and crazy as they always have, but they’ve controlled that chaos with an incredible mastery of songcraft. These are fantastic country songs, full of longing and joy, and the band roars through them properly. Songs like “The Weight of Lies” show that they know how to slow it down properly as well. Whereas before they could barely contain themselves during their ballads, they now patiently wait until they can kick our asses once again on songs like "Paranoia in B Major" and "Will You Return." This album proves that The Avett Brothers belong among the elite of alt-country royalty.

7. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger and Follow the Lights
I’ve written many times on this blog about Ryan Adams. I think that my journey through his music has been one of the most personal relationships I’ve had with anyone’s music in my life. I wrote about Easy Tiger here, and I don’t have much else to say about that album. It’s awesome. Follow the Lights, an EP that he released a few months after Easy Tiger, really brings to life the different phase of his development that he is in right now. It does so most saliently on his remake of his own song “This Is It” from his misguided album Rock N Roll. The thing is, he doesn’t really change the song that much. He just slows the tempo, gets rid of the rock star posturing, and shows us how great the song actually is. The rest of the EP is just as good, from the lilting title track to the fantastic “My Love for You is Real,” previously available only as a live track. Once again, he’s stepped his game up and shown us that there’s plenty more where that came from. And, more importantly, he finally sounds like he’s at peace with his own talent.

6. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
Everything All The Time really blew me away when I first heard it, for reasons that aren’t exactly objective. (Shocking, I know.) It came out right around the time that My Morning Jacket put out Z, which in my opinion was a turd of a record. Everything All The Time sounded like what I wanted MMJ to be doing: no-nonsense, kick-ass country-rock. I wish Jim James & Co. well in their new life as a jam band, but for my money I’ll stick with the new guys. And what a record this one is. “Is There a Ghost” is one of my favorite tracks of the year, a soaring anthem that sounds vaguely paranoid and also confrontational. From there the record is mostly mellow, but it’s not sleepy. They are really coming into themselves as musicians, and Ben Bridwell’s vocal performances just keep getting better and better. This is an amazing sophomore effort, and as much as I loved their debut, I honestly didn’t expect them to get this good right away. Fantastic work.


Blogger Tara said...

So what have you for the top 5, mister? Radiohead?, Arcade Fire?, Josh Ritter (of course), Panda Bear and...what else? Hmm.

9:54 PM  

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