Sunday, February 10, 2008

Top 20 Of 2007: 5 - 1

5. Tegan and Sara - The Con
I’ve always admired artists who can make the teenage experience sound like it really is. Most portray it one-dimensionally, either a celebration of epic proportions or an angst-filled mess. Both are true, and it takes a rare talent to mix those two things together and make it palatable to both adults and kids. Tegan and Sara have crafted an album that recreates the experience of being a teenager not just through content but also through form. About half of The Con’s songs are true pop songs, gems that burst through your speakers and have you humming all the day long. The other half are little song-ettes, snatches of melody and stuttering rhythm that give the album a sense of frenetic mayhem. Sometimes they’re lilting little pieces, like “I Was Married” and “Soil, Soil” (both of which are a mere minute and a half long), and sometimes they’re bursts of pure emotion, like “Knife Going In” and “Relief Next To Me.” It’s not always the shortest songs that fall into this category, either. The songs marry together to form a picture of a teenage psyche roiling with opinions and possibilities, a true glimpse into the way the young mind works, flitting from place to place, giving equal emotional weight to romantic flings and the idea of death. They are two incredibly gifted songwriters.

4. Radiohead - In Rainbows
You’ll have to forgive me if this review is a bit more soapbox than substantive analysis. First of all, the album is fantastic. It’s friggin’ Radiohead, of course it’s fantastic. It’s dark, stuttering and utterly captivating. No surprise there, and I tried to place it on the list according to its artistic merits rather than its method of delivery. But in a time in music where there are so many possibilities that are being squandered by revolting greed, it’s pretty awesome that the lads took it upon themselves to push the envelope. What really pissed me off about the industry reaction to it was the sheer number of people, people who make their living thinking and writing about music, who called it a gimmick and dismissed it as a marketing ploy. Really? That’s the best you can do? It’s not a sustainable model for all bands, they said. Of course it isn’t, fools! It’s not even a sustainable model for Radiohead! That’s not the point at all. The point is that they were able to say, “You know what, we’re gonna do this ourselves, and we’re going to do something more interesting than Capitol Records could dream.” What the process revealed was the ugly truth about record companies: they completely lack the imagination necessary to adapt to what music is doing. Not every band is going to be able to follow this model. Maybe none will. But it’s part of a series of death knells for the major labels. Madonna sounded another one this year by signing with LiveNation. It’s glorious music to my ears because it’s their own doing, and I have no sympathy for their whiny lawsuits or flimsy arguments. Next stop: movie studios. The writers’ strike is the least of your worries.

3. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Ritter’s gotta be the most underappreciated dude working in music today. This is his third stone cold classic album (excluding Hello Starling, which was merely great), and he’s still not getting he recognition he deserves. I think there are several reasons for this. First, he is a very literary storyteller. His writes the way Marcel Proust writes, weaving a million ideas together in a minute. Even his slow songs leave you breathless with their pace. In “The Temptation of Adam” he weaves a tale of war and romance with the skill of a master poet, and it never feels slow or elegiac. Second, he inhabits the subjects of his songs so completely that he disappears. You never get the feeling that you’re hearing him sing about his own life or emotions, which makes him pretty unique among the sensitive singer-songwriters with whom he is most often compared. As a matter of fact I can’t think of anyone working today who writes quite like Josh Ritter. Finally, he just won’t stay put. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter doesn’t sound all that different from his other albums, but at the same time it’s worlds away. He’s got a fantastic band around him this time around, and the result is an album that jukes and sprints around like a hummingbird, rewarding listen after listen with new delights.

2. M.I.A. - Kala
Talk about music to start a revolution! And to shake your ass a little bit as well. Kala is the most energetic, acrobatic, frenetic piece of music I’ve heard in a long while. I actually had a really hard time deciding whether it should be #1 on this list. I certainly predict that it’s going to end up being the most influential album of 2007. A woman from Sri Lanka making better hip-hop than anyone in the world is kind of big. The thing that makes this album such a quantum leap forward from Arular is the sheer variety of faces that Ms. Arulpragasam wears. Where Arular was consistent and steady, Kala careens all over the place. Recorded piecemeal in various countries with various producers, the album refuses to stay put or adhere to a steady flow. It’s crazy, frenetic and infectious. And while I love Diplo, who produced all of Arular, it gives me great pleasure to see Maya working with more producers this time. If for no other reason than to silence the idiots who said Arular belonged more to Diplo than to her. Kala proves once and for all that M.I.A. is the only game in hip-hop worth paying attention to.

1. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
I’m never going to forget where I was the first time I heard Person Pitch. I had just gotten back from a summit in New York the night before, and I was walking back into a ton of work. I had to give a creative briefing the next day for Under Armour, and my preparations for the summit had taken precedence over doing very much work yet on the briefing. And, to kick it all off, I was giving the briefing in front of one of the most self-absorbed, pretentious men I’ve ever had the displeasure of calling “Professor.” After staying up all night putting the briefing together, I put on “Comfy in Nautica” at 5am to try to keep myself awake. It made everything else melt away: all my anxiety and nervousness over the briefing, all my disdain and anger towards my professor, everything. Most of the albums I really like tend to be hard for a lot of people to swallow, but no one that I have played Person Pitch for has done anything but marvel at it and ask for a copy. It takes you by the hand and brings you outside to play and remember how much fun it is just to be you. I find it hard to describe the way it makes me feel without falling into cliché or just sounding like a hippie, so I’ll leave it at this: Person Pitch is aural ecstasy. Get it, own it, love it.


Anonymous Brad said...

It's a good list. And thorough.

I wasn't such a huge fan of Panda Bear, but I get it. I gotta wildly agree on that Radiohead, that thing absolutely slays. I wish they had kept "The Reckoner" a little more rocking like it was in the early concert versions, but we can't always get what we want, can we? No, we can't. C'est la Radiohead.

DR. CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL 2008!!!11!1! (but not really)

10:43 PM  
Blogger radioheaddicted said...

yeah radiohead rocks!

4:33 AM  
Blogger Tara said...


Great list, and I admire your depth of thought. There is absolutely NO way I could have ranked these. How do you compare M.I.A. and Marnie Stern with Ritter and Springsteen? Too hard.

11:08 AM  

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