Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2007 Year-End

The last of the 2007 lists are being released this week: Eye Weekly’s Cross-Canada critics’ poll and Idolator. I found that this year I really had nothing to say to sum up the year when it came to trends and whatnot; as I get older, I care less and less about what’s supposed to be cool and why.

Which is part of the reason why I’ve already whipped through two readings of Carl Wilson’s absolutely brilliant Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, which simultaneously convinces me that all other music writing is futile, and that quality music writing and criticism—at least the kind that Wilson aspires to and achieves in his book—is all the more important in a culture that is fine with simply declaring “it’s all good.”

But if I’m disillusioned by music writing, the music itself rarely let me down. Picking a Top 40 was easy, and half of that list are records that either I or everyone else wrote about excessively--check the uniformity between the Eye and Idolator polls, excepting the noble Canadian slant of the former--so much so that I don’t want to do so again here. My most predictable 20 favourites of 2007 are as follows, in alphabetical order:

The Acorn, Arcade Fire, Battles, Common, Julie Doiron, Feist, Handsome Furs, Iron and Wine, LCD Soundsystem, Miracle Fortress, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Radiohead, Rihanna, Spoon, Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Linda Thompson, Tinariwen, Amon Tobin, Weakerthans.

You know those album titles, you’ve probably already bought those records, and you love them as well you should. If you haven’t, just like Humphrey Kadaner’s Springsteen marketing campaign, I’ll give you a money-back guarantee.

But, as always, there were plenty of others that were either right off the radar and/or otherwise grossly underrated. So this is my other top 20, once again in alphabetical order:

Antibalas Security (Anti). Where one of the greatest live bands working today stopped being a retro tribute band to 70s African funk—not that there’s anything wrong with that—and entered the 21st century with their most varied album yet.

Apostle of Hustle National Anthem of Nowhere (Arts and Crafts). I quite like the rambling mess that was Kevin Drew’s solo album (much, much better than the rambling mess that was the last Broken Social Scene album), and of course Ms. Feist finally conquered the world like we all knew she would. But this was the most satisfying album from the BSS camp this year. Sadly, it’s also the one that seemed to get the least attention. But that's merely comparative, and unfairly at that; now they can fill Lee's Palace, and for anyone who could consistently count the audience members on one hand at Andrew Whiteman gigs in the late 90s, his success is all the more sweet.

Devendra BanhartSmokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL). Don’t write him off just because he’s crackers; this was tons of fun and gorgeous when he let it be. Review here.

Mark BerubeWhat the River Gave the Boat (Kwalu). Rainy days and Mondays don’t get this Vancouver piano boho balladeer down; hopefully the indifference of audiences outside his hometown won’t either. If Hawksley Workman weren’t such a drama queen. Review here.

Bishop AllenThe Broken String (Dead Oceans). America’s most underrated pop band, reviewed here.

Bonde Do RoleWith Lasers (Domino). The most fun you could have in 2007 with your pants on. Or not. Next year: Thunderheist.

Buck 65Situation (Warner). The most fun this underrated master has had in a long time; apparently it was a laborious birth process with midwife/DJ Skratch Bastid, but you’d never know it. Review here.

Budos BandII (Daptone). Some of Amy Winehouse’s headlines pointed people towards Sharon Jones and her Daptones, and hopefully those Sharon Jones fans dig even deeper to discover this powerhouse Afro-funk band from the same New York scene.

Mark DavisDon’t You Think We Should Be Closer?/ Mistakes I Meant to Make (Saved by Radio). This is the singular most baffling obscurity of 2007: these songs sunk deep under my skin the second I heard them, and Davis’s deep, lonesome baritone has been haunting me ever since. This would even give Nick Cave the chills. Five-star reviews here... (except that Eye Weekly's site is still broken).

Deerhoof Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars). “+81” was the single of the year—all year. Seriously, since this came out in January 2007, I’ve been singing various hooks from just that one song constantly around the house, and the rest of the album is just as solid. Reviewed somewhere on the broken Eye Weekly site.

Friends in Bellwoods – Various Artists (Out of This Spark). I hate most compilations, especially scene-based compilations, and yet nearly every track on this two-disc set makes me feel ecstatic to be alive in Toronto in 2007. Focusing mostly on melancholy pop but including plenty of oddball electronics and weirdness, it’s padded with equally strong acts from Montreal, Ottawa and small town Ontario—but this is one for Toronto history books. Kudos to everyone in Ohbijou and nascent label impresario Stuart Duncan for pulling this together. Interview here. Stuart Berman’s Eye cover story is here.

Heliocentrics Out There (Stones Throw). Why go cratedigging for obscure reissues of 70s jazz/funk/soul, when this album by DJ Shadow’s backing band bring together the best of that decade with the least embarrassing elements of 90s acid jazz and trip-hop—and please understand that my fingers are quivering as I type those terms.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Living With the Living (Touch and Go). The living embodiment of the not-so-missing link between Strummer and Springsteen, and unlike those two, Leo is getting better as he gets older.

Lightning Dust – s/t (Jagjaguwar). After you get over the mass disappointment of the new Black Mountain (due out on January 22/08), go back and listen to Josh Wells and Amber Webber’s sparse and ghostly side project, where Webber is given full space to shine. Review somewhere in the gaping abyss of the Eye Weekly site.

Corb Lund Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! (Stony Plain). Full disclosure: I was paid to write Lund’s bio, but if even if I wasn’t I still would have gushed excessively about this record. His last album was on autopilot—it really did sound like he’d rather be playing cards—but every song here sounds like a brilliant short story set to folk melodies that have survived centuries, played by a kick-ass Albertan traditional country band. Howard Druckman gave it five stars in Eye; I would have done the same, and I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this get more press.

Paul Macleod Bright Eyes Fade (Busted Flat). Next to Mark Davis, this is the other great mystery of Canadian pop in 2007. Paul Macleod has been one of my favourite songwriters for the last 15 years, and this is his finest studio outing to date—not that there’s that much competition, with only one other CD and an EP released in that time frame. The only time I saw him live this year—because, to my knowledge, he didn’t leave his hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo to come play Toronto—was at one of the Rheostatics’ farewell gigs, where he opened the show and helped sub in for an ailing Martin Tielli. That night he said something about the Rheos being our Beatles—but he himself has no shortage of songs that can stand beside either band’s canon. Do whatever you can to hunt this down—not because this man badly needs a break, but because you deserve to hear him.

Nifty A Sparrow! A Sparrow! (Blocks Recording Club). The album begins with the dramatic opening theme of some B&W 1940s melodrama being sliced up with Matt Schmidt’s plaintive vocals over top, and that’s one of the more predictable moments here amidst the shuffling sub-aquatic techno, Scott Walker-esque bizarro balladry, Asian strings, analog synths, Glenn Kotche/Steve Reich-ian bell compositions, finicky electro funk and all points in between. Thoroughly satisfying.

Ghislain PoirierNo Ground Under (Ninja Tune). On the follow-up to his masterpiece underground breakthough Breakupdown, Poirier uses his new Ninja Tune platform to invite even more MCs into his bass-heavy beats borrowed and twisted from club culture around the world, and yet his instrumentals easily stand on their own. DJ/Rupture seems to be missing in action, while MIA still mystifies me herself; Poirier is the go-to guy for beats from the global pillage.

Secret Mommy Plays (Ache). Lots of sample-based musicians are finding that live musicians are more fun to fuck with (see: Amon Tobin; ignore: Cinematic Orchestra). Vancouver’s Andy Dixon tempers the usual giddiness of his found sound plunderphonics only a tad, and comes up with a wonderfully disorienting glitch-pop album. Interview here.

Tunng Good Arrows (Thrill Jockey). Between this and the Linda Thompson album, it was a good year for traditional British folk music—though Tunng’s electronic textures, glitchy interludes and bouncy pop songs were more Beta Band than Incredible String Band, and all the better for it. Live review here.


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