Top Music of 2007 – Lawrentian critics weigh in

Alex Schaaf

J.B. Sivanich:1. Caribou, Andorra

A beautifully-constructed album of electronica, indie, psychedelia blended into irresistible energetic pop. Each song is impeccable, but is better as a whole. The most amazing thing is that this was made by one man, Dan Snaith, not to mention how effortless he makes it all sound. Get it.

2. Radiohead, In Rainbows

So maybe the lyrics lacked depth, the tempos were missing youth and there were too many songs with arpeggiated guitar intros making it a clear step down from their last four albums. But by the end, it’s apparent why Radiohead is the biggest/best band in the world, and you realize why you’ve been obsessed with them for the past five years of your life.

3. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam

If there was a list of the quote unquote “most important” albums of 2007 this would be no. 1 (though it could easily switch around with Caribou and Radiohead on this “Best of” list). Animal Collective is creating some of the most beautiful, experimental and dense music out there right now. Pushing the envelope hasn’t sounded this good since Kid A.

4. Liars, Liars

Dropping the concept-album trend of their past two albums, Liars instead decide to focus on the individual song. While the consistency is something to be missed, it works wonderfully: songs like “Protection” and “Sailing to Byzantium” are timeless. Liars is a great band that deserves recognition.

5. Interpol, Our Love to Admire

Many charlatans, like James Eric Prichard, listened to this album and dismissed this as too similar to their past two albums. But the songs were fuller, more detailed and more complex than their past two albums, which have also been incredible. Our Love to Admire is the work of an experienced band who are pushing their sound to the extremes.

6. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

This album could be put in the Most Disappointing column, since its main purpose seemed to be to remind listeners how great their debut, Funeral, really was. Neon Bible was the work of a cozy chamber pop band who once wrote about rendezvous’ in a snowy neighborhood but then decided to be rock stars on par with Springsteen and Bono. They pull it off on some songs, but the disparity between the songs (the title suggest a religious-concept album but this theme is not present on of the songs) gives this album major flaws. However the strong moments are strong enough to land this song at no. 6.

7. Deerhunter, Cryptograms

This album of is literally dripping with great melody, delivered by Bradford Cox, who has the marks of becoming a great frontman. Cryptograms marks the introduction of a incredibly promising young band and a promising career for Mr. Cox, who is releasing a solo album under the moniker “Atlas Sound” in early ’08.

8. Devendra Banhart, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

This is a solid album (with its fair share of weak moments which are ultimately overshadowed) by a solid artist. Banhart has stuck to signature sound while expanding incredibly: many lesser bands should take note.

9. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha

A friend recently told me that he was sick of Bright Eyes because Connor Oberst uses drinking alone as thematic material for 10 albums and still whines after achieving success and dating Winona Ryder. He went to say that he loves Andrew Bird because he sings about snacks and playing Operation.

10. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature

Jose Gonzalez puts a new spin on “singer-songwriter” who just sings and plays guitar by actually being able to play guitar. Gonzalez’s classical background allows him freedom, a quality that is so rare in this genre and provides many a gorgeous moment.

Most Overrated:

Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Repetitive Instrumentation + simplistic songs + uninspired lyrics (“bring me my little Japanese cigarette case”???) + a sound you could find in the ’60s + simple song structure = a record that even Britt Daniel’s vocal delivery couldn’t save.

Justice, (Crucifix)

Though, the presence of a more aggressive sound in techno is appreciated, the fact of the matter is that one song can’t save an album. Justice has the ability to write great songs (“D.A.N.C.E.” and “We are your Friends” off their previous release) but instead (for unknown reasons) decide to make repetitive, bass-clogged tracks – many without melody and some even rendered undanceable, which is the biggest sin they could commit.

Matt Pflaum

10. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible

Is it as good as Funeral? Of course not. Is it still an impressive sophomore effort for a band that had unreasonably high expectations placed upon them? Absolutely.

9. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

Sole member Justin Vernon created one of the best debut albums of the year, filling it with beautiful acoustic-based melodies and falsetto vocals that were recorded in seclusion at his father’s cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin.

8. of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Kevin Barnes’ theatrical indie pop outfit delivered their strongest album yet, contrasting Barnes’ bitter and angry lyrics against infectious synths and danceable beats. All of this culminates in the 12-minute epic “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal”, a song that managed to mesmerize me even as I sat at the other end of the field at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival.

7. Animal Collective- Strawberry Jam

This always bizarre group (check out their video for “Peacebone” for proof) somehow channeled their experimental leanings into an album awash with catchy melodies-and for the first time, you can actually sort-of make out what Avey Tare and Panda Bear are saying. Another solid effort from one of the most consistently exciting bands of the decade.

6. Spoon- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Few bands can write a concise, to-the-point rock & roll song as well as Spoon, and this album is no exception. When they do use additional instrumentation-such as the horns on “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” and “The Underdog”-it works brilliantly. While never reaching the highs of other albums I heard in 2007, few can match its consistency.

5.Okkervil River- The Stage Names

2005’s Black Sheep Boy is one of my favorite albums of the decade, and this is a worthy follow-up. Will Sheff is among the most clever lyricists around-check out the numerous pop culture and literary references littered throughout. The rockers on the album are propulsive and exhilarating, and Sheff throws in a few gorgeous ballads for good measure.

4. Sunset Rubdown- Random Spirit Lover

The best thing I’ve heard yet from Spencer Krug, and that’s saying a lot given his role as the co-leader of Wolf Parade. Random Spirit Lover is a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen, full of epic songs and enough memorable guitar and keyboard hooks to fill several albums.

3. LCD Soundsystem- Sound of Silver

2007 was the year I finally developed an interest in electronic and dance-oriented music, and this album deserves a lot of credit for that. The beats are fantastic, as are the guitar and synth grooves. Above all, the songs are often spectacular-particularly “All My Friends”, which already sounds like a classic.

2. The National- Boxer

Far more restrained and moody than 2005’s Alligator, Boxer basically defines the term “grower”. If you give this album time to sink in, you will be rewarded in spectacular fashion.

1. Radiohead- In Rainbows

It’s not a masterpiece like OK Computer or Kid A are, but it affirmed my belief that they are the best band making music today. The songwriting, arrangements, production, vocals, and musicianship are all top notch. It also contains my favorite song of the year, “All I Need”, whose ending gives me chills every time I hear it.

Most Overrated: Band of Horses- Cease to Begin

I don’t quite see the brilliance of this band, although they aren’t bad by any means. I liked their debut, but found the follow-up to be more of the same and not particularly memorable. I was surprised to see this one showing up in several critics’ year end lists. “Is There A Ghost?” is a cool tune, though.

Corey Lehnert:

1.) The National – Boxer

Listening to “Boxer,” one gets the impression that during its composition the members of the National were undergoing some great existential loss of innocence. The album takes itself very seriously-using sarcasm and irony to tear down the youthful shield of, well, sarcasm and irony, searching for Truth along the way. Words, however, really do nothing in describing the depth and breadth of this album, just listen to it.

2.) Fujiya & Miyagi – Transparent Things

This British trio combines funk and techno, man and machine, organic and inorganic for one of the most danceable and fresh albums since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Every time I listen I can’t help but feel as if I’m experiencing the future of Euro-cool in a crisp jewel case, and maybe I have.

3.) Caribou – Andorra

Caribou’s new album is a psychedelic experience of epic proportions in under an hour without the risk of a bad trip. I think my colleagues agree.

4.) Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature

“In Our Nature” is 40 minutes of ethereal and entrancing Gonzalez singing songs of love after the apocalypse, or maybe the apocalypse after love, or something of that sort.

5.) Samamidon – But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted

Samamidon borrows from celtic folk and delta blues to make a haunting neo-folk album that does much in its lyrics and experimental composition to relate the myths of the American frontier to the stresses of modern day.

6.) Clientele – God Save the Clientele

I listen to the Clientele and I feel like I’m floating in some gorgeous bohemian womb along with T.S. Eliot and a string section. Thoughtful and well-read as always, with a sound reminiscent of the David Bowie or the Velvet Underground’s softer moments, the Clientele’s new album is not to be missed.

7.) Black Moth Super Rainbow – Dandelion Gum

BMSR’s candied tracks of psychedelic electronica are not only some of the most original and vibrant tunes I’ve heard all year, but they inevitably induce visions of a rainbow wonderland corrupted by its own sweet tooth.

8.) Art Brut – It’s a Bit Complicated

Because the lines, “I know I shouldn’t/Is it so wrong/To break from your kiss/To turn up a pop song?” from “Pump Up The Volume” are quite possibly the best things to come out of Western civilization this year. Because Art Brut makes me realize that the library is not the place I should be spending all of my time.

9.) Feist – The Reminder

There’s not much to say about Leslie Feist’s seamless follow-up to “Let it Die.” It’s paradoxically good for all of its self-restraint, staying classy with moments of jazz and folk while not afraid to venture into pop territory.

10.) Grinderman – Grinderman

Grinderman’s debut album contains 11 tracks of coiled up garage rock dealing with love, kink, and desperation. Offering consolation are guitars that cut like chainsaws and lyrics bleeding with raw abandon. A much needed antidote to the oversentimentality that cripples much of Indie rock.

Most overrated: Justice – +
We all swooned when Justice released their new dance remix album, +, but waking up the next morning cranky and hung over next to a clearly imperfect disc reminded us of the distorting qualities of indie hype. Sure, Justice’s + has some great tracks-specifically the single “D.A.N.C.E.” and the belching electropop of “Phantom”-but on the whole it proves to be no more fulfilling than a below average Daft Punk album. I’m sure they’re great on the French club scene, but until they hit the Appleton club scene I hold my ground.

Alex Schaaf:

1. Radiohead – “In Rainbows” There really was no competition for the top spot this year. Radiohead proves themselves to be one of the most consistent bands out there today by releasing yet another incredibly cohesive album, with songs like the deliciously rhythmic “15 Step”, and the hauntingly beautiful “Nude”. No question, people.

2. LCD Soundsystem – “Sound of Silver” Put simply, it’s a fun album, full of hypnotic dance beats and ironic, reflecting lyrics. James Murphy puts a fresh face on the “dance punk” genre that I had chosen to ignore before hearing this.

3. Spoon – “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” I don’t care what J.B. says, this is a solid album. Spoon has yet to release something that I don’t love, and this was no exception. Fantastic producing underneath Britt Daniel’s one-of-a-kind vocals creates a winner in my book.

4. Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago” Recorded in an isolated cabin in northwestern Wisconsin (which is isolated enough as it is), this is a beautiful mix of delicate, mournful vocals over a sparse, dry acoustic guitar mix.

5. Andrew Bird – “Armchair Apocrypha” While not quite living up to his previous release, Bird still manages to impress. Anyone that can fit the lyrics “When I was just a little boy/I threw away all of my action toys/When I became obsessed with Operation” into a song without making it sound ridiculous earns an A from me.

6. White Stripes – “Icky Thump” A dirty, abrasive rock album for all of us. They manage to keep the song structures and arrangements pretty simple and sparse, while knocking us back with in-your-face lyrics and unabashed enthusiasm about their chosen profession – rock-and-roll.

7. Stars – “In Our Bedroom After the War” While the first half heavily outshines the second, this is still a very solid album. Clever pop songs and mournful ballads interweave in this, perhaps the “catchiest” album of the list. Singer Amy Millan will knock you down wherever you stand with her amazing vocal work on this album.

8. Feist – “The Reminder” Like others have stated, there’s not a whole lot to say about this. Leslie Feist’s voice could make almost any song stand out, but the songs she chooses for album do so much more to add to her appeal.

9. The National – “Boxer” A quiet, brooding album, this definitely took a while to grow on me, but it’s one I know I’ll be coming back to again in the future.

10. White Rabbits – “Fort Nightly” The debut album from this indie-rock group, it shines with an abundance of calypso-type rhythms, raw vocals, and interesting lyrical work.

Most Overrated – Animal Collective – “Strawberry Jam” I tried, I just don’t understand all the hype this gets.