Top 25 Albums of 2007
This year proved again that when it feels like the entire goddamn world is going to hell -- that's a good time to throw a dance party. Whether you were fist-pumping for Maya's admittance back into America, chanting "We are North American scum!" at the club, or just jumping in giddy delight that Justice somehow landed an MTV Music Video Award nomination, it was a good year to dance in the streets, especially to these, my favorite albums of 2007:
1) Kanye West, Graduation
Take away his ego, and Kanye's music ceases to exist. That's because Kanye is one of a dying breed of artist, like a Bob Dylan or a Woody Allen or a Bjork, who create art out of sheer force of will and ego. Art and life aren't binaries for these people. How else to explain this album's sui generis cocktail -- a sampling of his mentors in dance (Daft Punk), street (Jay-Z), fashion (Louis Vuitton), and art (Murakami). And, I suppose, literature (Nietzsche), by pinching that particularly arch aphorism about surviving adversity. "That which does not kill me..." might suggest that Kanye's force emerges from some sort of Ayn Randian individualism, but it's more clearly the power that comes from treating your life as collage.
2) M.I.A., Kala
The '80s would have been much better if M.I.A. were around to squelch that wretched little phrase "world music" -- she would drop some street on those marketers. Although she would resist this, Maya has somehow emerged as one of the few relevant voices in the language of globalization: descriptive not prescriptive, street not studio, itinerant not stagnant, and most importantly, local not global. This is why I've written before that M.I.A. brings to mind Rem Koolhaas more than anyone else -- one can visualize her building little markets (songs) on the streets of Lagos or Sri Lanka or Kingston. That's what this album sounds like: all the streets in the world playing music at once.
3) LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Though James Murphy's second album will fill your daily dance-punk requirements, it's the fifth track, the ballad "All My Friends," which stands out as the best song of the year. Pretty much the exact opposite of his glib underground hit "Losing My Edge," this song starts with a cold, repetitive keyboard line that's probably pinched from some minimalistic Steve Reich score. And it never really deviates from there, except by layering some lines about friendship, which becomes the song's theme -- not about a single friend, but about the celebration of friendship as a concept. "You spend the next five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five trying to get with your friends again" has been the mantra for a couple hundred 30-somethings who I know.
4) Justice, Cross
Even though they never released an album, one could call 2007 the year of Daft Punk. Between their Coachella appearance, their movie, and Kanye creating their first Billboard hit, Daft Punk was an invisible success story. And to complete the story, we could call this the best Daft Punk album in years -- and get away with it without too much guilt.
5) Mark Ronson, Version
Prepare thyself for a strange reason to like a musician: Ronson exposes the weakness of Pitchfork. The plucky music site has been an aggressive foe of Ronson and his entourage (Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen). The reasons for this are somewhat paradoxical, since the Ronson aesthetic -- let's call it "synthetic retro" -- is usually a Pitchfork touchstone. But beyond all that industry prattle, Ronson is one of the few producers who can put together a cohesive solo album of his own. Some might tire of the ska inflections on a few tracks, but then Winehouse's cover of The Zutons' "Valerie" comes along to make you remember that synthetic nostalgia is the best kind.
6) I'm Not There, Soundtrack
Of course you want to hear Sonic Youth cover Dylan. And Malkmus, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and The Hold Steady, and Karen O, and two discs more of this.
7) Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5:55
Did Charlotte haunt you this year? Because she haunted me. And does she remind you of a long lost love? For me, she does. Are you glad that someone finally found something decent for Air to do? Yes, me too.
8) Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future
Fuck "new rave" -- this is "new Iron Maiden"! The album has enough arcane mythology to fill the new D&D manual. If you caught Klaxons in concert this year, you witnessed this strange spectacle: teenage kids dancing around on stage with a Mello Yello high, quoting Coleridge and Pynchon, and playing their instruments like they invented them.
9) Simian Mobile Disco, Attack Decay Sustain Release
Let's get this out of the way: there's a lot bullshit on this album. Some of these tracks are the worst offenders of the reductive, repetitive, retrograde kind of techno/house that gives the entire genre a bad name. But in those moments where humanity creeps in -- on "Hustler" and "It's The Beat" -- this turns into something like the best of Bjork's dance work.
10) Battles, Mirrored
What happens when you throw another "post-" in front of "post-rock"? Prog rock! No one expected this segment of the '70s to reemerge this year, but Battles at least added a little head-shaking to the shoe-gazing genre.
11) Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
When I forgot to bring my iPod on a trip to LA this year, I bought this CD to play in the rental car. And then I turned it up every time I started to fight with the girl who was traveling with me. I now know this album by heart.
12) Britney Spears, Blackout
Yep, above Radiohead. Why? Because while Radiohead is obsessed with dystopic futures, Britney actually is the future. Like one of those fake Japanese pop idols, Brit-Bot is the complete cypher that gets invented by producers and the media. This album is like a Wikipedia entry in which everyone -- The Neptunes, TMZ, whoever -- should get a writing credit. You may not like to hear this, but Britney is you.
13) Radiohead, In Rainbows
Trent Reznor paid $5,000; I paid $5. I got a better deal.
14) Jay-Z, American Gangster
He really is the godfather now.
15) White Williams, Smoke
Since no one seems up to carrying the mantle anymore, the title of The New Bowie could be passed onto White Williams. But more than pure retread, Williams rips '70s glam through a processor that admits the existence of disco, Beck, and laptop pop.
16) The Pipettes, We Are the Pipettes
This album caused my dorky friends in San Francisco to actually dance. For getting nerds to shuffle, some might say this album should be much higher on the list.
17) Dan Deacon, Spiderman of the Rings
This is what Girl Talk would sound like if he wanted Sonic Youth to like him.
18) Prince, Planet Earth
Although I didn't make it back to Minneapolis to see him perform at First Ave this year (which was a blessing, because the cops shot it down in less than an hour), Prince put out the album that's aesthetically the closest to Purple Rain that we've seen in some time.
19) White Stripes, Icky Thump
You could almost forget that the White Stripes released an album this year.
20) Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is
If it felt like Karen O spent this year trying to figure out what people wanted her to be, this EP didn't necessarily contradict that. Even its title seems obsessed with self-definition.
21) Tomahawk, Anonymous
While we wait for Michael Patton to do something a little more digestible again (We! Want! Lovage!), he put out this strange Native American Heavy Metal album.
22) Chromeo, Fancy Footwork
Ever wished Hall & Oats dabbled in disco? Then Chromeo is for you.
23) Bloc Party, Weekend in the City
Bloc Party have me hanging by a thread. I want them to have staying-power, but this could just be their last relevant album.
24) Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
I think of this album as what happens when you mash together Chicago and Minneapolis. It has the sound of Drag City, but the aesthetic of Tim. Which makes sense, because Bird is from Chicago but the album with recorded in Minneapolis with some of its finest locals.
25) Thurston Moore, Trees Outside the Academy
You know how Beck tends to alternate between doing a rock/hip-hop album and doing a down-tempo/acoustic album? This is like the response to last year's rocking Rather Ripped.
And finally, here are some albums that I tried to like this year, but it just never happened: Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew - Spirit If..., Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Some Loud Thunder, The Good, the Bad & the Queen's The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Air's Pocket Symphony, Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero, Timbaland's Timbaland Presents Shock Value, T.I.'s T.I. vs. T.I.P., 50 Cent's Curtis, Arctic Monkeys's Favourite Worst Nightmare, Amon Tobin's Foley Room, The Shins' Wincing the Night Away, The National's The Boxer, Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, Bjork's Volta, Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, Low's Drums and Guns, PJ Harvey's White Chalk, Jose Gonzalez' In Our Nature, Bruce Springsteen's Magic, Feist's The Reminder, and Les Savvy Fav's Let's Stay Friends.