Top 10 Albums of 2007

January 11, 2008

Well. It’s been nearly a year since blizz-ogged on this page. But, I’m inspired by the STiTP/Kerchief Valhalla list, to post my own top 10 of the year. Like I do sometimes, I have to mention albums that are supposedly AWESOME but haven’t got my lazy-ass around to listening to.

Top 10 Albums of 2007

10. Y.A.C.H.T., I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real*
This one needs an asterisk. It took till ’07 for me to find, and fall head-over-heals with the bleeps, bloops and diary entries of The Blow. Early into 2007 Blow’s beatmaker, Jona Bechtolt, marooned singer/songwriter Khaela Maricich to pursue solo work under the name of YACHT. Since then, I’ve been left alone in a corner with no new Blow to enjoy. Bechtolt’s “solo” I Believe in You… consoled me – just like the friend whose consoling words don’t help but you appreciate them anyway.

MP3: “See A Penny (Pick It Up)”

9. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
One guy calls it “dad rock” and gives it a deece review and suddenly everyone’s off the Wilco wagon. Poppycock! This album is the real deal. In the last decade we’ve seen Tweedy grow from the guy that wrote the couplet “We should take a walk / But you’re such a fast walker, whoa-oh”, to becoming a abstract Dixie Cup Aquarium Drinker, to a Wheel/Bug/Hummingbird, to Jeff Tweedy. After all the band shifts, style shifts (fan base shifts?) Wilco emerged this year, confident in their LP’s, walking softly and carrying a big catalog. Tweedy sings sweetly, simply and directly after a few years of his free-associative and abstract lyrics. The band’s kraut-rock exercises have been distilled into a few efficient jam-outs. There’s just something impressive about Nels Cline, an avant-jazz squall guitarist, reigning in his tendencies enough to play a simple, clean Allman-brothersesque guitar duet. As Lisa Simpson once said – “It’s the notes they’re not playing.”

MP3: “Impossible Germany”

8. Flosstradamus / Kid Sister
Does not releasing a “proper album” mean you can’t get any love on year-end lists anymore? Not in this crazy inter-blag world. Although, technically, there’s no proper album out, DJ/Mash-up kids Flosstradamus and one of the duo’s kid sisters – Kid Sister, are churning out the jams. The bumpin’ beats, hip-hop mashups, old-school rhymes, and indie-happy samples have been Chicago dance/bar favorites for a while now, but it’s time for the big time. SxSW lost their brains for Floss’ remix of Matt & Kim‘s Yea Yeah, meanwhile Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” found it’s way onto Kanye‘s Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape and the rest will be history… by the end of next year. Watch your back though Flossy, The Hood Internet‘s quick on your tail. (Photo Credit: Everyoneisfamous.com)

MP3: Kid Sister “Southside”

MP3: Flosstradamus “Overnight Star”

7. Bishop Allen, The Broken String
It’s been nearly half a decade since Bishop Allen dropped the self-released Charm School LP – an album whose hooks and lines you’d catch yourself singing constantly. The groups ring-leaders, Christian Rudder and Justin Rice, recorded the album with a microphone, a pre-amp, and ProTools while trying hard not to annoy their Bishop Allen Drive neighbors in Cambridge, MA. They’re a dynamic and fairly prolific pair… aside from the band both have cultivated what seems like their own brand — Rudder writing the hilarious entertainment section of the now-defunct SparkNotes.com, and co-creating the equally hilarious dating site (OkCupid) while both Rice & Rudder are pseudo-stars of the burgeoning “Mumblecore” film scene (Rice starring in Mutual Appreciation and Rudder as the love interest in Funny Ha-Ha). The Broken String is a triumph of sorts, a culmination of a plan that started more than a year before its release – to support the band by self-releasing an EP each month for an entire year. Each month was a new surprise – a new track that was a sure-fire hit, and the LP, while lacking some of the DIY charisma of the individual EPs, is an album full of pure pop gold. Bishop Allen are as fun as every, but stretch their creative boundries with a latin-tinged “Like Castanets” and the dramatic flair of “The Monitor”.

MP3: “Rain”

6. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Perfect timing. Every few years people start forgetting about these Oxfordshire lads they come along and blow the lid off of everything. This time it was more context than content, but the album is solid, and exciting. Most exciting, at least to me, is Thom Yorke using the word “I” again. An interesting question to be posed – Is it a coincidence that the most direct, “pop” album Radiohead has put out in a decade is the one that they’re giving away to listeners for whatever they want to pay? I.E., would a challenging album along the lines of Kid A compromise the ultimate commercial success of the album? If so, does operating “free” from the Music Industry effect an artists creative process just as much (or more so) than operating within the system? It’s a temple-tapper.

MP3: “Weird Fishes/Apregi”

5. Kanye West, Graduation
What a hilarious twist. Kanye, throwing fits at MTV Europe Awards about Justice vs. Simian winning Video of the Year, learned a few lessons about Euro Dance Pop. 1) Synths can be cool 2) Pasty White People can be cool 3) Daft Punk is fucking cool.

MP3: “Flashing Lights”

4. Architecture in Helsinki, Places Like This
There were hankerings. After the last few loops around the U.S., AiH had subtly shifted from a twee band you could dance to, to a dance band you could drink chamomile tea to. Half the band disappeared and all of the sudden these Aussie’s were doing fun chant-along world beat tunes. Cameron Bird, who’s vocal stylings on their debut LP Fingers Crossed rarely raised above a childish whisper, now growls and yalps and screams – the fun juvenile spirit is still present in the band but now it’s like their at recess.

MP3: “Heart It Races”

3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Regardless of the criticism that Sound of Silver is nearly a song-for-song repeat of their debut LP, it still sounds better than nearly everything else out there. James Murphy, and his DFA clan can churn out the beats, that much is known. But if S.O.S. is a duplication of LCD Soundsystem it’s its doppelganger – imbedding criticism and actual emotion into dance tracks. Sarcasm and cynicism is a refuge (and a cash crop in Williamsburg) and Murphy trumped expectations by turning the scene’s discoball mirrors back onto themselves.

MP3: “All My Friends”

2. M.I.A., Kala
Dude. This some crazy shit. “Paper Planes” is easily my favorite song of the year — with or without gunshots. I LOVED Arular when it dropped and I’m so pleased that her follow-up is just as bombastic, vaguely political, vaguely danceable, but wholly original. I guess I’m happy we live in a cultural climate that an album as globally scatter-brained as this can find such a wide, receptive audience.

MP3: “Paper Planes”

1. The National, Boxer
I’m not a lyrics man. In fact, I’ll really only pay attention to the lyrics if the song sufficiently interests me. Lucky for The National, the urgent, heavy but not inaccessible sound begs you to read into their lyrics. Boxer’s content, just like its sound, is dark and brooding, but offers glimpses of romance, desperation, charm, and touchstone imagery. Beyond the discussion of the album’s cryptic Willy Loman storyline, what can’t be stressed enough is that the album is a true pleasure to listen to. A great album all the way through, and an LP that begs you replay it as soon as the last measure ends.

MP3: “Green Gloves”

Advertisements

Live Music Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Architecture in Helsinki, Takka Takka

October 31, 2006

They could’ve named this show “The Bands With Unnecessary Names” Tour ’06. New York-cum-Philly “indie” success story Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Australia’s Architecture in Helsinki, with Brooklyn-based Takka Takka opening took Chicago by storm early this October before actual weather took Chicago by, well, storm.

Venue? One of my faves.
Ticket price? A bit exorbitant.
Playing a two-night stint? Er, probably not a brilliant business plan.

Tickets were a-plentiful at the box office as the show was going on. Small, apologetic girls were selling their tickets for under face value on Sheffield. “I just don’t want to go anymore,” she explained. Fair enough. Maybe she had a Yom Kippur hangover. Does that exist? Well, if not, it was a crappy Tuesday in general.

Takka Takka got things going off to a… start, I guess. Simple, sweet-sounding tunes, pleasing, catchy, but not incredibly anything. Their studio tracks sound tight, but the pop charm that they exude on-record didn’t come off so well live. Nevertheless, a band to keep your eye on when they come through town again next month, playing at one of my fav venues in the city.

The headliner of the show, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, returned fairly recently from their sold-out show at The Metro earlier this year, ennui intact and ever-growing. The stage lighting creeped me out, but I’m always pleasantly surprised that lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s nasally voice isn’t nearly as obnoxious live as it is on the album. Let’s get this out of the way: A.O.’s voice sounds like David Byrne. I’m sorry if this angers people. There’s nothing wrong with sounding like David Byrne. Ounsworth insists otherwise. That’s okay, I’ve heard my voice on tape and it sounds weird too — all hoarse and occasionally lispy.

Annnnycrap, the hits were played. Oh, were they ever played. The highlight being an extended loopy keyboard and guitar jangle intro that jumped excitedly into “Is This Love?” with drummer Sean Greenhalgh tight on the beat. CYHSY speckled their show with some new material that keeps their “sound” but stretches the band’s legs a bit. I made a mental note to call a song “Krautrock Satan”, but I’ve since learned the song is called “Satan Said Dance.” A pretty catchy tune with one exception: The band’s pre-planned crowd-participation in which we were expected to chant “SATAN! SATAN!” back at them during the chorus. Neh. Problem is, 1.) not everyone (me) had heard this song before and 2.) I’d rather not chant “Satan” in general… that’s just me.

Elsewhere in the set, between-song downtime seemed a bit excessive, and I also took issue with a torturously long applause for an encore, in which most had given up and started talking to other concert goers while patting their hands together. (I learned that the man with the hoodie-inside-sportcoat combo next to me “knows you girls from somewhere… maybe Bank of America?”). Regardless, ’twas a good set. You can’t deny CLYSY propensity for catchy hooks, their tireless work-ethic and self-promotional savvy. The young band sounded fresh and confident–a great sign for a group that’s been touring incessantly.

Sandwiched between the two NY rock bands were the delightful Architecture in Helsinki. The eclectic group dressed the part–six members (an abridged touring lineup) took the stage looking like a mishmash of high school sterotypes… spaz, jock, hippie, Cure fan, etc, etc. Shirking the deliberately childish sounds of their first release, Fingers Crossed, AiH’s entire set was blissful, endearing and downright danceable (fittingly, as an In Case We Die LP “remix” album is in the works).

Swapping vocal duties and instruments between nearly every song, the band bounced through newer material and brand-new material, smooshing genres and song structures as they went. The abrupt endings and mid-song tempo changes which make their albums a peculiar experience created an exhilarating live experience–keeping the audience guessing… and clapping… and jumping around a bit.

The extended segue into a funk-friendly “Do the Whirlwind” got people bouncing, while the delightfully quirky Kellie Sutherland (right) stole the show belting out her vocals on “Wishbone” – the hap-hap-happiest pop gem you may ever hear.
Clad in a well-loved Ryne Sandberg jersey (a move Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has pulled in Chicago before), singer Cameron Bird delivered his so-called “love ballad from the Outback,” “Maybe You Can Owe Me” with the equal parts whimsy and sincerity.

But before it could get too cute Bird got back to groovin’–hitting the drum machine and rocking out with such abandon that the instrument was knocked hard to the floor. Overall, the new stuff sounds great, one sounding an awful lot like Rusted Root (ha, in a good way) and the whole set giving off a exuberant twee-meets-Stop Making Sense rumpus.

Free Mp3’s:

Takka Takka – “Coco On The Corner”

Architecture in Helsinki – “Do The Whirlwind (Metronomy Mix)”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood”

(Photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.)