J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Thursday, December 20, 2007

J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - 19th December 2007
The Top 25 Albums of 2007

[2007 has been an unbelievable year for music. it's been harder than ever to craft this list - i actually had emotional anguish over so many albums left off my list. if you think i really goofed in leaving something out, leave a comment at the bottom and let me know what you think were the best albums of this year. from what i know due out in early 2008, it should be another great year in indie/rock, so in the meantime, let's celebrate the year that was. now, onward.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcast: Top 25 Albums of 2007 Show

25. (tie) Future of the Left - Curses: Is it a slide backward? Mclusky's swan-song album appeared at number 20 on my list in 2004, but their sophomore album, Do Dallas, was in this exact spot in 2002. Future of the Left, 2/3rds of the remnants of that sainted band, has picked up where Mclusky left off: barreling, psychotic, goofy and sinister post-punk that is in turns brooding, dynamic, caustic and sickly-sweet. As a first salvo, it's hard to beat Curses' manic freak-out - so few front men are as endlessly entertaining as Andy Falkous. - Played : "The Lord Hates a Coward"

25. (tie) Health - Where You From?: It's regional bias, I know, that lands some Greensboro, NC bands on this list year in-year out, but it's bias with good taste behind it, and besides, this list is the best music I heard this year, right? Right. Health, not to be confused with the Los Angeles band of the same name, is the best parts of the post-Cale Velvet Underground fused through a hazy shade of winter. Murmuring sounds, hitched to the pacing of Jonathan Moore's vocals, ramble and play across the album's perfect length. If I heard correctly, the band is, essentially, no more, but their one, lone missive is the legacy a lot of bands would love to have. - Played : "Hey Hey"

24. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter - Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul: 2007 was a great year for music, which is why this album, Sykes' best yet, doesn't merit as high as her Oh My Girl did in 2004 (# 5). A great companion to the Health album, this is the mystic side of alt-country, high-mesa lonesomeness and forsaken love. In a live setting, the songs sizzle with a wounded passion - the lost America of the late 00s filtered through a glass darkly. Every album has been better and better - I can only imagine the future ones continuing to shine brighter. - Played : "LLL"

23. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead:
One of the crown-princes of underground hip-hop, El-P's proper follow-up to his 2002 classic, Fantastic Damage, is a bleak affair. "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)" is a hideously tragic love story, filtered through a Guantanamo Bay-style concentration camp. "Flyentology" has religious followers who test their devotion through attempts at flight - just another example of "faith versus physics." There's hope here, but it's buried amongst the detritus of bodies, waste and endless corruption. One of the truest 'albums' I've heard in hip-hop in a few years, I'll Sleep When You're Dead is an alarm clock underwater, struggling to come through the surface in time to wake people up. - Played : "Up All Night"

22. Georgie James - Places:
All three former members of the brilliant Q and Not U released albums within the last few years - Ris Paul Ric, President and now, Georgie James, the outfit of multi-instrumentalist John Davis and new writing partner Laura Burhenn. Their love of 70s rock and pop is obvious from the get-go - filtered through power-pop glasses. The sugar-rush of the record can wear thin, but they keep the album tight, without excess, and deliver the sharpest straight-up pop record of the year. Now, where to go sophomore year? - Played : "Cheap Champagne"

21. The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On: Every year there are records that I let get by me; I'm only one set of ears, after all. I let this one get by until earlier this month when the rude awakening came calling. "Wasn't anybody playing guitars this year?" questioned long-time listener Cruel Cromer. But he got into this, and so did I. The wicked, harmony-rich chorus of "Down in the Valley" is enough, but "You Can Build an Island," "So It Goes," and pretty much the entire record serve to prove that you can rock, whip out some tasty guitar solos and still give Georgie James a run in the pop department. Fingers crossed that this is no freshman flash. - Played : "You Can Build an Island"

20. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond: I've said it many times this year and I'll say it again: reunion records are tricky business. In the onslaught of tremendous band-reunions of the past 5 or 6 years, we've seen triumphs (Mission of Burma, Wire) and tragedies (no Pixies album, Gang of Four), but where Mission of Burma and Wire both succeeded by sounding as if they were picking up where they left off, Dinosaur Jr. succeeds by sounding like they found the great, lost Dinosaur album from 1987. J. Mascis plays and writes better than he has in ages, so does Lou Barlowe and, well, Murph is..Murph. This is the band that everyone fell in love with - so what if it's 20 years later? If this was all that came of their reunion, it'd be picture perfect. Do you like guitar heroics? Do you like indie-rock? Then why don't you own this record? Don't tell anyone. It's going to be okay. - Played : "Been There All the Time"

19. PJ Harvey - White Chalk: PJ Harvey has been off on her own journey since the beginning, but White Chalk must have come as a surprise even to her. To call this album 'spartan' is close to the truth, but in reality it's one of the most darkly decorated albums I've heard in a long time. Harvey keeps her voice in its higher ranges for most of the record, giving a haunted, ethereal feel to the whole work. Despite the sparse feel, some serious musicians abound on this thing and Harvey is the glue amongst all of them, crafting, not her most immediate album, but perhaps her most affecting. - Played : "The Devil"

18. Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis: Three decades in music can change a man and certainly the Pulp of the 80s, the Pulp of the 90s, the Pulp of the late 90s/early 00s and Jarvis have shown a steady adaptation to change. Jarvis is every bit the witty, elder statesman of pop that the later Pulp records had shown Cocker as, but here he wanders down musical roads that even the lithe Pulp might not have followed. "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" is on par with the best songs Cocker has ever written and even complete downers like "Running the World" are so crafty that it makes it all better. Fans of good and witty writing, look no further. - Played : "Black Magic"

17. Caribou - Andorra: Fully immersing oneself in the psychedelic pop spectrum is gutsy enough as it is - but the very natural (but not often used) approach of doing it from the electronics aisle is is pretty mind-blowing as well. Enter Caribou. As if purposefully positioning itself for some future Nuggets box set, the Wall of Sound, Brian Wilson and everything good about pop music comes boiling over into droning, repetitive electronic compositions, falsetto male vocals and the prettiest record of the year. Andorra is nothing short of brilliant and shimmering, summer-pop for winter days. - Played : "She's the One"

16. Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation: Early reviews hailed this album as another run at the genre-skittering madness of Wowee Zowee, and while it certainly is all over the place, the organic, fuzz-tone sound that envelops the whole album prevents it from attaining the messy grandeur of that classic - not that that's a bad thing. This album wouldn't be as good without its focused revelry - by the time the curtain drops at the end, your ears are wasted. There are methods to the madness and Wild Mountain Nation is living, screaming, laughing proof. - Played : "Miss Spiritual Tramp"

15. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog: Be careful what you toss away. After the gorgeous, lo-fi The Creek Drank the Cradle, I ignored the subsequent Our Endless Numbered Days only to find out later that I was wrong again. The Woman King EP and collaboration with Calexico hinted at the results, but The Shepherd's Dog is the arrival announcement of the full-fledged Sam Beam express. There's no turning back to the spare, lesser days of yore. The gorgeous lyrical landscapes and trembling blue days are fully fleshed out amongst the multiple instruments dotting the album. This should've been the Grammy nominee for best contemporary folk album - this is the sound of modernity. - Played : "Lovesong of the Buzzard"

14. Adam Thorn and the Top Buttons - Where's the Freedom?: Snappy and nervy, non-sensical and melancholic, aping and honoring. Where's the Freedom? is the sound of a songwriter who isn't afraid to fall flat, rise up and claim it was all on purpose. From the album's two brilliant covers to its near-plagiarizing moments ("Savior Nation") to the brilliant post-mod observations ("Anynow, Anythere, Anyday"), this is the perfect, brash, debut album. Guns blazing, even the misfires are majestic. Let's hear it for the boy. - Played : "Where's the Freedom?"

13. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare: Where Thorn's album is a picture perfect debut, Favourite Worst Nightmare is the ideal sophomore follow up. More focused, nervier, darker and more clever than its predecessor, it shows the Arctic Monkeys as serious contenders for the title of 'the best new thing the Brits have sent us in the 00s.' The snide, down-the-nose rants of the first album are still here ("Brainstorm") but so are the heart-breaking narratives ("Do Me a Favour," "The Bad Thing"). There's a whole lot more to come out of this band and I'm hoping they're just warming up. - Played : "Do Me a Favour"

12. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible: Another ideal sophomore follow-up, this time to an album that people hailed as a masterpiece. I, personally, never swallowed the hype on Funeral. I included it in my top 25 list of that year out of honest admiration for its stylish vision - but I couldn't imagine what a follow-up would sound like. Now I know - even more bombastic, with vague concept-album tendencies, grabbing bits of orchestrated pop and Springsteen arena-rock along the way. This album is in every way Funeral's better and you can now, officially, call me a fan. - Played : "Intervention"

11. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: The indie-ideal that is Spoon keeps on rolling. The rock-minimalism that takes a bit of getting used to here hits one of its finest points ("The Ghost of You Lingers"). There's a cool detachment that Britt Daniels evokes, despite the warmth of Spoon's sound - but they are slowly becoming a band that has honed its craft so finely that it's disturbing - in a good way. No one sounds like Spoon and it's what allows their records, a slowly evolving oeuvre, to continually make year-end lists. - Played : "Rhthm & Soul"

10. Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch: Jason Isbell's departure from the Drive-by Truckers was as shocking as it wasn't. The band's ability to balance three amazing songwriters hit its absolute apex with The Dirty South but seemed to falter on A Blessing and a Curse. So when Isbell's departure paved the way for his oft-rumored, never-delivered solo debut, all eyes were on him. He came through brilliantly, though as my review discussed, it seems more like a jumping off point, not the true statement of being that it could be. Doesn't matter - "Dress Blues," "Chicago Promenade," "The Magician," "In a Razor Town," "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades" - all are brilliant proof of Isbell's writing ability. Lyrical craftsmanship is over looked so much in music, but there is a true art to being a great lyricist (versus being a great poet) and Isbell has it down cold. - Played : "Chicago Promenade"

9. Radiohead - In Rainbows: The hubub over this record's unorthodox release is still dying down, but the fact remains that it wasn't a stunt with all surface and no depth. This is Radiohead reclaiming the momentum they seemed to have misplaced for the excellent, but muddled Hail to the Thief. Echoing elements of Thom Yorke's solo debut, The Eraser, as well as channeling the best moments of Kid A, In Rainbows is the best album they've released in some time. It works as a cohesive unit so well that it's easy to put it on, sit back and listen all the way through. There's no reason to skip, no reason to get anxious, no reason to do anything other than enjoy one of the world's absolute best musical groups. I understand people who don't like Radiohead, but you have to at least respect where they've gone and where they're going. - Played : "Nude"

8. A. A. Bondy - American Hearts: From the ashes of Verbena, A. A. (Scott) Bondy emerges as the withered, distraught blues/folk musician that always hovered under the surface of Verbena's blistering guitars. The spirit of (Tom) Waits is strong in this one with the type of blustering, dusty imagery that haunts that version of the world we live in. Every so often, the moments become so beautiful that it's hard to take. "Black Rain, Black Rain," "Lover's Waltz," "Rapture (Sweet Rapture)" - all are gorgeous songs. Bondy isn't necessarily doing anything really new, but he does it so well that you can't discount it. - Played : "Black Rain, Black Rain"

7. The National - Boxer: I might get some slack for placing this as low as I have, but it's not because I don't think this is one of the best albums of the year. I missed Alligator back in 2005 and I've been paying penance for it since. Brooding, hopeful sketches dominate the album's sound and lyrics. "Fake Empire" is one of this year's most amazing lead album tracks - its piano driven story of complacence is as delicate as it is troubling. "We're half awake / in our fake empire." Don't sleep on this record. Or this band. Ever again. - Played : "Start a War"

6. Okkervil River - The Stage Names: It's the lyrics. "Plus Ones" is this year's most clever song - playing spot the allusion is half the fun of the song's wistful story. There's not a bad song on the record - it's warm and desperate and pleading and funny and engaging. I don't have a lot to say about this album other than it's a necessity for fans of just really, good songwriting. Loose limbed, but not messy, it's truly the mark of a band fully in control of its intentions. - Played : "Plus Ones"

5. Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter: Vic Chesnutt - he of the tricky word play and fractured melodies. North Star Deserter is the darkest Chesnutt album I've ever listened to - the closest thing to the harrowing ride of Tom Waits' Bone Machine I've ever heard. It even has the song at the end that tries to redeem the mood, but only makes the rest of the album sound even more desperate by comparison. With the Silver Mt. Zion band in tow, this is Chesnutt's finest hour. This record got very little press this year that I saw, and its mood may be the reason why people wouldn't immediately flock to it. But on days with an album like this is the only thing that will do, there could be nothing finer. - Played : "Everything I Say"

4. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala: Quirk can make the classic new again - and that's what Lekman has done with his amazing talent for odd storytelling. The album's high water mark, "Your Arms Around Me," details the loving feeling of being held - all surrounding a lover sneaking up on you in new, quiet shoes and you accidentally slicing off the tip of your index finger while slicing avocado. The universal in the specific. The orchestrated pop majesty of this entire record, tinged with programmed drums and electronic flourishes, has created a certifiable pop masterpiece. - Played : "Your Arms Around Me"

3. M.I.A. - Kala: The biggest surprise of this year, if only because I had tried to resist the hype surrounding her debut, but Kala is irresistible. Culture hopping, genre-crossing, infectious, delirious and hidden amongst the fun are some disturbing images and conscious-raising stories. "20 Dollar" mixes Eastern musical influences with New Order and the Pixies to craft a poverty-stricken narrative. You'll find yourself humming the songs for days, carving past the rhymes and references to get at the hulk beneath. If only I could believe that this was the future of commercial pop - I might be in a better mood in general. - Played : "20 Dollar"

2. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter: Usually my top two albums are determined by a simple equation: (T^2 x O) - M, where T = Time spent listening to the record, O = number of 'Oh, yeah!' moments on the record and M = Number of 'Meh' moments. Between my repeated, frequent listenings to this album, the huge number of sincerely fantastic moments ("Rumors," "Right Moves," "Real Long Distance," among others) and the total lack of boring ones, this record was bound for glory. The Animal Years, despite its deserved critical laurels, never lifted itself out of its softer moments. I always knew that Ritter had a truly raucous and rowdy Americana record tucked away, but The Historical Conquests.. completely surpassed my expectations. I would call it the finest album he has ever made and he continues to prove himself as one of Americas greatest songwriters - not to mention one of the best live performers. The best American record of 2007? Yes, sir. - Played : "Rumors"

1. The Veils - Nux Vomica: I was as surprised as anyone else might have been when I suddenly realized this was at the top of my list. But in the end, it's not surprising at all. Packed full of amazing singles ("Calliope!," "Advice for Young Mothers to Be," "One Night on Earth," et al.), rock and roll ("Jesus for the Jugular") and gorgeous pop ("Under the Folding Branches," "Birthday Present"), it's a flawless record full of vim and vinegar in equal parts. The snark isn't obnoxious, it's revelatory. The emoting isn't over-the-top, it's uplifting. Positioning himself as one of the true heirs to Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker as Kings of British Lyricism (even if he is from New Zealand), Finn Andrews hits a stride that lasts the entire album. It rewards return listens with its glistening pop facade and entertaining story songs - endless hits should have spawned off of this record, and maybe it's my Anglophile self talking, but not in this country, obviously. I came back to this record again and again this year - even the bonus track on the American version is a firecracker. There's just nothing wrong with this album in any way, shape or form and in fact, it is, the best album of 2007. Congrats, guys. - Played : "Calliope!" and "One Night on Earth"

That's it for 2007, listeners and readers. Thanks so much for making 2007 a fantastic year of blogging and DJing. 2008 will be another stellar year, I'm sure, so make sure you check back here for all the indie/rock goodness. I'll be off the air next week, so J's Indie/Rock Mayhem will return on Wednesday, January 2nd. I'll also be breaking from music reviews, but this weekend I'll be posting the tracklist and podcast from my 45 minute Christmas special from last night as well. Until next year, have a wonderful and safe holiday, and take care.

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  • At 9:52 PM, December 21, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    Judging by the picture above, I can only assume that each of these albums was a mere two songs long. Awesome. I can tear through all these in no time.

    Seriously, though, you're dead on (I think) with the Josh Ritter album, and the only one that sticks out to me as being kind of weird is how high the Vic Chesnutt album placed. I just didn't really find him interesting. But, what do I know. I was excited to see the M.I.A. album, too - I don't think I could sit down and listen to her entire album (in fact, I doubt it), but she's good stuff.

  • At 4:23 PM, December 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    where is panda bear, animal collective and battles on this list?

  • At 1:31 PM, December 30, 2007, Blogger J. Neas said…

    Panda Bear and Animal Collective, while undoubtedly really unique and interesting, just didn't blow me away. It has to do with my personal tastes, I'm sure, but the records on the list frequented my ears much, much more often.

    The Battles record is a failure on my part since I enjoyed it a lot this year, but failed to get to listen to the whole thing before I did the list. So, sadly, it was omitted. You're right on that one, though. A really stellar album of 2007.

  • At 4:46 PM, February 25, 2008, Blogger So it Goes said…

    So, could Radiohead's In Rainbows be on your best of 2008 since it's offical release date was 1/1/2008, like wilco's yankee hotel foxtrot was on your 2002 list.

  • At 8:23 PM, February 25, 2008, Blogger J. Neas said…

    I suppose, but, since I already put it on this list, I assume not. But I could've made that argument. I held off on putting Jarvis Cocker's album on this list until this year, deigning its U.S. release the more important marker for qualification. Ultimately, the only consistent thing about my lists is me, not my rules. :)

  • At 8:14 PM, April 05, 2008, Anonymous Soylent Ape said…

    Did you consider Bloc Party's A weekend in the City or 16 VOlt's FullBlackHabit for the list? Just wondering.

  • At 9:05 AM, June 23, 2008, Blogger Carl said…

    Hi J,

    Was surprised not to see the Shins on here. Anyhow, have myspaced you about 2008. Let me know what you think of Dieter Schöön's album Lablaza. It's been a revelation for me personally... curious to hear what you think.

    Here's the link to his myspace:


    And let me know the best way to get the album to you.

    All the best, Carl


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