Greg0rb / Greg Simpson is a reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
My name is Greg Simpson and I've been writing these dang reviews since 2002. I'm going to try to keep this intro short and leave the break-ups, deaths and sweeping musical trends to our other more observant writers. The big things for me this year were my wife and I having our first anniversary and that we became homeowners (or condo-owners, whatevah). Music-wise, I got a sweet old record console (like you don't all visit my MySpace daily) which is currently having problems with its tubes or wiring or something; I inherited another old accordion, (also needs repair) this one from my lady's grandma; and my wife is taking her guitar skills to the bass and we are currently rocking the rhythm section in an outfit together. It's been a fun year.
However, we aren't loaded off our elementary music teacher and grad student salaries, so to prevent me from driving us into financial ruin, I have a music budget of two CDs per month. Sure, sometimes I got away with three if they were inexpensive and I got some as gifts, and I bought some classic albums cheap on used vinyl. Nevertheless I had to be well informed on the 2007 releases I was buying and know that they would be list contenders. Here are some of the releases that I thought may have had list potential but lost out on being purchased to surer things: Liars, Jimmy Eat World, Black Lips, Minus the Bear, Fiery Furnaces, Band of Horses and Stars were the biggies. You will not see these on my lists, and you will notice a lot less Honorable Mentions this time out.
However I was able to get a lot of great stuff and I think this is probably my best best-of in the four years I've written a list here and it was the hardest to narrow down. I love it. Enjoy hating it.
My Top 20 Albums for 2007
20. Against Me! - New Wave
Yeah, maybe they're hypocrites for being on a major, but that's old news. And maybe Gabel's an asshole, but think of all the greats who are probably dicks -- Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Isaac Brock, etc. (not that hitting a guy is OK). And yeah this record is more straight-up rock (I miss the country basslines) and it's got a couple weaker tracks, but even those have their great moments. I just can't listen to the first eight tracks and deny this record at least the twenty spot. It's the most sing-able Against Me! has ever been, and for me that's a good thing.
19. Radiohead - In Rainbows
A band of their stature, with only a week's notice, self-releases their album on a donation basis -- awesome. Who cares if it was a marketing strategy? It worked on me and I'm sure many others who may not have considered themselves huge fans. Maybe it wasn't their attempt to âturn the industry on its head' but it got us to listen. And listen I did, over and over, thinking âthis is the most I've been into a Radiohead album made in this decade!'
18. Lifetime - Lifetime
I like it more than Jersey's Best Dancers. Does that make me a bad person? Katz is a better singer, the modern production is more powerful but not overdone, and they stick to their melodic punk roots but don't play it too safe. They knew better than anyone of the high expectations and old cynics yelling âcash-grab' but Lifetime tread carefully yet confidently and put fears to rest.
17. Bowerbirds - Hymns for a Dark Horse
This is just the kind of band I have been looking for recently. My growing interest in folk music and in playing my late grandpa's old button accordion intersected with their dark yet melodic Americana. Nylon stringed guitar, fiddle and boomy percussion fill out the remaining main roles, supporting Phil Moore's smooth, jazz-toned vocals. With no Mountain Goats album for the first time in my four years making lists here, John Darnielle's recommendation (and tourmates) will definitely suffice.
16. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
While Animal Collective is getting more abrasive, Panda Bear is still all about sugary melodies. He still keeps it plenty strange with drones, repetitive loops and weird sounds, but it's still so catchy even when he's unintelligible. This year he makes my list and not his main gig.
15. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Sam Beam has mad skills. Sure, he could have written and recorded soft sad songs mostly single-handedly for all eternity. But after working with Calexico on their awesome split EP, he has branched out and we all win. Piano, accordion, electric (gasp!) guitars, and more powerful bass and drums help Beam to extend his songwriting and with the exception of a couple minor missteps (an overdone vocal effect), he fits his new shoes quite well.
14. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder
I wouldn't have expected anything less than a âdifficult second album' from these guys. Tangents, instrumentals and distorted production on a couple tracks only add to their vision along with all the âhits.' With still no label to report back to, you don't play it safe -- you pull out all the stops. [review]
13. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
On the wave of Jesse's glowing review and the amazing theatrical video for "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse," I gave this album a chance even though Barnes had narrowly missed my Top 20 on his last two tries. Happy-sounding songs about sad stuff with more of his over-the-top dance beats, synths and crazy vocal harmonies, and simply his most consistent set of sweet jams.
12. The Hives - The Black and White Album
A&M / Octone
I love everything about these Swedes. I love the matching outfits, the pompous attitude, and most of all the simple powerful strut of the rock they bring. Here they continue to stretch their limits (one misstep: "Giddyup") and add hints of R&B production and more new wave flair continued from Tyrannosaurus Hives. "Greg0rb loves The Hives!" -- Pelle Almqvist
11. Maritime - Heresy & the Hotel Choir
Who didn't love We, the Vehicles? The band opens up their sound and keep the dancey bounce without being as dry as the last time out. Von Bohlen hasn't written stuff this rockin' since Very Emergency.
10. Say Anything - In Defense of the Genre
It is hard to gauge an album that follows up one of your most loved, most sung albums of recent years, and it is also hard to gauge the overall success of double albums that are difficult to listen through in one sitting. Despite that, I am positive I love this album too, although still not as much as â¦Is a Real Boy. That would have been almost impossible to top. Yet here we have an incredibly consistent 27-song set sprinkled with extra keys and drum machine this time out, assisted by a mile-long guest list of emo and pop-punk's rising stars and veterans.
9. Saves the Day - Under the Boards
I will always shout loudly my love for In Reverie. Sound the Alarm ruled, but it seemed like something Conley could have just cranked out to appease the haters of that previous album, and now is the time to start slipping in some of that aborted direction. Gone is the teenage angst and in is the grown-up depression making for the most emotionally heavy STD album yet.
8. Feist - The Reminder
Cherry Tree / Interscope
Wow. I denied this album for a long time, for some reason lumping her in with the pop personas that Pitchfork sometimes champions. I didn't realize the Broken Social Scene connection and I didn't know it was so damn good. The album is such an eclectic mix of hushed ballads and folk tunes, jangly rock and unique pop. I finally gave in and it felt so good. Also, the video for "1234" is the feel-good video of the year.
7. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
With their lo-fi days seeming a distant memory, they take advantage of the production and stretch their wings a bit, but stick mainly to what they do best: vocal-focused, well-crafted indie pop-rock.
6. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Coming through with a successful second album is tough for a band as hyped on their first as this crew was. While Bible didn't grab me as immediately as Funeral, in time I grew to realize that this is a more solid set with less downtime and ballads, yet still showcasing their range. I also love the sweet reverb-tastic church production and tasty pipe organ.
5. Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This
Initially I was bummed that they lost members and therefore lost some instruments from their toybox. Sure, Places is more electronic but it's never cold, and the feel is less about childish giddiness and more about shoutin' along at the dance party. It's another super-fun album, just in a new direction. [review]
4. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I was just getting into Spoon when 2005's Gimme Fiction came out and I think it was too simple for me at the time; I was listening to âweird' stuff. But now I know better: Simple can be good, and Britt Daniel is one of the most consistent, focused and skilled songwriters of indie rock today. The production here is amazing as well.
3. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
This was a no-brainer for me before it even came out. Turns out Johnny Marr merely added subtle details keeping Brock's genius intact, with James Mercer's guest spots stealing more spotlight than him. Brock shows the full range of his writing ability with beautiful spacey ballads, meticulously constructed pop gems, raucous dance numbers and gritty sea shanties with a return to their long-ass album tradition. It's another progression in a line of amazing records, this time upping the layers of instruments with the number of players. One of my favorite bands of all-time, and the haters can cram it.
2. The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
Another predetermined list-maker, it was just a matter of how high up John K. Samson and Co. would get. Though I was slightly disappointed at first about the lack of twang that peppered Reconstruction Site and the larger presence of mellower tracks here, it's all about lyrics and melody with these guys and this is another set of perfection. My only problem with this album was trying not to over-listen to it and get tired of it (like that's possible). I know more lyrics to this album than any other this year, and singing along with albums makes me love them more and more as time goes on.
1. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
This, however, was not an automatic list-maker. I was doubtful that old dudes could bring the noise like their younger selves, but Dino's original trio shut me up. Sure, maybe there are less of those buzz-saw abrasive guitar tones and effects, but the songwriting is catchier than ever and J has twenty more years of solo shredding experience under his belt. If there was ever an air guitar album, this is it. This album without a doubt stands up to the best of their original `80s run, without copying those albums' styles straight-up. This earned more listens than Bug (my favorite of theirs) throughout this year, and that's a difficult thing to do. Nothing rocked me harder in 2007.
Wilco set themselves a high standard of noise-meets-alt-country-melodies on their last two, so when they removed the ânoise' part of the equation it made Sky Blue Sky seem safe. Solid, but safe. Animal Collective, in the relatively short time I've known them, has already veered pretty far away from the main reasons I dug them. Strawberry Jam is an enjoyable album, and I like a band who changes and matures, but this one just wasn't doin' it for me quite as much. All Y'All from the Travis Morrison Hellfighters upped the âreal song' quotient over his post D-Plan debut, but I miss the silly! Damn you Pitchfork for breaking his spirits. Art Brut attempted valiantly to follow up their unique debut with It's a Bit Complicated and the music stepped it up a notch in power and arrangement, but the songs just didn't stick as much as the first time around. And my favorite band ever, They Might Be Giants, put out The Else and while I always enjoy them, they are not the innovators they once were. They still totally rule.
|Of Montreal - "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"||Feist â "1234"|
They Didn't Make the Album I Wanted Them to Makeâ¦Dammit!
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
Instead of a âDisappointments' category, I opted instead to show how I disappoint myself with expectations. This is a good album, not fantastic, but enjoyable. However, after loving the indie with country/folk leanings of Real Adventurous, and loving the style of Rabbit Fur Coat but wishing for less filler, I was hoping for some sort of poppy power-country album Rilo Kiley. Instead I got disco and pure pop. Not the album I wanted them to make, but who am I?
The White Stripes - Icky Thump
Good album. But to me it sounds like a step back to Elephant. Where are the acoustic guitars, marimba and piano songs of Get Behind Me Satan? I was hoping that album was a stepping stone to an all-out acoustic country blues album, but I guess to them it was just a tangent, an exercise. And here they let a cover steal the show ("Conquest").
The Rentals - The Last Little Life
The Rentals are one of my favorite bands of all time so of course I was psyched when they started touring again, and even more so when they hit the studio. Sure, the redo of "Sweetness and Tenderness" can't top the original, but I'm really feelin' the new ones. With a lighter, more acoustic-based style than previous albums but with all the key Rentals ingredients (female backup vocals, synths, strings), this only got me salivating for more.
Once - Music from the Motion Picture
OK, so I don't buy soundtracks. Ever. OKâ¦maybe I did buy the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack, but other than that, never. Sure, dudes like Wes Anderson have awesome collections of classic songs in their movies, but I want the original albums those songs appeared on. But with "Once," this is the original album for these songs.Glen Hansard of the Frames (who I hadn't heard before this), an Irish indie rocker, turns out awesome folk pop recalling Cat Stevens. Alternating and/or combining with talented pianist/singer Marketa Irglova for a wide range of tunes including tender ballads, furiously-strummed acoustic rockers, the most poppy song in 5/4 I've ever heard, a silly improvised folk ditty and a little Casio-pop gem, the whole thing plays like a cohesive album and not a typical soundtrack. The movie in turn is amazing as well, thriving on the strength of the songs. Props to my sister and David for insisting I see this!
Greg Graffin - Cold as the Clay
I did hear this one in the final days of 2006 (got it for Christmas) but too late to make last year's lists. Good mix of traditional folk with some veterans backing and original tunes with the Weakerthans backing. Graffin went about this project in all the right ways.
Jolie Holland - Springtime Can Kill You
Do you call this indie jazz? But then sometimes it sounds like country ballads, so I don't know what to call it. I do know her smooth Billie Holiday vocal style is irresistible.
TV on the Radio- Return to Cookie Mountain
I didn't âget' their first album, so I didn't get their second album. But the hype just grew to a point I had to cave and check it out. Different than anything else I can think of on our large CD shelves. I can't even explain it.
Joanna Newsom - Ys
Harp. Blows my mind. With grand symphonic backing and her shrill, squeaking, undeniable voice singing about God-knows-what makes this another album unlike any other.
The Cassettes - âNeath the Pale Moon
Dobro leads the charge in this blues and Americana set that somehow mixes in the seemingly un-mixable: Cajun accordion, theremin and Indian influence bringing tabla drums and singing in Urdu. Thanks to Brian for sending me that. [review]
Now That's What Greg Calls Music IV
Most Anticipated Records of 2008
I'm not up on much of what's coming up next year, but I do know the Mountain Goats have a new one due in February! I believe there's a new Silver Jews coming and a Death Cab, and the last installment in the Saves the Day âtrilogy' is supposed to arrive before the year's end. I think the new Smoking Popes will finally be here in '08 and how âbout another Hold Steady album, guys?