Best of 2007 - Adam's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2007

Adam's picks (2007)

staff picks

Adam White is a news editor and reviewer here at, he also provides our weekly Navel Gazing recap -ed

Enter the frugal futurist

2007 was something of a watershed for me. Over the course of the year my consumption habits completely shifted and I found myself embracing a system that I scoffed at no less than a year ago.

In short, I'm now buying all my music digitally. I found myself facing up to the high cost of physical media these days and turning my back on a large collection that I had once proudly nurtured. While as a collector geek my racks of immaculately catalogued CDs were immensely satisfying, economics finally got the best of me. I forget what release I was hunting for, and it doesn't really matter. Local chain stores didn't have it, and even if they did the backwards Canadian retail system would have priced it at twenty dollars or more. Indie stores are nice, but simply not an option in small-town Ontario. Mail order is of course the most punk rock option, but let's face it: the cost of the CD plus shipping, border duties, and a few weeks of wait time do a lot do kill my enthusiasm. So what about iTunes and eMusic? Sure, the price would be cheaper and the gratification instant, but didn't I need the cover art? Any music geek worth their salt wants the liner notes, right? I kept telling myself that, despite the fact that each new CD I acquire these days ripped onto my computer and promptly shelved, likely never to be opened again.

I treated myself to an Apple TV and that cemented the deal. Who needs 120 millimetre wide art when you have it in 1080i?

Vinyl is, of course, the collector's option when finances allow, but despite the cool factor it's as inconvenient as it's ever been. My ears can't pick up the fidelity problems with digital well enough for that to be an issue. Piracy is for the kids; I have neither patience for the hunt nor a convincing excuse to justify the theft. So here I am, a legal digital consumer through and through. I've left meatspace behind. I may be years behind some of you, but as a holdout physical music consumer this feels significant. I've already seen my actual listening preferences change because of it ("oh, that's not on eMusic? Well, I really don't feel like paying twenty bucks for it. I'll find something else to buy...").

So when even us folks with rooms dedicated to their CD shelves are no longer buying CDs, who is? These are interesting times to be a music consumer, let alone a fan.

Who Rocked the Casbah in 2007

July 17 on In The Red Records
There's something to be said about Stooges-styled garage punk. We're getting to the point where doing it right matters more than doing it differently. There's something very honest and exhilarating at its core. I've been meaning to check out Miss Alex White for a few years now, and it's very rewarding to discover that her new record is so well-executed. This isn't an album that's meant to inspire or change the world, it's meant to thrive in the here and now. When it's playing there's no ignoring it.
19. Attack In Black - The Curve Of The Earth
November 13 on Dine Alone Records
Attack In Black's second full-length of the year is just vitally important to the band's story and a model for how things could be done. It seems like a reaction to the success of their other record, stripping away anything that would resemble a modern rock single and taking a low-fi folky path. It's a brilliantly credible move because it lives or dies on the strength of the songwriting. There's no playing to the crowd here, and that's exactly what the band needs to remain interesting. Recorded at home over two days and released just a few months later, it shows a commitment to making music that forgoes the tired industry release cycle. In a world with rapid digital distribution and an easily distracted audience, bands should be striving for this style of low-cost, highly creative, quickly available release.
18. The Acorn - Glory Hope Mountain
October 1 on Paper Bag Records
This fall I was driving through the hills from Maine to New Brunswick. The leaves on the trees were a sea of red and orange and the light remnants of a passing storm put a layer of lazy drizzle and fog along the path. There were no other cars on the road, and the Acorn was the soundtrack. This album is just pretty. I don't even know how to describe it. Dreamy, folky, well-played roots rock. The Ottawa band wasn't all that interesting a few years ago, merely competent and passively enjoyable. This however exists on a whole other plane of consciousness.
17. The Good, The Bad And The Queen - The Good, The Bad And The Queen
January 22 on Parlophone
I don't care about Blur. I didn't grow up listening to them and I could very well remain forever ignorant of their accomplishments. I definitely care about the Clash, but the one fourth of the Only Band That Matters isn't enough to make a great record. What's fascinating about The Good The Bad And The Queen is that it's one of those rare albums that really gets the current wartime mood. People aren't taking to the streets. There are no upbeat rallying cries. There's no mass movement, even though nobody's really happy. "Drink all day 'cos the country's at war." That seems more real than any upstart activist punk anthem. Apathy and cynicism are the order of the day, and this understated supergroup's downtrodden, grim dub rock seems to capture it.
16. Tegan And Sara - The Con
July 24 on Sire Records
I'm amazed at this band's appeal. I'm not even really surprised anymore when I hear their praises from people who otherwise dine exclusively on the manliest of manly hardcore. It's not hard to see why the sisters Quin have gained so many accolades, as their knack for stringing together deceptively simple yet razor sharp pop hooks is second to none. This is the type of record that would hop up five or ten spots in this list if I were to revise it in a few months.
Brutal Knights
15. Brutal Knights - Feast Of Shame
February 20 on Deranged Records
Brutal Knights is a stupid band -- and that's awesome. This Toronto hardcore act brings quality destruction like their contemporaries in Career Suicide and Fucked Up, only at lyrically ridiculous extremes that fans of Pissed Jeans (or even, say, the Evaporators) would certainly enjoy. Of course, it doesn't hurt that frontman Nick Flanagan's an actual comedian. There's nary a phrase on Feast Of Shame that isn't bizarre in some way, spit out with a nasal, defiant snarl over ramshackle hardcore bursts.
14. Mark Sultan - The Sultanic Verses
May 15 on In The Red Records
Mark Sultan is nothing if not prolific. Between his solo material as BBQ, his joint venture with King Khan and his band the Mind Controls this has to be his fourth or fifth full-length in the past two years. Each new Sultan project seems to be just incrementally better than the prior, and The Sultanic Verses is no exception. This is low-fi garage punk with a heavy dose of rockabilly swagger and zero recording budget. It drives me crazy that some punk rock fans will go through their whole lives without ever embracing something this raw, honest and fun. The perfect remedy for the past 25 years or so.
13. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
March 6 on Merge Records
This could have been cut into the greatest EP ever. While all around decent, the songs that rise above the fray are absolutely spectacular. It's that handful that makes this a worthy addition to anyone's library. With the volume high enough, "Keep The Car Running" sounds like it's the one thing keeping the Earth spinning. There should be absolutely no question as to why this band is so celebrated.
The Sadies
12. The Sadies - New Seasons
September 18 on Outside Music
The Sadies were always adept at genre blending, bopping between alt-country, garage, psychedelic `60s surf rock and post-Crazy Horse Canuck indie folk --- often taking several turns over a handful of songs. This record solidifies their stylistic adventures, boiling everything down to a level of focus that the band's missed in the past. New Seasons carries the sound from Favourite Colours forward, with Byrds-inspired harmonies telling grim tales over some absolutely stellar guitar work. After last year's absolutely epic live album, it's satisfying to see the band bottle up all that raucous energy and take a cool introspective turn.
11. Feist - The Reminder
May 1 on Arts & Crafts
Universal appeal is nothing to scoff at. This is one of those records that you can play for anyone, and regardless of what they're into and they'll enjoy it. That's a simple observation but it's not something that most artists can achieve without compromises. Feist doesn't sound like she's shortchanging her vision at all here. The Reminder is just very enjoyable on a fundamental level.
10. Abdominal - Escape From The Pigeon Hole
May 28 on Do Right! Music
Abdominal's one of the very rare MCs that can not only get this punk's attention, but captivate me. Escape From the Pigeon Hole is clever, funny, and cuts no corners. Propulsive, smart instrumentation bubbles under the surface, playing a wisely restrained role to showcase Abs' rabid fire syllables and masterful lyricism. With the topics covered including bicycles, chicken wings and the fortunes of the poor Leafs, I don't know what could be more relatable.
9. The New Pornographers - Challengers
August 21 on Matador Records
This is perhaps the most relaxed entry in the New Pornographers' catalogue and, at least on the surface, the entry of least impact. Yet the songs are still across the board brilliant and the players, in particular Dan Bejar, really put together some moving stuff. I still feel like I'm re-discovering this every few weeks, and that's never a bad sign. This will have spectacular shelf life and will spend a long, long time in rotation.
Parts and Labor
8. Parts & Labor - Mapmaker
May 22 on Jagjaguwar
Parts & Labor take influence from distortion-drenched New Day Rising-era Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen along with a whole lot of impenetrable noise rock that I won't even pretend to be familiar with. These musical elements, along with absolutely maniac drumming, could very well result in something that's certifiably artistic yet absolutely appalling to listen to. Parts & Labor are brilliant in they take that approach and apply it to very classically written rock songs. Someone commented that this is a noise band playing Ramones songs, and that's not too far from the mark. This is the sound of nothing less than complete, exhilarating victory.
7. Bad Religion - New Maps Of Hell
July 9 on Epitaph Records
Just an absolute pleasure. Again. If I was more concerned with my reputation as a critic I'd be wary of continually lumping praise on a band so long in the tooth. They're clearly one of my safe-zone bands and they could easily climb my lists year after year on nostalgia alone. I don't think that's the case though, as New Maps Of Hell is one hell of a strong album. Bad Religion's one of the most rewarding acts I've ever had the pleasure of growing attached to, and three albums in their late-career comeback hasn't lost any steam.
The Jai-Alai Savant
6. The Jai-Alai Savant - Flight Of The Bass Delegate
April 3 on Gold Standard Laboratories
Years ago one of our editors got me into a Philadelphia dub-punk act called Franklin, a band that released some great material that nobody really ended up hearing. That band's principal artistic force has since resurfaced in the Jai-Alai Savant, mercifully resurrecting Franklin's approach and giving it a second lease on life. Every few years we have a group that shows up on the punk scene with a bit of an indie rock / reggae / dub hybrid that's not quite ska and sounds a lot like the Police did in their prime. Those bands are distractions at best, never really taking the sound to the next level and quickly becoming uninteresting. I'm happy to say without hesitation that the Jai-Alai Savant do it better than the Police ever did. They absolutely own the sound.
5. Career Suicide - Attempted Suicide
April 19 on Deranged Records
There's so much that Career Suicide gets right. It's hardcore that doesn't forget its roots in punk or garage rock, but has enough life and breakneck energy to never sound dated. It's modern and yet there's no sign of the embarrassing pollutants that have soured most of today's hardcore. While it's certainly not intended as such, Attempted Suicide shows up its contemporaries so thoroughly that it almost feels like critical commentary.
4. The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
September 25 on Epitaph Records
Despite the sheer reverence shown for the Winnipeg act, the Weakerthans are really a delightfully simple band. Particularly in Canada, the indie scene's treated them with the acclaim afforded to luminaries like Broken Social Scene and the Arcade Fire. While I'd argue that John K. Samson and company certainly deserve it, they're clearly of a different breed. When I listen to those bands I'm well aware that I'm listening to art, intentional art, and the bands know it. The Weakerthans? They're a rock band. They play rock songs. However literate their songwriter, however many roots tangents they travel, that's always been the case. Reunion Tour rides a wave of anticipation but it delivers exactly what makes this four-piece so endearing: touching, exciting, and accessible rock music. (excerpted from my full review)
Joel Plaskett Emergency
3. Joel Plaskett Emergency - Ashtray Rock
May 1 on MapleMusic
Last year Halifax indie rocker Joel Plaskett released three songs on an EP included with his Make A Little Noise DVD. Each was an absolute classic -- and they promised something anthemic and mighty on the next full-length. Ashtray Rock isn't what I imagined at all: It's something with much more heart. The album's narrative follows a pair of friends in a high school rock band as their relationship shatters over a girl. It's remarkably fun and playful at times yet strikingly poignant at others.

Concept albums are generally a bad idea and an excuse for all manner of wankery. This one keeps it simple and it works beautifully, with enough distinction between the songs to remain coherent even when heard out of context. Plaskett's certainly writing better than he ever has, eclipsing his alt-country work with some very iconic and populist rock songs. However, despite the technical success of the record, I just feel engaged in the fates of his characters. Keep the band together guys! You can do it! Don't let it all fall apart over that girl!
Attack in Black
2. Attack In Black - Marriage
July 31 on Dine Alone Records
While I've developed the reputation as a Canadian band booster, Ontario acts have always been a bit of a tough sell for me. Toronto doesn't exist in the same universe as the rest of the province, so it gets a pass, but following the QEW south into the golden horseshoe I've never found much to get excited about. I'm too old for the mall emo and post-hardcore that's taken root in Hamilton and the surrounding cities. There's a definite scene there, but it's for the kids who grew up on Grade and Thursday. As you head towards the border and my home region of Niagara I have yet to find a single band that's really spoken to me -- until now.

Welland's Attack In Black could have very well joined those uninteresting ranks. Yet despite roots in the local hardcore scene they've blossomed into something far more substantial. The four-piece seems to be following the path laid by the Weakerthans and Constantines, a path where the Band and Neil Young sit in the same pantheon as the Clash and the Ramones. Attack In Black's Marriage is wise well beyond its years, with anthems like "Young Leaves" and "Northern Towns" destined to become classic Canadian road songs.

"There are places with horizons above a level ground / a man's as much as the love he leaves behind in northern towns." That lyric rang through my head when I proposed to my girlfriend this year in Cape Breton. Funny enough, she's from Welland too.
Black Lips
1. Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil
September 11 on Vice Records
There's a pretty clear trajectory to the Lips catalogue, and Good Bad Not Evil fits the pattern well. With each record the Black Lips have cleaned things up, trading off a few layers of garage distortion for better songwriting. It's not a compromise by any means, but they've come to rely on different strengths. This isn't a band that needs to fall back on Stooges-styled feedback and shocking stage antics -- not anymore. As their songwriting continues to tighten, we're seeing a few less few weird-for-the-sake-it diversions and more experiments with genre and structure. The album-opening "Lean" feels familiar. It puts its head down and digs into a garage groove with some messy-by-design bridges that fans of Forest Spirit will certainly dig. However, it's "Katrina" that really defines today's Black Lips. The pop hooks seem almost too obvious, but they work so well against the band's raw production and twisted lyrical content. The Lips are at their best playing the lo-fi pop-punk card, keeping their tempos fast and the songs as concise as possible. "Bad Kids" and "Cold Hands" are shining examples. Much of it is lyrically blunt, but cleverly so. There's a fun dumbness to the Black Lips that isn't quite an attempt at irony, but it's definitely something the band strives for.

That Vice has raised the band's profile yet allowed them to maintain what makes them great is a credit to the label. The Black Lips are the type of band that you'd listen to and fantasize that, in a perfect world, the backwards public would wake up and celebrate. We're not quite there yet, but this may be farther than a true garage punk act has ever gotten without descending into parody. The Lips are in uncharted territory, and that's as exciting as the music. (excerpted from my full review)

Honourable Mentions

As always, 20 spots isn't nearly enough. This year brought us some quality tunes from records like Dinosaur Jr.'s Beyond, King Khan and the Shrines' What is?, Ted Leo And The Pharmacists' Living With The Living, Queens Of The Stone Age's Era Vulgaris, Cuff The Duke's Sidelines Of The City, the Black Diamond Heavies' Every Damn Time, the Copyrights' Make Sound, Tranzmitors' Tranzmitors and Immaculate Machine's Fables.

Video Proof

Black Lips - Katrina Attack In Black - Young Leaves
The Jai-Alai Savant - White On White Crime Parts & Labor - This Gold We're Digging

Great Live Record Not from the Neil Young Archives

Black Lips - Los Valentes Del Mundo Nuevo
February 20 on Vice Records
The problem with the Black Lips is that at some point they started writing absolutely amazing songs: tuneful, timeless rock songs that revel in their brevity and tease with perfect little pop hooks. That skill betrays their reputation as a vulgar, nihilistic live act. You can't have both worlds -- and the Black Lips, with this John Reis produced live record, sound like they're trying their damndest to maintain that. This record's as much a collection of greatest hits as it's a collection of evidence. It's something for the band and their fans to cling to as proof that, at least for a while, the Black Lips brilliantly walked that tightrope. (excerpted from my full review)

Top Short Form Releases

2. Fucked Up - Year Of The Pig
September 4 on What's Your Rupture
It took me a full year longer than the rest of humanity to get into this band. Don't get me wrong, I love Hidden World and think the band's whimsically creative approach to hardcore is rather brilliant, but it took that long for someone to convince me to even bother trying it out. I find that "creative, critically acclaimed hardcore" has been used to label all manner of garbage since the turn of the century, so I wrongfully assumed it was one of those. The Year Of The Pig EP touches on an absolutely horrific series of crimes that have been constant headlines in Canada, and musically it's right in line with the prior full-length's accomplishments.
1. Ladyhawk - Fight For Anarchy
May 22 on Jagjaguwar
I've been meaning to get into Ladyhawk for a while now, as they've been touring with a number of bands I'm a fan of, notably John Rae & The River and the Constantines. I missed out on the band's debut full-length until this year, but it's sporting a very cool, rough-hewn, Replacements / Crazy Horse hybrid sound with a bit of a southern rock kick. This EP takes things a step into noisier territory. It's delightfully unedited, endearingly sloppy at times, and makes you think that the next record is going to knock it out of the fucking park.

2007 Mixtape

    Side A
  1. Black Diamond Heavies - Guess You Gone And Fucked It All Up
  2. Joe Plaskett Emergency - Snowed In / Cruisin'
  3. Career Suicide - Recipe For Disaster
  4. The Copyrights - Thinking With The Lights On
  5. Black Lips - Cold Hands
  6. Bob Burns & The Breakdowns - Terminal Breakdown
  7. Parts & Labor - Vision Of Repair
  8. Bad Religion - Fields Of Mars
  9. The Ponys - Turn The Lights Out
  10. Abdominal - Abdominal Workout
  11. Jai-Alai Savant - When I Grow Up
  12. Tranzmitors - Everyone Wants To Lose Control
  13. Cuff The Duke - Surging Revival
  14. Attack In Black - Northern Towns
  15. Arcade Fire - Keep The Car Running
    Side B
  1. Akron/Family - Ed Is A Portal
  2. Ladyhawk - War
  3. Sage Francis - Got Up This Morning
  4. Queens Of The Stone Age - Make It Wit Chu
  5. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Toro And The Toreador
  6. Feist - My Moon My Man
  7. The Acorn - Flood
  8. New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour
  9. The Besnard Lakes - On Bedford And Grand
  10. Tegan and Sara - Back In Your Head
  11. Immaculate Machine - Roman Statues
  12. The Weakerthans - Tournament Of Hearts
  13. Attack In Black - Sparrow
  14. Chuck Ragan - Symmetry
  15. Mark Sultan - Two Left Feet
Looking Forward

The Constantines paring with Arts & Crafts promises that their next record will be something of an event. Not that it would be ignored otherwise, but A&C is nimble and creative enough to do something really interesting with it. Screw Lifetime, there's a new Paint It Black album set to arrive this winter and that's where I think Mr. Yemin should be concentrating his energy. Next year promises a new album of space sludge from Black Mountain and a new full-length from my favourite artist of 2006, Destroyer. What else is coming up? Fucked Up. Dillinger Four. Be Your Own Pet. The Loved Ones. The Bronx. FemBots. Teenage Bottlerocket. Let's not forget the massive Deadly Snakes collection. Dare I hold out hope that the new Rancid full-length will mark a return to past heights?

Happy New Year's everyone; once again, it's your contributions and participation that keeps this site running and we're grateful for it. We couldn't be happier that you're here. Cheers!