Aubin is a news editor and reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
2007 has certainly been a critical year for the music industry and so rarely have I seen people fighting so hard. Now, Music is not dead, but what is being clung to is the old models. A decade ago, music was a collective experience; it was hard to be a music fan and not see when Nirvana soundly clobbered Guns N' Roses and sent the last remnants of the hair metal bands to their graves. With just one song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana had grabbed the conciousness of almost everyone. By the same token, bands like Green Day and Weezer became a collective experience, not just a fad among a certain self-selecting group of music fans.
Nowadays, there is very little that can reach that apex; take the bigger rock acts like Fall Out Boy for example -- despite their efforts to have their name mentioned in every single story MTV.com publishes -- the band has never reached the level of mainstream conciousness that Green Day reached with Dookie or Weezer with "Buddy Holly." They are well-known and successful certainly, but they've had to sacrifice far more of themselves to reach even 25% of the success that was afforded Green Day.
I'm not trying to make a point about Green Day being a better band, even though they are. What I'm talking about is the new mainstream norm; to be a star nowadays is the way to succeed. I'll call this the "post-reality TV" model of the mainstream in that the expectation of success is complete exposure in every way.
Whether it's the quite deliberate "accidental" leaking of carefully framed nude photos and sex tapes or the carefully choreographed criminal behaviour demanded from generic hip-hop acts, people now expect their celebrities to expose themselves both figuratively and literally.
The lack of a common frame of reference is partly to blame for this; there are so many factors demanding attention and such massive volumes of people that the kind of slow-burn success that typified the `90s is no longer possible, at least within youth culture. But the mainstream music industry is so coupled to this type of success that they are ill-equipped to deal with ten 100,000 selling albums since their model is to produce 1 platinum record and nine failures. The result is the kind of desperation being seen now; illegal downloading is certainly a problem, but is more a symptom than anything else.
Social science defines something called a "moral panic": This is a false or exaggerated perception that some group is dangerously deviant and will be the end of society; this kind of panic seems to be fueling much of the lawsuits, and even in the absence of downloading, the music industry cannot count on the kind of Nirvana-style sea changes that typified past generations. With kids segmenting themselves into the most bizarrely hyphenated subgroups, it's nonsensical to try to mobilize that group behind any one artist.
People will continue to love music, but they may find themselves better served by Sub Pop or Anti- or Fat Wreck Chords than a major label ill-equipped to reach the bands or their fans. Smaller labels -- whether spun off from the majors or indies -- can provide the kind of return the industry depends on, with much less of the risk and all this without suing anyone's grandmothers. Does that sound like something we could get behind?
The Best of 2007
As with previous years, I am not ranking these albums in any particular order. It's impossible to create any sort of ordinal ranking that will make sense with regards to different styles of music and the reasonings for each selection usually make it impossible for me to suggest that one is "better" than an another.
The Good, the Bad and the Queen - The Good, The Bad and the Queen
I was certainly entranced by the notion of a collaboration of Damon Albarn and Paul Simonan, but the other musicians on the album proved just as brilliant and just as memorable; from the absolutely incredible talent in the hands of drummer Tony Allen, to the deft production of Dangermouse, the album is the kind of cynically hopeful internationalism you'd expect to come from the streets of London.
Parts & Labor - Mapmaker
With songwriting that is as much classic U2 as Ramones and a performance style that is simply overwhelmed by distortion, it's hard not to love Mapmaker; every hook is beautiful, but the overdriven drumming and blazing tempos make this among the best straight-up punk rock records of the year.
Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
After a lengthy absence from the studio, Les Savy Fav returns with perhaps their most consistent album to date; all the familiar elements are still present - the hardcore, pop, dub and other influences - but the songwriting has been refined to create flawless hooks and razor-sharp guitars. Like Dismemberment Plan's Change, the record represents a perfect post-hardcore take on pop.
Comeback Kid - Broadcasting...
Potent hardcore is always a tricky proposition; it's easy to rage forward at 200bpm or throw in copious breakdowns, all with the intent of providing a racuous live performance, but usually the recorded version of those songs becomes hollow when separated from the bright lights and screaming kids. The exception is the rare band like Comeback Kid who can provide inspirational and listenable hardcore without sacrificing energy.
The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
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 Adam and I's full review)
Pinback - Autumn of the Seraphs
Touch & Go
While I felt Summer in Abaddon was a tad overrated, Pinback's latest record Autumn of the Seraphs is the perfect pop album of 2007; with completely disparate influences cropping up throughout the album and songs like "Barnes" so perfectly assembled, it's hard to imagine the compositional process that created them. Just a wonderful, melancholy record that fits any situation or mood.
Maritime - Heresy and the Hotel Choir
Another album coming from the same glorious place as Pinback; each track possesses a character of its own, and the mellow energy is infectious.
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Dance punk is the most nebulous of creations; so many modern bands aiming for the sound simply ape the sound of the early prototypes, and entirely miss the point of the genre; James Murphy just loves dance music and loves punk and it comes through in every urgent, tension-filled note on the record. Play this at your next party and everyone will love you.
Darkest Hour - Deliver Us
While earlier Darkest Hour could easily be dismissed as a better-than-average retread of European metal sounds, the last two albums have seen the band grow by leaps and bounds; maybe it's the guiding hand of uber-producer Devin Townsend, or just the maturity that comes from a decade playing music together, but Darkest Hour seems to be able to put together efficient and memorable tracks with admirable musicianship and zero wankery. The best thing Victory released this year, and that includes the Omega Sessions.
Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
The best way I can explain the Dillinger Escape Plan is that the band is musically fearless; or, to put it more simply: They try everything so you don't have to. Like Refused before them, the Plan's ability to elegantly assemble songs from a myriad of influences can lead to sheer brilliance, or, in the case of Ire Works, some rather nasty failures. Still, for the courage in the songwriting and the absolutely brilliant levels of creativity throughout this record, it's not hard to hold it up as a flawed, but important record. Tech-metal bands? Start taking notes, you can't crib from Calculating Infinity forever.
Lifetime - Lifetime
It's so hard to separate the love for this band from the love for this record; Lifetime was one of the reasons this website even came into existence, after all. Still, the simple love of hardcore music that oozes out of every song on this record is hard to miss, and if the breakdown in "All Nite Long" doesn't make you want to jump on your bed...
Jesu - Conqueror (Japan)
While the album itself was already one of the most interesting pieces of music released in the 2007, the addition of the Sundown/Sunrise EP in the Japanese verion makes it the one to get; following the noise-pop perfection of Conqueror, the two 20-minute tracks that round out the second disk are heavy, ethereal and engrossing for all their hypnotic runtime. While mastermind Justin Broaderick stumbled slightly on Lifeline, the remainder of his 2007 output was exemplary, something that few people as prolific as Justin can claim.
Career Suicide - Attempted Suicide
While aiming to sound like Morris-era Black Flag is an often attempted but rarely met goal, it's refreshing to see a band who does it, pats itself on the back and then looks forward to see what might have happened had Morris remained the frontman of the band; if "Nervous Breakdown" was a band instead of just an awesome song, this would be the band.
No Age - Weirdo Rippers
This one is barely a proper album, as it compiles five different EPs -- from five different labels -- into a single disc, but one listen to the beautiful noise contained within, and you'll forget about those kinds of details. The band loves noise and it loves pop and rarely can you predict which road they'll take until just after they do; it's a destabilizing record that demands attention and with their recent signing to Sub Pop, we can expect them to get it.
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Of course, much has been made of the significant way in which this record made its way to the masses, but much should also be made of the music itself. While I've found myself impressed with past albums on a technical level, much of Radiohead's recent output has seemed so concerned with its medium that there hasn't been enough of a message to grab my attention; with In Rainbows, the band has actually put together memorable and gorgeous songs. While it may be the most discussed album of the year simply for its distribution method, it's worth listening to for its sublime and gentle qualities as well.
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Like any band that sells a million records on the back of a particular single, Modest Mouse has its share of detractors but little of that seems to bother or even register with Isaac Brock, the weird and wild-eyed singer behind this band and its constantly shifting sound and influence; from the shouted and sung vocals to the new guitar pyrotechnics from Johnny Marr, the record ranks with the band's best work.
Bloc Party - Weekend in the City
The presence of this album on this list should make it clear that the best records of 2007 are rarely flawless, but often pack enough magic together to bring them to the top. Weekend in the City is many good things, but it is also deeply flawed; much of the band's kinetic Gang-of-Four-influenced energy has been repressed to bring a more classical post-punk sound influenced by early U2 as much as Wire; songs like "Hunting for Witches" are so incredible as to pull the light away from the album's weaker tracks, and it remains the best of the modern "post-punk" albums coming out of England with such increasing frequency.
Dälek - Abandoned Language
Brett Gurewitz has frequently described hip-hop as the "new" punk rock, both for its political and lyrical fearlessness and its very real subversive effect. Few hip-hop acts are as important in this regard as Dälek; with dark and thoughtful lyrics and nearly claustrophobic levels of production, Dälek is as much hip-hop as dark shoegaze with lush waves of noise, nearly buried vocals and aggressive tendencies peeking into the forefront.
Neither of these records really came out on top, so I've decided the can share the honor (and the prize money) this year. Both are terrific bursts of pop-punk with little pretention and even less chords. While it's hard to hold them up as earth-shattering in any way, they're both irresistibly catchy and fun records.
There were several other albums that nearly made the list; Against Me!'s New Wave, Dinosaur Jr.'s Beyond, Tiger Army's Music from Regions Beyond, Battles' Mirrored, the Hives' The Black and White Album, Hot Cross' Risk Revival, and A Wilhelm Scream's Career Suicide.
|Bloc Party "Flux"||LCD Soundsystem "All My Friends"|
|Darkest Hour "Demon(s)"||Parts & Labor "This Gold We're Digging"|
Things other than music that ruled in 2007
Sure, "Heroes" was disappointing this year, but there was some pretty great stuff popping up elsewhere. "Mad Men" was definitely the best new drama on television, and the History Channel's "Universe" was the best bit of non-fiction. In terms of films, "Gone Baby Gone" was outstanding, as was "3:10 to Yuma." I can't heap as much praise on "No Country for Old Men" as others mainly because of how cold it left me, but Charlie Wilson's War" made up for it. On a geekier note, the long-awaited Futurama movie kicked our asses, and thank your god for that.
In terms of books, I started my Master's this year, so I haven't been reading as much, but the Yiddish Policeman's Union was great.
Is it fair for me to put Paint It Black's new album among my most anticipated when I've already listened to the whole thing a dozen times? I don't care because if you're not anticipating it, you should. There should be a number of interesting records out in the new year, the Constantines, Be Your Own Pet, Teenage Bottlerocket, Rancid, Fucked Up, No Age, Dillinger Four?, the Loved Ones, Bob Mould, Hot Water Music, Polar Bear Club, Weezer, Goldfinger, Envy, Disfear, Rocket from the Crypt and the as-yet untitled project from John Reis.
Thanks for reading this, and thanks for being here.