Since there are approximately fifteen million lists out there already (and we’d probably never manage to agree on one of our own), we decided to pick our favorite records of this year, tell you about them, and tell you about why we love them. (To discuss your favorites with us, join us in the Patrol Magazine Facebook group.)
Pick: The National, _Boxer_
I never thought I would be saying this. I tried to appreciate the National after Alligator, with only limited success, until this record reached me. Unlike its predecessor, I instantly liked several songs, and liked the others enough to keep listening. By the end of the summer (and after the National pretty much blew my mind at their live show), I couldn’t imagine placing another record higher.
I love Boxer because it manages to do so much with so little. There is no bombast, no weirdness, just expert playing and a masterful understanding of dynamics and the emotional arc of a four-minute song. On the stage, the National didn’t need a light show to keep their audience entertained. There and on this record, they manage to make us hang on every note, often with little more than whispering.
Pick: Radiohead, In Rainbows
It’s hard to think of an album that has touched me on a deeper emotional level than Radiohead’s latest release. I mean, so much hype surrounded the unconventional release that I think most people didn’t quite notice the albums breathtakingly beautiful power. When I start the album with “15 Step” you’re assaulted with a fusion of sound that’s almost as disjointed as Thom’s vocals. Somehow though, those disparate elements add rather than detract from the song’s grace and charm. I don’t think I’ve heard someone use scratching like Thom does in that opening, and honestly, the track is emblematic for the entire album.
You hear familiar parts of songs and choruses (piano riffs, choirs, violins, etc) but you hear them used in an entirely new way that doesn’t really sound like anyone else. The album blends together in this rolling story of ridiculous riffs and slow and methodical transitions. As I’m sitting here, there are only a few songs that stick out in my head, but so many parts, I’d almost view it as one complete body of work that you can only truly take as a whole. Maybe that’s because this is one of the last true “albums” I have heard in a long time.
It’s Thom screaming, “Has the light going out on you?/Cause the light’s going out on me/ It’s the 21st Century.”
It’s the string interlude on “Reckoner” building in the background slowly and then ripping the song wide open.
It’s the dirge of “Videotape”…”Mephistopheles is just beneath/And he’s reaching up to grab me.”
It’s the bittersweet taste of “All I Need.”
The entire album is one you planned as background music but somehow became the driving theme to your hour: it is controlling everything else. I know everyone else has written/will write more about how amazing this album is, and I honestly don’t want to just jump on the kudo-dispensing party boat. But seriously, I spent a few weeks thinking about how I could really call another album my favorite of the year. It’s not that there weren’t albums that didn’t catch me more; heck the Arcade Fire record had me from top to bottom, but that’s not the album of the year. The album of the year necessitates beauty arising out of depth. No one even comes close to Radiohead in that department. Radiohead leads the way and sets the bar for beauty in music right now, but they don’t just set the standard, they soundtrack my dreams.
Pick: LCD Soundsystem, _Sound of Silver_
Like all James Murphy projects, Sound of Silver is a rhythmic thrill: this is what it sounds like when a man makes love to his record collection. A LCD Soundsytem album is a gift from the musically omniscient mind of a walking encyclopedia of “Rock&Roll” who, let’s face it, has better taste than you and me. The beats (especially “Get Innocuous,” “Time to Get Away,” and “Us v. Them”) work themselves into sweat-soaked frenzy and even when the album lulls (with “Something Great” and the Lou-Reedy-closer, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”), his anthems feel epic and intimate. Sound of Silver attempts to make you seize, spazz, shake, and shudder in the wake of Murphy’s sonic imagination. Mainline and enjoy.
Pick: Feist, _The Reminder_
To be honest, picking the best record of 2007 is a somewhat gruesome task even if I pretend all those great albums I haven’t listened to yet (see my wish list) didn’t exist. That being said, The Reminder is one of a few major contenders for the spot. Plus, someone here at Patrol needs to talk about herâ€¦
From the first seconds of “So Sorry” the album takes us on one of the most accessibly magical journeys of the year. “I’m sorry/Two words I always think/After you’re gone/When I realize I was acting all wrong/So selfish/Two words that could describe/Oh actions of mine/When patience is in short supply,” Feist sings and we’re immediately struck by the beauty of her voice. But there’s other times where Leslie’s voice is almost painfully un-balanced and at odds with the sheerly wonderful pop/rock/folk/jazz of the album. One can imagine dancing to The Reminder only to begin crying moments later. All one needs is the first acoustic guitar strum of “The Park” to emerge, to hear the transparent vulnerability and clarity of lines like “Why would he come back through the park/You thought that you saw him/But no you did not/It’s not him who’d come across the sea to surprise you/Not him who would know where in London to find you,” and we’re right there with her.
Leslie Feist takes us across the seas and through the parks of London and back, but mostly she takes inside every feeling and thought. There’s a sense of loss and revelation that permeates the entire album, but it never feels idiosyncratic. It takes a deeply personal album to leave you feeling like you understand a friend (who recommended this to me) better than before after one listen, but The Reminder did just that. Plus, “1 2 3 4” makes use of what is probably the best (and pretty sounding) use of a banjo this year.
Pick: Patty Griffin, _Children Running Through_
Patty Griffin has spent the past several years working hard at crafting her unique brand of soulfully honest alt-country. While critics and artists alike have appreciated her work, with everyone from The Dixie Chicks to Kelly Clarkson recording one of her songs along with her 2002 release, 1000 Kisses, receiving a Grammy nomination, Griffin has yet to reach her full stride. With Children Running Through, it seems as though she finally has, finding all the right elements coming together in a power-packed twelve songs. So what elements set this album apart? To begin with, Griffin’s delivery is spot on. On tracks such as album opener “You’ll Remember” and “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song),” her vocals cut to the heart, drawing deep emotion forth. Alternately, on more playful tracks like “Stay on The Ride” or “Getting Ready”, the artist reminds listeners that she can rock out too, her voice matching the stirring sounds note for note. But, once again, its Griffin’s songwriting that sets her apart from the pack this time around. From the insight offered up on the aforementioned tracks to a song like “Someone Else’s Tomorrow,” we are once again reminded of the artist’s gift for word pictures as she sings: “Have you ever been baptized in the cool winter water/On a Sunday morning/When the sky was gray/We filed out of the churchyard/So cold is was silver/Into gold, tan, and blue cars/And the cars drove away.” With a beautiful delivery coupled with equally compelling songwriting, Children Running Throughis a listener’s delight.
Pick: Wilco, _Sky Blue Sky_
So it turns out Wilco wasn’t just messing with us after all.
Not that I ever thought they were. I loved every disenchanted patriotic minute of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and every dystopian headachey minute of A Ghost is Born even more. And it would be hard for me to say that Wilco has topped itself with a return to their roots like Sky Blue Sky, but dammit, this is just a good album. It’s as if Wilco made a â€˜best of’ with completely new music—replete with the good ol’ rock it out with a twang alt-country that made them popular to begin with in A.M., the sonic melodiescapes they forged in Yankee, and the sometimes lilted songwriting and rhythms of Ghost. It’s just damn fine music from one of the most consistently great bands of our generation.
And then there’s “Impossible Germany.” One friend described the greatness of Nels Cline’s current residency in Wilco as “slumming it.” I can’t help but feel this is exactly where Cline’s guitar belongs. Too many amazing instrumentalists have egos the sizes of Maine that could never fit into a band that did not feature their name (unless equally matched all around as with groups like the Flecktones—who even still take their name after Bela—or Liquid Tension Experiment), so it’s refreshing to see somebody of Cline’s mastery fitting in so seamlessly with Tweedy, who is not known particularly well for his ability to play well with others.
Wilco has proven once again its consistent ability to reach back across its spectrum while still reaching forward. Rock music is not just eating itself all over again in Wilco. It’s eating mom, dad, uncles, cousins—pretty much the whole family tree. And for somebody like me, who prefers vast (over)statements of artistic breadth, as opposed to commercial pop and carefully hedged art-rock, that’s just fine with me.
Pick: The National, _Boxer_
I encountered The National’s previous release, Alligator, three years ago and was captivated by its subtle narrative and incredible melodic complexity. I spent the better part of a summer finding new meaning behind Matt Berninger’s honest lyrics and waiting to hear where he would go after completely breaking himself down. Boxer showcases Berninger finally able to observe without internalizing as he comments on the lives and actions of lovers, friends, family, and strangers. His vantage point overlooks sleepy empires, garden parties, race tracks, clandestine meetings, and guest rooms, all the while dropping succinct couplets that force the listener behind his eyes: “You know I dreamed about you/ for 29 years before I met you,” or “Ada/ I can hear your laugh through the walls.”
Boxer is a grower; each listen reveals another layer of meaning in both the lyrics and the way they are wedded to the music. Both the production values and instrumentation are better this time around. Drummer Bryan Devendorf completely takes control of the album this time, working well with the dueling lead guitars wide cast of additional instruments. Devendorf’s rhythms push around the rest of the album, punctuating the meaning behind Berningers lyrics. The drums build as he warns: “Darling/ everything we did believe/is diving, diving, diving, off the balcony.”
Standout tracks include the marching piano album opener “Fake Empire,” the building “Apartment Story,” pathetically charming “Slow Show,” and the most rousing piece of songwriting by the National yet: “Mistaken for Strangers,” where the harsh city night lights reveal the hubris of adulthood. Boxer creates a compelling and believable picture of the world as seen through an everyman who sees the world as full of fascinating snapshot moments. “You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends/ when you’re passing by under the silvery Citibank lights.”
Columnist, independent musician
Pick: Wilco, _Sky Blue Sky_
There is no question in my mind that the best album of 2007 was Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. To explain why has been surprisingly difficult. I have never reviewed an album before; I either like it or I don’t like it. Is it even possible to explain what makes a collection of songs so great? On and on and on I have listened to this record since its release in May. “What Light”, “Either Way”, and “Sky Blue Sky” are some of the reasons why I bought this record on CD, then downloaded the digital vinyl rip, tivo’d the Austin City Limits performance and then spent $40 on the 180g vinyl. “Impossible Germany” has to be one of the finest songs of the decade. A decent first half that leads into a show stopping climax with a 3 guitar solo that goes on for an orgasmic (can I use that word?) three minutes! Then, to put the Jeff Tweedy cherry on top, I caught this performance of “Impossible Germany” on Austin City Limits. Towards the end of the performance I was bouncing up and down in my seat, weeping like Oprah and about as excited as you get when you find out that your uncle is adopted and that means you can marry your cousin.
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