Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2007 - #7: Radiohead - In Rainbows

A majority of the buzz surrounding this album was centered on Radiohead's method of delivery. What was somewhat left out was the fact that this is another really, really good album, probably their best since OK Computer which, let's face it, is probably an insurmountable piece of work for Radiohead. It's one of the three best albums of all time, and all of those people who say they like The Bends better are lying, and simply trying to be contrarian.

For those unaware, Radiohead offered this album for download a few months ago through their own website. For how much? Whatever you were willing to pay, including $0 if you were a dick. I paid £5, which I thought was fair. I'd much rather purchase music from the artist when possible, which is why I tend to stream a lot of stuff via Rhapsody, then wait until I see a band live to buy the CD whenever I can.

Unlike the last three albums on the list, this album feels like a bit of a departure for Radiohead, but it's hard to tell, since they've kind of been all over the map lately. However, they've toned down the experimentation a bit, and this album seems more instantly accessible than the previous three, though it's more down the path of Hail to the Thief than either Kid A or Amnesiac. Starts off quickly with 15 Step and Bodysnatchers, which are my two favorite songs on the album.

For the first time since OK Computer, it's not a chore to listen to an entire Radiohead album beginning to end. Here's the first two tracks mentioned above, plus Jigsaw Falling Into Place.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report

I've given it a long, hard thought, and after much soul searching, I've come to this conclusion:

I. Don't. Care.

I don't care if every player who has ever played is, was, or will be juicing. This is arguably the biggest waste of effort in the history of the sport.

Top 10 Albums of 2007 - #8: The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

One of the biggest changes from the first two Shins albums to this one seems to be a little tweak in production. James Mercer's vocals have moved just a tiny bit more to the forefront. I don't necessarily think is either a positive or negative development. I kind of liked the first album's production, which made them seem like more of a collaborative affair, but you can definitely tell that the success of the band has allowed them to upgrade their recording.

Like albums 9 and 10 on this list, there's some gentle evolution here compared to the first two albums, but it's still very much a Shins record, and if you were to see them live, it wouldn't necessarily be readily apparent which songs were from which "era". But there's comfort in consistency, so I don't really think that's a negative. It's different enough to be fresh, but similar enough to be familiar (and I swear I didn't read the Pitchfork review right before using the words "comfort" and "familiar").

Sleeping Lessons and Australia are as good as anything they've ever done, and Phantom Limb was an excellent choice as lead single, as it introduced the bands' sound to new listeners very well. Beginning to end, there's a slow point or two. The "Black Wave/Split Needles" combo isn't may favorite part of the album, but I think they scored on their forays into new sounds on Sea Legs and Red Rabbits.

Here are Sleeping Lessons, Australia, and Turn on Me w/ Anita Robinson (Viva Voce) on the David Letterman show.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2007 - #9: New Pornographers - Challengers

Why it's in the top 10: Much like the #10 album, this was highly anticipated, and the show they played in July at Pitchfork prior to it's release only served to whet my appetite. And much like Ted Leo, you know what you're going to get with New Pornographers: Melodic power pop, terrific hooks, a mix of high energy up-tempo tracks and the occasional ballad.

Why it's not rated higher: All the same caveats apply about this being a particularly crowded field and whatnot. When putting this list together, a main criterion was simply how much I listened to the album, which was especially difficult considering most of the albums listed came out in the span of about two months. Sometimes this one had a hard time cracking the rotation, though there were certain songs that got played over and over again (like Myriad Harbor).

While it's an excellent album, it's not the transcendent masterpiece of the type that populate the top of the list. For my taste, it tended to go a little too heavy on the ballads or slower numbers. I count at least five. It was lifted by some excellent Bejar, including Myriad Harbor, which may be one of his best NP tracks to date, and the Spirit of Giving, his NP foray into down-tempo numbers. Quite honestly, they could put out a full Bejar album and I'd be perfectly happy. For my tastes, he's my favorite NP composer, and I think he's at his best when he's writing his NP material (except for maybe Streethawk, which is my favorite Destroyer album).

Ultimately it fits in pretty well with the rest of the New Pornographers oeuvre. 20 years from now, it may be difficult to tell which album a given song comes from. They haven't exactly undergone a Beatles-like transformation over four albums. And there's nothing wrong with that. They keep producing great music, and this album is another in that line. Here's some live stuff: Myriad Harbor, Mutiny I Promised You, and My Rights Vs. Yours from David Letterman:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2007 - #10 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Living with the Living

More than anything, this album suffered from timing, and high expectations. I didn't really start listening to Ted Leo until last summer (2006) at the Pitchfork Festival, but subsequently devoured both Hearts of Oak and Shake the Sheets. This was one of the most anticipated albums of 2007 for me. And while it's still a very good album (mediocre Ted is better than 99% of what's out there now), it didn't quite live up to the expectations I had following the previous two albums. Perhaps I was exiting a Ted phase at the point in time.

Still, all things considered, it really is an excellent album. It's got all of TL/Rx trappings. And infectious brand of indie punk with boundless energy, devastating hooks, and it plays great live. Still, when all was said and done, it just seemed like I didn't listen to it all that much this year. As I re-enter a Ted Phase, that will probably change.

Standout tracks are Sons of Cain, Colleen, The Unwanted Things, and the World Stops Turning.

Here's Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.; Sons of Cain (Live); and Who Do You Love (solo).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Begin the Countdown - Top 10 Albums of the Year

A few caveats. First, some of you may be surprised to learn that I don't get paid to review music. Shocking, I know, but it's the truth. As such, I don't routinely get free music sent to me. Second, partially due to the last point, I can't really review stuff I haven't listened to, so everything on this list consists of CDs I've either bought, or albums downloaded legally. Finally, there's a lot of stuff I've left out, because this has been a banner year for stuff I listen to. A lot of really top notch bands released new albums, which contributed mightily to the record number of shows I saw this year.

I'm going to start this list off with this year's honorable mentions. These albums are just outside the top ten. Some are surprises because I didn't expect to like them this much. Some are surprises because I didn't expect them to fall out of the top ten, but that's how good this year's crop was. So without further adieu (in alphabetical order):

Nicole Atkins and the Sea - Neptune City

Saw her open for the Raveonettes in October, and to be honest, if this had been something I'd heard on the radio, or saw on TV, I would not have picked them out as a band I'd listen to. But the live performance was really terrific. And the whole album is really entertaining. Here's the title track.

BRMC - Baby 81
A bit of a return to their hard rock roots, which is good and bad, considering the last album, the rootsier "Howl" had really grown on me. Anlthough this has some really good stuff on it, it's not my favorite BRMC album, and didn't quite rise into the top 10 this year. Here's Weapon of Choice:

Interpol - Our Love to Admire
Big surprise for me here, as I really like this album a lot, and it's probably number 11, but just wasn't quite good enough to crack the top 10. They put on a really good show, but it was at a really crappy venue, and the sound suffered as a result. Probably slid a bit due to the lyrics. I'm not usually a big lyrics guy, but some of these songs were kind of dopey on the lyrical end, especially Rest My Chemistry, which is essentially about whether Paul Banks can find the strength to screw a groupie. Anyway, here's another with questionable lyrics, No I in Threesome.

Grant Lee Phillips
- Strangelet
For me, this album suffered from timing. I got it right around the time I was listening to a bunch of other stuff, and as the year comes to an end, I realize I haven't listened to it as much as I would have expected, but it's his best album since Mobilize. It's the most musically diverse and the most fun to listen to. Here's Raise the Spirit.

Rogue Wave
- Asleep at Heaven's Gate
Another one I would have figured would be in the top 10, but was edged out by a crowded field. After a longer than expected hiatus while they waited for drummer Pat Spurgeon to heal from a kidney transplant, Zach Rogue and crew returned with their third album, and much like the first two, it's very good. Put on a very good show as well. Here's Lake Michigan.

The Whigs - Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip
These last two are both albums that came out in 2006, and both from bands that I stupidly skipped seeing, even though I had tickets (they were opening acts), and I hadn't taken the time to listen to their albums enough before the shows. First up is this album from the Whigs, a trio from Athens, GA. I've since grown to really like it, and as the year ends, it's been in regular rotation the last few weeks. None of the Youtube videos are very good, so I'm posting the bad recording of my favorite song off of this album, the title track. They have a new album due out next month. Here's Give 'Em a Big Fat Lip.

Viva Voce - Get Yr Blood Sucked Out
Another 2006 album, though they did just re-release their previous two albums, 2003's Lovers Lead the Way, and 2004's The Heat Can Melt Your Brain. Still, this album is their masterpiece so far, and the video below is the best song off that album, and probably one of the three best songs to which I was introduced this year. It's From the Devil Himself.

So that's it for the honorable mentions. Tune in tomorrow for #10.