Saturday, December 29, 2007 

25 best albums of 2007.

Before we get underway, here are some albums which are worthy mentions but didn't quite make the list:

Silversun Pickups - Carnavas (would have been high on my list if it wasn't technically released last year)
The Wombats - A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation
Biffy Clyro - Puzzle
65daysofstatic - The Destruction of Small Ideas
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Fiery Furnaces - Widow City
GoodBooks - Control
Gravenhurst - The Western Lands
New Young Pony Club - Fantastic Playroom
Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures
Oceansize - Frames
The Good, The Bad & The Queen - s/t
The Rumble Strips - Girls and Weather
White Stripes - Icky Thump
Thrice - Alchemy Index Vols I & II
Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity

and some I've either missed or haven't listened enough to yet:

Battles - Mirrored
Burial - Untrue
Maserati - Inventions for the New Season
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The National - Boxer

25. Interpol / Editors - Our Love to Admire / An End Has A Start

The cynical would argue that what both Interpol and Editors do amounts to little more than petty larceny. Both bands can hardly argue that they're not anything other than devotees to the back catalogue of Joy Division; Editors especially just strike one as taking the melodies, making them even more anthemic and radio friendly and writing the lyrics as an afterthought, as the line from "The Racing Rats" where the singer asks how big a hole would a plane make in the surface of the earth clearly demonstrates. What can't be denied is that they're very, very good at doing it. Previously, Interpol were far more subtle, and with Turn on the Bright Lights produced one of the best tributes to Ian Curtis which wasn't actually addressed to him. On this, their third album, they seem to be appearing to start to flag. Nonetheless, the singles, the Heinrich Maneuver and Mammoth, while not being anything quite on the level of Obstacle 1, are superior to almost all of the other trash released this year. How better for the bands then to share the same space?

Interpol - Wrecking Ball
Editors - An End Has A Start

24. Kubichek! - Not Enough Night

The wheels seem to have fallen off the Kubichek! wagon come the end of this year, with the lead guitarist and vocalist leaving to do his own thing. It's a great shame, as their spastic combination of math-rock and dancefloor friendly blistering post-punk was just the thing to blow away the cobwebs back in March. Its slight downfall might have been that it was released around the same time as two of the records in the worthy mention section and at least a couple featured lower down this list. Well worth seeking out, especially if you also like another band further down the list.

Kubichek! - Nightjoy

23. Shitdisco - Kingdom of Fear

In the year in which so-called "new rave" conquered all comers, Shitdisco found themselves somewhat left behind. Although they fit the description even less than the Klaxons, as they feature even less "old rave" sounds in their tunes, their ability to both rock and capture the dancefloor was not in doubt. From "I Know Kung Fu", their breakout hit, to "Reactor Party", "72 Virgins" and "OK", the disco was anything but shit.

Shitdisco - OK

22. Fields - Everything Last Winter

Perhaps like with Shitdisco, the name Fields chose may not have helped. This year alone there were records out from The Field and Field Music, and probably some others I've missed. Fields' influences of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins aren't the most popular at the moment either, but that shouldn't detract from a thoroughly bold and at times even thrilling debut album which shows the band know how to build up to a crescendo without being predictable.

Fields - If You Fail, We All Fail

21. Good Shoes - Think Before You Speak

This is what the View and all the other Libertines followers should be attempting to sound like. While the "successful" ones have just rehashed their already rehashed sound and taken all the vitality out of the music as a result, Good Shoes are just on the right side of the post-Strokes post-Libertines spiky guitar band path. Rather than sounding like the lyrics and music have been especially rounded for a label's PR manager to shoot his load over, Good Shoes actually sound real: the standout, Morden, is hardly an original idea, moaning about the dinginess of a small town, but they manage to make it fresh. The banter between girlfriend and boyfriend on "We Are Not the Same", which emerges as shouts as the guitars attack is some of the best unashamed indie-pop of the year, as is the rest of their debut.

Good Shoes - Morden

20. The Rakes - Ten New Messages

The Rakes, along with Bloc Party were one of the great hopes of 2005: sharp indie without pretending to be about anything other than middle-class angst. While the Arctic Monkeys were chronicling the working class travails of clubbing and pubbing, the Rakes were worrying about their 22 Grand Job in the city. It's therefore completely understandable why the Rakes also on their second album went the Bloc Party route and attempted a sort of concept-album about a day in the life of living in London, even if they are nowhere near as successful. There are still some brilliant moments here, such as the opener, originally commissioned for a fashion show(!), the World Was a Mess But His Hair was Perfect, which effortlessly targets the hypocrisy of bourgeois hipsters and the facile anti-Americanism which exists, even while they continue to drink Budweiser and smoke hash, most likely while wearing Levis. Gobsmackingly good also is "Suspicious Eyes", which ought to win an Ivor Novello for its quite brilliant first person narrative from three different perspectives on a post 7/7 underground train. It slips slightly towards the conclusion, but the first half is remarkable.

The Rakes - Suspicious Eyes

19. Hadouken! - Not Here to Please You

Not technically an album, instead rather a "mixtape" released on USB stick only, Not Here to Please You showcases probably the most "now" act currently around. Mixing grime, hip-hop, new-rave and even metal guitars on occasions, Hadouken! ought to be rubbish and very quickly forgotten. Somehow, it works, and while like other bands of their nature casual misogyny seems to seep in on "Girls" and "Tuning In", you can't deny the urgency of "Liquid Lives", even if the Noisia remix is far better than the original. Leap of Faith, a download only single, shows where they intend to go from here, with its blistering pace which is far removed from their original material. Could such a band really be maturing already? Their debut album proper, out early next year, should provide the answer.

Hadouken! - Liquid Lives

18. Coheed and Cambria - No World for Tomorrow

Technically the second part to 2005's Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, if you manage to ignore the prog-rock wankery and fact that this is the final chapter of a story, with the first chapter the next album to be released, C & C do still manage to specialise in good old fashioned tunes. While the previous album marked a change from the post-hardcore emo of their first two albums towards an even more progressive outlook, No World for Tomorrow pays tribute more to 80s metal, especially on the squealing guitar solos of Gravemakers & Gunslingers. While there isn't anything here as magnificently urgent as "Welcome Home", which played homage to Kashmir, the melodies on the Running Free and Sanchez's harmonising are still top of the draw.

Coheed and Cambria - The Running Free

17. Dartz! - This is My Ship

Like Kubichek!, even sharing that essential exclamation mark, Dartz! created an album full of pogoing math-rock and the aptly named disco-punk, surpassing their soundlikes with quite some ease. The breakdowns, time signatures and shouting response lyrics are all in evidence, and on "A Simple Hypothetical" all is summed up by the chanting of the title followed by "we've got a job to do!", which they seem to have quite easily achieved. Single "Once, Twice, Again!" is quite rightly up there with some of the best of the year. You also can't help but warm to a band gently mocking their being nominated for the XFM Best New Music award, as the website puts it, alongside such luminaries as "Kate Nash and Enter Shikari".

Dartz! - A Simple Hypothetical

16. Marcus Intalex - Fabriclive 35

While most of the other so-called superclubs established at the start of the decade or just before have fell by the wayside, Fabric has if anything continued to grow in strength. Alongside the eclectic nights it puts on, its line of "Fabriclive" and Fabric" albums continue to surpass almost all the other DJ mixes and compilations put out by anyone else, this year alone releasing great sets from the likes of Spank Rock and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. I'm sorry to admit that I hadn't heard of Marcus Intalex prior to this release, but he's certainly now up there with the very best that drum and bass has to offer. The current trend amongst most dnb DJs is to get as many tracks into their sets as humanly possible - the average CD having at least 25 or 30 crammed in. Intalex goes for the opposite route: still packing in 19 into an hour and 17 minutes, but letting the liquid funk he plays linger long enough for you to actually enjoy it. The smoothness of the mix is unequaled this year, so much so that this quite rightly deserves a place in any album of the year list.

15. Soulwax - Most of the Remixes

There are two ways to remix a track: you either beef it up or minimalise what you're given to work with, or you throw the whole lot out, start from the beginning and only include passing moments of the original. Soulwax know when to use the former and the latter: their still massive rejig of Gossip's Standing in the Way of the Control only really tightens the bass and ups the speed, while DJ Shadow's Six Days, a mournful slow original is given more urgency. Then there are their versions of Klaxons' Gravity's Rainbow, an already decent original, but their remix slows it down only to then up the ante with the guitar, and the unimaginable remake of the fat dancer from Take That's Lovelight, which takes a sow's ear and turns it into a silk purse, all sirens and beats. Add in excellent reimaginings of LCD Soundsystem, Justice and Daft Punk, finished off with a brilliant rework of Muse's Muscle Museum, and a second disc with some other remixes in the mix, and this is a fantastic value package.

Robbie Williams - Lovelight (Soulwax Ravelight Dub)

14. Manic Street Preachers - Send Away the Tigers

Who honestly thought that the Manics were capable of another great album? Every sign has been since Everything Must Go and Richey's disappearance before it that the Manics were in slow but inexorable decline. The decision following the failure of Lifeblood to pursue their own solo projects seemed to be the death-knell of the group; on the contrary, after returning from their personal exploits the band seems to have found a second wind. The reversing of the "Rs" in their name, like on their opus the Holy Bible was a statement of intent: as evidenced by their return to sloganising and politicking on "Rendition", to my knowledge the only song so far about the CIA's kidnapping and outsourced torturing of "terrorist suspects", and the rant against neo-colonalism of "Imperial Body Bags". Elsewhere, they produced their finest single in years in "Your Love Alone is Not Enough", featuring the singer from the Cardigans, and the one-two punch of "Indian Summer" and "The Second Great Depression". Ignoring slight misfires "Underdogs", a rather heavy-handed tribute to the fans, and "Autumnsong", with its awful lyrics, and SATT suggests there's still fire in the Manics' bellies.

Manic Street Preachers - Rendition

13. High Contrast - Tough Guys Don't Dance

No one else in drum and bass has been as consistent or as downright imaginative in recent years as Hospital Records' High Contrast, aka Lincoln Barrett. Providing the antidote to the finally dying down runaway train that was jump-up, HC's liquid funk continues to improve, with Tough Guys Don't Dance undoubtedly his finest album so far. Taking just as much influence from old film soundtracks as he does from the roots of d&b, the anthems If We Ever and Everything's Different only confirm his crossover appeal, now being requested to remix numerous other artists. The album closer, "Ghost of Jungle Past", manages to look both forward and backwards at the same time, an admirable feat.

High Contrast - Ghost of Jungle Past

12. Liars - Liars

Liars continue in their efforts to create a genre all of their own. Following from the brilliant, avant-garde and kraut-rock influenced Drum's Not Dead, their fourth album doesn't quite live up to its forerunner, but still has enough melt your face off riffs, especially in the form of single "Plaster Casts of Everything" and sheer mood of foreboding that runs throughout to earn itself another high place in this year's best albums lists.

Liars - Plaster Casts of Everything

11. Future of the Left - Curses!

Apart from having a great name, Future of the Left, made up of the remnants of Mclusky and Jarcrew carry on the tradition of making great critically acclaimed and fan-loved material whilst failing to break through into the mainstream. That's probably more than alright with them, but you can't help feeling they deserve better. Curses! simply rocks incredibly hard: in the words of Drowned in Sound, mixing ear-shredding punk and avant-garde rock squall, along with the same at times nonsensical lyrics and at other times hilarious sense of sardonic humour which perforated the Mclusky albums. How many other bands would write a song that involved the lyric "Mark Foley was right", or indeed, even know who Mark Foley is? Highlight is probably "Small Bones Small Bodies", with the title chanted incessantly over the grinding background.

Future of the Left - Small Bones, Small Bodies

10. iLiKETRAiNS - Elegies to Lessons Learnt

2007 perhaps showed that post-rock is on its last legs. Where once it was confined to the listening habits of college students and others in "the know", the success of Sigur Ros, even if not strictly a post-rock band, seems to have opened the floodgates to every television producer to use various pieces from post-rock albums to fill whichever emotional or cathartic scene that such a score is required for. It's one thing to use Hoppipolla for Planet Earth, quite another to hear one of Explosions in the Sky's tracks on a BBC trailer. EitS's own album this year was a definite disappointment, and although Stars of the Lid's album, again not strictly post-rock but more ambient has been very well received, staleness seems to have finally caught up with the genre.

Thankfully, iLiKETRAiNS, featured on last year's list with their EP Progress / Reform returned this year with their long-awaited full-length. On first listen you might be disappointed: their choice of recording venue, a church, seems to have taken the tautness of their EP and demos and turned it into aural sparseness, but after a few listens you can appreciate why they did it, and it becomes even more clear if you take the opportunity to see them live. Live, their tightness and power is all too overwhelming. The literary quality and historical first-person narratives continue here, so much so that the band have provided explanatory essays to accompany the songs. Even without them, the brilliance of "The Deception" and "Spencer Perceval", a close to 10 minute opus about the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated are incredibly special. Their only worry is how to follow it up without repeating themselves amid the genre's limitations.

iLiKETRAiNS - Joshua and Victress (from the Deception single)

9. !!! - Myth Takes

Following up 2004's Louden Up Now was always going to be a challenge for Chk Chk Chk. Coming at the height of dance-punk's short critical and commercial favour, its foul-mouthed funk and taut rhythms conquered all before it. Somehow, 3 years later, it's as if they had never been away. Dropping the swearing but only sharpening the beats, Myth Takes owes perhaps more to LCD Soundsystem than it does to the Rapture, but what isn't in doubt is the quality of the material. Nearly the whole album could have been released as singles, but those that were, especially "Must be the Moon", about casual sex and a man who fails to satisfy his partner, and "Heart of Hearts" alongside the extended freak-out of "Bend Over Beethoven" more than equaled their previous album.

!!! - Bend Over Beethoven

8. Justice - Cross

The French duo who led this year's dance music renaissance in actual fact put out the relatively weakest album. However huge "D.A.N.C.E." was, and backed as it is by "Phantom" and "Genesis", some of the other tracks are relative filler. Best of the rest is "Stress" and "The Party", which manages to make Uffie even sound good.

Justice - B.E.A.T. (from the D.A.N.C.E. single)

7. Simian Mobile Disco - Attack Decay Release Sustain

It's fitting that Justice and SMD came to everyone's attention when Justice remixed Simian's "Never Be Alone", transforming it into the massive "We Are Your Friends". Frustrated by Simian's lack of success, James Ford and James Shaw branched out into Simian Mobile Disco, remixing and DJing their way into notoriety, especially with the massive "Hustler". The album, featuring "It's The Beat", "I Believe" and "Tits and Acid" was frustrating not because of the quality of the material, but because of its relative shortness: only radio edits instead of original full length mixes were released. Despite that, the collaborations with other artists, SMD's continuing remixes and their DJ compliations such as the Bugged Out! mix and the latest Mixmag cover mount only suggest they continue to go from strength to strength.

Simian Mobile Disco - I Believe (SMD Space Dub) (from the I Believe single)

6. Digitalism - Idealism

Where Justice are signed to Ed Banger, Digitalism are signed to Kitsune, without doubt the two biggest breakthrough labels of the year, apart from perhaps Transgressive. Coming along much the same path, having remixed artists as varied as Test Icicles, the Futureheads, Klaxons and probably the group all the new-wave owe the most to, Daft Punk, Digitalism produced by far the most coherent and well-mixed album of the 3 breakthroughs. From the opening pulses of "Magnets", the single "Pogo", which as they say does exactly what it says on the tin through to the track that relates that it "was the biggest party ever", it's hard to disagree.

Digitalism - Digitalism in Cairo (Extended Mix) (from the Idealistic single)

5. Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future

Worthy winners of the Mercury or not, and overlooking their rather drunken statement that they were the "most forward-thinking band" nominated, Klaxons' Myths is still a massive and highly enjoyable record. The "new rave" stuff may have been overegged, and their cover of Grace's classic "It's Not Over Yet" may be pretty dire, but it's hard to resist the swagger and melody of "Golden Skans" or the bleeping and sirens of "Atlantis to Interzone". Their deriders might say that they're just playing the same songs as everyone else except twice as fast, and their live show did for a while leave a lot to be desired, but great things still seem to beckon.

Klaxons - Elektrickery (Erol Alkan produced, from the Gravity's Rainbow single)

4. Maps - We Can Create

This was the record that should of won the Mercury. Created and recorded almost entirely in James Chapman's bedroom, it just oozes with everything that makes you think a lot of bands ought to go back to basics. Lush soundscapes, breathy vocals, ample amounts of distortion, influenced heavily by Spiritualized, Low and My Bloody Valentine, it received the critical acclaim it deserves but fewer of the sales. If you missed it for some reason, for God's sake go out and buy it.

Maps - To The Sky

3. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

It's really hard to know quite where to put the top 3 of this list, as all three are both interchangeable and undoubtedly are the albums of the year. LCD Soundsystem, aka James Murphy was simply head and shoulders above everyone else in his/their genre this year, creating an album as effusive, convincing and simply enjoyable as could be achieved. It's hard to pick a stand-out track, such is the quality, although the singles "North American Scum" and "All My Friends" are outstanding, while both the opener "Get Innocuous!" to closer "New York..." showcase Murphy's talent to be both upbeat and downbeat with equal skill. A complete joy.

LCD Soundsystem - Get Innocuous!

2. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare

Ignoring the hideous artwork and their new band logo, the Arctic Monkeys' debut, despite the incessant hype and huge sales, wasn't quite the triumph which most claimed it to be. As brilliant as "When The Sun Goes Down" and "A Certain Romance" were, the obsession with clubs and pubs was tedious and got more so on repeated listens. Thankfully, for FWN they chose both a undoubtedly in-form producer in SMD's James Ford, and to eschew their previous material to, dare I say it, mature. The racket of "Brianstorm" has to be one of the best tracks to hit the top 3 of the chart this year, while the tenderness and social comment of "Florescent Adolescent" is just as good as on the previous album's Mardy Bum. Heavier if anything than their debut, the attack of "Teddy Picker", "Balaclava" and "Do Me A Favour" is matched only by the whimiscal downbeat of "505". Not content with producing an album of 12 great tracks, each single has been backed by 3 b-sides, with some of the content, especially the Brianstorm EP matching or even bettering that on the album. Far, far better and likely to be more influential in the long-run than the Libertines? Please let it be so.

Arctic Monkeys - Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend (from the Brianstorm EP)

1. Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City

Some of those who had fallen in love with BP's debut, Silent Alarm, were turned off by the far more experimental and concept form of A Weekend in the City. It is undoubtedly lead singer and lyricist Kele's album, which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on your point of view. The opener, Song for Clay, with its lyrics inspired by Bret Easton Ellis's Less than Zero, is just one of the tracks to polarise opinion: although once the tune gets going it's an excellent song, the lyrics are close to impenetrable, even if expressing the vacuousness of the modern existence of someone with a permanent disposable income. Unsurpassed though was the stomp of first single "The Prayer", the regret of "I Still Remember", which has been easily misconstrued as Kele coming out, the attack on scaremongering over the terror threat of "Hunting for Witches", the authentic voice of the disposessed and insecure minorities on "Where is Home?" and the self-loathing centrepiece "Uniform". Only adding to the bravery was the release of "Flux", which reached for the synths instead of the guitar and came out just right, although the live version is infinitely better than the recorded one. Like with the Arctics, Bloc Party didn't seem content with producing just one album, with there being a virtual other one in b-sides, not to mention the numerous remixes. For sheer hard work and aspiration alone, with the band already either planning to record the next album or doing so, A Weekend in the City deserves to be album of the year.

Bloc Party - Rhododendrons (from the Hunting for Witches single)

Related posts:
Last year's best and worst lists.

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