Somehow, I always seem to manage to write my year-end album lists on a plane between New York and Texas. This year I began on a plane from Austin to New York, which meant I got to hike streets and ride subways for a few hours with my iPod—and for me there’s still no better venue for listening to music, at least until I replace the speakers in my car. If I play my cards right this Christmas, this time next year I’ll have 10 selections of whatever sounds good playing through a massive, backseat-sized bass cabinet.
10. Caribou, Andorra
Are they putting a “Brian Wilson” button on the new versions of ProTools? This is probably unfair, but is there any other explanation for the rash of Beach Boys-inspired pop people—and usually one person, hmm?—are churning out these days? And yet none of them produced a more succulent, perfect bite of Sixties sugar than Caribou, whose “Melody Day” I have to listen to 100 more times if I hear it once.
9. Justice, †
2007 was the year of Daft Punk; their live show was the best thing ever; the pyramid was the best thing ever. Of course, if 2007 was the year of anything else, it was the year of Kanye West, who covered Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger” with a rap and not much else. So it only makes sense that one of the other best things of the year was an album that could have been called Daft Punk Rock. Yes: They are completely different. Yes: Justice deserves its praise. Yet: If you like one and claim not to like the other, you are being le poseur.
8. Kanye West, Graduation
Though he’s lyrically as petulant and immodest as ever, Kanye West held out until Graduation to pull out the stops on his production powers. These aren’t just unique rhyming twists or spot-on guest appearances, it’s West shining as a composer. As grand as Graduation is, though, speculation as to what he may do next almost overshadows all the new worlds he explores here. Almost, but not exactly.
7. Belaire, Exploding Impacting
Whatever happened to Voxtrot, whose 2007 debut disappeared after being one of the year’s most anticipated album releases? Likely, the critical hype proved greater than any effort could fulfill—which says a lot about the height of the bar they’d raised. But that doesn’t close the book on all of Voxtrot for all of 2007. Had we been gazing in a different direction, we would have seen that two of their members were off building beautiful indie pop, though in Belaire, whose Exploding Impacting was the year’s most overlooked gem.
6. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
I need James Murphy in my life. I need him to be my personal shopper. I need him to be the person I go to the record store with. It’s obvious we like all the same things, the same music, the same shirts, everything. There’s probably a store in Williamsburg that sells all those same things, all in one place, and he and I could go there together and be all like This place blows and then go listen to some Fela Kuti or something. However, if we were close pals like that I’d have a hard time pegging his latest as one of the best albums of the year. So James Murphy, if you’re reading this, please don’t ever call.
5. Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future
Some call it “new rave,” but Klaxons aren’t any kind of rave music (except maybe, sort of, for that one part). I’ve bought rave compilations. You’ve bought rave compilations. We’ve all sold our rave compilations back to record stores, which is an important point, because the over-marketing of Klaxons means too many people could be looking at that “new rave” label, thinking back to their copies of FFRR’s Only for the Headstrong, shuddering, and moving along without listening. What a shame.
4. Panda Bear, Person Pitch
There’s a problem with music that’s “ahead of its time.” For one thing, everybody else in the car complains. For another, people at your party leave. And when the band plays, nobody wants to go with you. Thus, the problem is that those who listen to music “ahead of its time,” listen alone. The only way to share Panda Bear or any of his bandmates from Animal Collective or any other alone music is with a mix CD—so go ahead and burn it. It’s safe to say somebody’s burning one while listening to Panda Bear, somewhere, at this very moment.
3. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (Blue CD-R)
What a harbinger of the new musical economy, that a CD-R should be one of the best albums of the year. Though technically the debut album comes out in January on XL Recordings, the real work’s already been done, and the internet has done a superior job of distribution. The artwork is readily available—as a 72-dpi jpg, of course—and no PR effort could match the scores of mp3 blogs that are ga-ga over Vampire Weekend’s “Upper West Side Soweto.” See, even the copy points are ingrained in us by now.
2. Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover
Spencer Krug is the greatest living songwriter—or at least the songwriter whose songs are the most alive. And with Sunset Rubdown, as with Wolf Parade and any of the other 34 bands he’s currently in, he’s making music that strikes a chord so deep within you that it first weakens your knees, then brings you to them. But what of the other dozen or so albums he releases every year? It’s true that his output rivals that of a Toyota plant. Even when he misses—which is rare—the results are spectacular. And every song here hits its mark.
Album of the Year: Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
As a rule, I do not listen to Of Montreal. Since 1998’s The Bedside Drama—the first time I listened to Of Montreal—I have disliked them. Yet, ever since the first time I heard this album, I have found it difficult to listen to almost anything else. From the ecstatically happy (“Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”) to the painfully dark (“The Past Is A Grotesque Animal”), Kevin Barnes’s breadth of emotion is so wide, the pain and joy so real, the soul so bared, the melodies so form-fitting that, somewhere along the way, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? broke the sound barrier, and became a conversation about a terribly weird, terribly awful thing that happened, somewhere along the way. What’s being happy and sad at the same time like? It’s like this.