The best 10 albums of the mid-year
Another mid-year squirrels by, and I'm still trying to make sense of it. I spent most of it living on the sofabed of my college roommate's apartment, writing in coffeeshops and drifting around the city. Musically, the six-month block seemed just as transient for me, a mishmash of genres and subgenres with no discernible message. I'm interested to see how the year will shake out, if some clearer trajectory will emerge and what big surprises and disappointments still await us. As it sounds, my current list of favorite albums is a nice mix of works I knew I'd love and others I never anticipated, of songs that hold as many moods as the season. The one common bond between them is that they all deserve the attention:
10) Drums and Guns - Low
Surely the most apropos title in a long time, Low (despite their concept album denials) provide as many permutations and associations of their subjects as they can. This is classic Low, filtered through the new, the shoegazes drones and paced vocals coming back to us shell-shocked and war-torn. The collateral damage compounds, the violence mounts, the flecks of syncopated noise crash like military marches, and somewhere in the mess, a story of fragility gets told. Despite the rightness of the title, the band could've just as naturally recycled their last one, Things We Lost In The Fire, suggesting that they've been on the trail of what we were and when it turned to ash for a long time now.
* MP3: "Breaker" - Low from Drums and Guns [Buy it]
9) Desire - Pharoahe Monch
I'm not even sure I need to blurb this album, because Jeff Weiss already tackled it so precisely. But the fact remains: Desire is so good it makes me wish it were even better. It kicks off so promisingly, barreling out of the gate with all the fire Monch has been holding back for years. He rhymes with hunger and enthusiasm, a man with something to prove but a man obviously having a good time of doing it. The rhymes are tight, the songs are powerful, the guests complement rather than overshadow. He earns so much goodwill for striking early and deep that it's very tempting to just overlook the largely saggy second half. But even taking it into account, it still adds up to an album that commemorates a very welcome return.
* MP3: "Desire" - Pharoahe Monch from Desire [Buy it]
8) Plague Park - Handsome Furs
Dan Boeckner has a voice that spills, bleeding into the guitar bleed inevitably. He can't quite contain himself, so overtaken by his sentiments. When he famously declared "This heart's on fire" on Apologies To The Queen Mary, it seemed almost plausible that singing that declaration was his only hope of extinguishing the flames. When he asks on Plague Park, "When did we grow old in hearts of iron?" it comes out much less believably. After all, he sounds just as haunted and undone as ever, even after teaming up with his fiancee Alexei Perry and letting time having a crack at healing the wounds. No, Boeckner is just as good as ever, spilling forward, edging into the crackle and crash of a guitar-and-electronics abyss.
* MP3: "Dumb Animals" - Handsome Furs from Plague Park [Buy it]
7) Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
* MP3: "The Ghost In You Lingers" - Spoon from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga [Preorder it]
6) Manners Matter - Mancino
Nimble and earnest, ambitious and sure-footed, Manners Matter rose up from my slushpile and never looked back. Even six months later, it just keeps getting better, unveiling unforeseen layers and new subtle touches. If anything, this may be the ideal season for Mancino listening, with the sun beaming down and the backyard gardens filling up again. The sunny, warming melodies, the convivial atmosphere, and the buoyant energy in Nadim Issa's flutter-light keyboarding all make it as summery as rich tans and shitty reality shows. It's music I'd like to feature at a barbecue or blare on a beach, an instant pick-me-up and a party, serving up something for everyone.
* MP3: "Hetchie Hutchie Footchie" - Mancino from Manners Matter [Buy it]
5) Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? - Of Montreal
Pop as therapy session, pop as exorcism. If there's any connective thread sewing my picks together this year, that'd be the one. Most prominently found in Sound of Silver and here in Hissing Fauna..., it's a theme I particularly find attractive. It's one that both James Murphy and Kevin Barnes explore with very striking results, giving their excitable soundscapes undercurrents of pathos. Barnes in particular wants to plunge into the emotional wreckage, stating his intentions plainly on "The Past is a Grotesque Animal": "I've explored you with the detachment of an analyst." Whether or not he's on the couch himself, we're lucky that he's saved some spillover for us, making music that choreographs the act of dragging a Kleenex across wet eyes into a ballet of epic, freakish and fantastic proportions.
* MP3: "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" - Of Montreal from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? [Buy it]
4) Boxer - The National
An Alligator without teeth, this followup is gentler and smoother than the National's breakthrough. But what Boxer lacks in bite, it compensates for in cohesion. Hence, we get a work that flows gracefully across the tracks, sustaining the bittersweet mood that it so elegantly sets, going down as lightly and as needfully as a top-shelf martini. More than ever, the band sounds like they've found their way and hit their stride, even if the unsolvable algebras of women and day-to-day living still keep confounding Matt Berninger deep into the night.
* MP3: "Fake Empire" - The National from Boxer [Buy it]
3) Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
* MP3: "North American Scum" - LCD Soundsystem from Sound of Silver [Buy it]
2) I'll Sleep When You're Dead - El-P
If the historians of 2240 or 2460 or 2810 (like we'll ever make it that far) want to dig up what 2007 sounded like, they'd have a lot of viable options to excavate. But my vote has to go to I'll Sleep When You're Dead, a laser-guided missile courtesy of Lazerface himself. Furious, defiant, paranoid, drugged-up and dead-on, this is a record that charts national destruction right alongside self-destruction, that throws wild hooks while other rappers are still pulling their punches, and that sets off landslides even as it's mourning the rubble.
* MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Buy it]
1) Friend And Foe - Menomena
Friend And Foe is so meaty, it might as well be literature–leatherbound, dust jacket, accompanying Cliffs Notes and all. It could be the epicenter of a hundred dissertations, pontificated on in lecture halls and blasted into the canon, and still it would never quite remit its secrets. In its bizarro negaverse of pelicans and ghost-queens and evil bees and post-apocalyptic cows, there are whole worlds of question marks dancing with exclamation points. Friends drop their r's and find out they're fiends, a foe goes on Friendster and finds out he's faux, and everybody has to engineer a shaky truce with the man standing to his left and to his right. Friend And Foe is a funhouse mirror held up to an age, and an album for the ages.
* MP3: "Wet and Rusting" - Menomena from Friend And Foe [Buy it]
* Previously: The best 30 albums of 2006
* Previously: Mid-terms: the seven best albums of 2006 so far
* Also: Blogs Are For Dogs' Best Albums of 2007
* Also: The Passion of the Weiss's The Top 10 For The Half Year
* Also: The Rawking Refuses To Stop's Best of 2007, Halfway: Albums
* Also: Oceans Never Listen's 2007 Half Yearly Review; Or Time Flies When You Try to Figure Out Why Young Men From Canada Make Such Amazing Music