The best 30 albums of 2007
Photo by Jan Glas
30) Rise Above – Dirty Projectors
A shitty Xerox on a smudgy copier. A game of Telephone with deaf kids. History rewritten by the losers, translated into Esperanto. Trying to articulate the muck, matching words to the imperceptible. We settled for noise and approximation. We settled for the perimeters, the obtuse, the weird. We carved out corners of negative space, and listened to William Basinski or Decasia with the screen turned off. We cultivated our amnesia or just played dumb, so that we could rewrite our stories over and over. But we were also careful never to get them exactly right, never definitive, because the beauty was in coming up short. Sometimes, scuffing up our green Chuck Taylors or tearing jeans hems or worshiping the pops and coughs of vinyl, it was the only beauty we'd acknowledge.
* MP3: "No More" - Dirty Projectors from Rise Above [Buy it]
29) Desire – Pharoahe Monch
At war with himself, he vacillated between competing philosophies. King and X, Washington and Du Bois. Change had to come, but so far, it'd been fatally slow. All the activists he'd met seemed exhausted now, the years of unmet rage and inaction taking their tolls. He insisted they all rush into the streets, lie down, block traffic, get arrested en masse. Stage massive die-ins, storm the financial centers, wreak havoc to cease havoc. When that didn't work, he tried one-man letter-writing campaigns, approaching councilmen, organizing community meetings that no one attended. By the end of the year, he'd lost his war too. Grim as a winter storm, jaded and cynical as the rest. Infatuated with instant gratification, sick of this never-ending failure.
28) You, You’re A History In Rust – Do Make Say Think
A song I swear I remember, coming back to me in fragments and chunks. Prickly and tart one moment, tender and pliant the next, always sinuous. It was archaeological almost, this tune, thick with smog but lying underfoot. It was drenched in reverb or else that's just an effect of time playing its usual tricks. How do I express it so that you'll understand, I wonder, but of course I know that I can't. It'd be like trying to tell a circumstantial joke days after the fact. But here's what I can say: it felt untraceable even before it was over, already a footnote in some alternative history, already on the edges of recollection. It was like a look you'd given me once, an expression somehow so crucial I'll never stop trying to recreate it.
* MP3: "A Tender History In Rust" - Do Make Say Think from You, You're A History In Rust [Buy it]
27) Drums and Guns - Low
Her palm caressed her growing contours, heroically, majestically. In four months, she'd have a son. A son, that she knew without question. In four months, she'd do her part, raising him for the battle. She'd educate him on which causes to love and which to loathe, about the jagged, callous facts of the world today. By six, he'd venture into the woods, learning how to shoot Kalashnikovs and submachine guns. By nine, he'd make his first kills, small bears, large dogs, a wolf if he were lucky. By eleven, he'd go off and fulfill his fate, a body in the human barricade, another wall in the imperialists' way. Maybe he'd even survive this struggle to fight in the next one. But if not, she would still be deeply proud. She would still have eight or nine more to take his place.
26) Spiderman of the Rings – Dan Deacon
This is what our mid-twenties sounded like: dumb, frantic, euphoric, senseless, rudderless. Yeah, we made it up as we went along, the bricolage of sudden impulse and shruggy what-the-fucks. Sometimes, we wouldn't even do that much, observing our lunacy like spectators, as if we were Switzerland and our futures were under siege abroad. But shit, it worked out as much as it didn't, right? A loud, glorious, omnivorous mess if it was anything at all. It left lasting dents on us, bound us together in a mutual confusion, let us take the fun way out at all times. It convinced us we were important and cool and free when we weren't ever really.
25) Aficionado! – Lee Bob Watson
It was a dead-end job, but all of them were around here. Cataloguing pawned trinkets, rings from broken engagements, electronics that hardly functioned. Scale down the prices when the items had reached a certain birthday. Dust the shelves as if that made a difference. Haggle with the drop-ins over how much their least loved treasures cost. There were a few wonderful articles scattered among the garbage, sure, but those would never find a buyer. They rarely even got a second look. In time, he started taking them home, hosting them in the spare room like guests passing through. Among their history, their grimy ceramics or yellowed pages, he paid dutiful tribute. Buttressed by the old and undesired, he was ready to start creating something new.
* MP3: "Landfill" - Lee Bob Watson from Aficionado! [Buy it]
24) All Hours Cymbals - Yeasayer
Six days in the woods, still no sign of the trail. Canteens running low, the rations downsized to crumbs. No reception for their cell phones, no whirring blades or megaphone calls of a search party. They drank brook water and ate any grasses or berries or mushrooms that looked remotely non-poisonous. They made their peace with their looming regrets; they scraped up their vilest truths from their chest cavities and passed them around like foodstuffs. They grasped the ungraspable meaning of existence and laughed heartily like they might actually be rescued. They stripped off their shirts and scribbled "HELP" on their faces with mud. Alive for the first and last time, they were unconcerned that the ranger they saw in front of them was just another mirage.
* MP3: "Sunrise" - Yeasayer from All Hour Cymbals [Buy it]
23) Manners Matter – Mancino
When they rang the bell, I invited them in. They seemed innocuous, clean-cut and clean-shaven, with hair hard with pomade. They wore crisp navy suits and tossed out hundred-dollar words like "edification" and "erudite." They were pitching encyclopedias door-to-door, raising money for college. "A very respectable cause," I replied, dazzled by their moral fortitude. But once they crossed the threshold, something changed. Maybe in their posture, maybe in how boldly they would meet my eyes. Whatever it was, I could sense an undercurrent of danger and rebellion now. Adventure and id. I hastily informed them that my husband would be home soon. I realized that they weren't carrying any encyclopedias.
22) Marry Me – St. Vincent
Any given night, I'd come home to find her in a gold flapper dress, theatrically flicking ash from a cigarette holder. In my suit, still holding my briefcase, I'd dance to Duke Ellington at her behest. She'd call me her Bowery Boy in what I supposed was a James Cagney accent. She was a flower child, a smoky lounge chanteuse, Clara Bow at her peak, Marlene Dietrich at her nadir. She was a heiress, a debutante, a geisha, a feminist. She confided that she desperately needed some glamour in her life. She begged me to play along, to answer in character, to sway to whatever melody was emanating from the record player. She was a bride dressed in a Salvation Army gown, tearing up to Mendelssohn's Wedding March; I was her sympathetic groom, trying to find her face behind the veil.
21) Tromatic Reflexxions – Von Südenfed
On the bar, splattering cocktails, breaking glass. A jig of insane limbs, half-Riverdance, half-seizure. Thrusting out his pelvis like a punch. The shards were poking through his rubber soles, slicing up his feet. The police were called, but slow to come. It took the bartender, two patrons, and a passerby to bring him down finally. In their grip, he twitched and spat German obscenities. Afterwards, somehow mentioned how depressing it was that a fifty- or sixty-year-old man (he was forty-three actually, but looked like death in a microwave) could be so sick. Waking up hours later, in a dumpster a mile away, he thought that the gushing holes in his heels were probably stigmata.
* MP3: "Fledermaus Can't Get It" - Von Südenfed from Tromatic Reflexxions [Buy it]
20) Night Falls on Kortedala – Jens Lekman
Cute as a snow globe, needy as a blizzard. All his girl friends fawned over him--pet names, ambiguous touching, a Facebook wall full of comments, searing confessions over two bottles of cheap Shiraz. Lyla said any girl would be lucky to have him, squeezing his fingertips over dinner. Emily kissed him on the cheek and said he was so terrific, it astounded her. But whenever he'd make his move, pouncing clumsily for their mouths, explaining how he felt in an overly revealing song, they just laughed and shook their hands in cheery shock. "Oh no, not me!" they marveled, as if he were a foreigner unaware of the local customs. "I meant any other girl!" Meanwhile, he watched them date imposing men who scowled more than they talked, assholes with cars and full-time jobs. He watched them accumulate new sorrows and he entertained their complaints over new supplies of wine.
19) Plague Park – Handsome Furs
No, I'd never fall asleep again. I'd just drift in this purgatorial half-wake for good, a zombie feeding on the dead of night. Blurry red digits of the alarm forming 3:43, boxy and obnoxious. Walking out in my pajamas, I wandered the outskirts of lifeless avenues. I tried to summon up an emotion to call this oblivion. I roamed, errant as a seedling, unworried if I never found my way home. I listened to the traffic lights ticking, the power lines crackling, the engines of distant cars chasing their drivers back to beds. I listened to the plainsong of silence, arrogant and aloof, and the choir of sleeping hearts. Madly, I pushed out my shaky voice and sang a few lines of song. I poured my longing into the canyon of sky before heading back to eye the ceiling again.
18) The Foley Room – Amon Tobin
Metal dragonflies, their pewter-veined wings glowing orange. They skitter at the footsteps, dripping rainwater from the vents. Sensors every hundred yards, retinal scans and fingerprint terminals that need to be hacked. Crows flush out of a pipe, inkwell-black, a whole murder's worth. Leeches, millipedes, miniaturized eels crawl up your legs; self-aware vines slither in your direction, setting another trap. Unleash a light show of laser beams, blast every enemy into a particle of hardware. Push forward and above ground, onto the tests of meaner, larger threats. Admire the jeweled metropolis in the distance, lit up like a cake. Re-up your health level by stepping on a medkit. Select the biggest gun in your inventory and keep shooting.
* MP3: "Bloodstone" - Amon Tobin from The Foley Room [Buy it]
17) North Star Deserter – Vic Chesnutt
Back porch, watching the wind stir the weeds. Sun at full bleed, a quilt of red and blood oranges. A wild dog rustling through the grass, chasing squirrels or wayward phantoms. Strum a guitar to the backs of distant rowhouses. Sing of small, broken men in a voice resonant with knowledge. Memorize the color of the dirt, compare it to the copper of Indian head pennies. Sing louder and more needfully, as the wind moans over your verses. Remember lost heroes, lost evenings, lost years, but only as the parentheses around your memories. Curse your age and the localized damage, even as you remain awed by the rough wisdoms they bring.
* MP3: "You Are Never Alone" - Vic Chesnutt from North Star Deserter [Buy it]
16) Random Spirit Lover – Sunset Rubdown
Wearing capes to class and boots with intricate laces. Eating lunch alone in the cafeteria's remotest corner. A complexion like a topographic map, his breath sulfurous and far-reaching.
"I bet that guy shoots up the school before winter break," snickered the girl next to me. He was hunched behind a notebook, scribbling into it wildly. The marbled cover hiding his red face like a shield. Finally, in third period Math, I got close enough to look over his shoulder. He had drawn entire universes into the college-ruled lines: gnarled dwarves, griffins and chimeras, knights slaying dragons, fire-maned stallions. Portals to worlds so fantastically archaic that all I could do was hate this one with him for not measuring up.
15) LP – Holy Fuck
A symphony of sneaks, an aural ransom note. A fully furnished wormhole, with plasma TV and wall-to-wall carpeting. An aerobics routine for methheads, elevator music in the coolest office building in Tokyo. My psychosis transcribed by a thousand lie detectors. An orchestra being electrocuted, live wires jammed down their throats, fireworks of blue voltage and arpeggios frizzing out of their ears. None of these things at all, not even close.
* MP3: "Frenchy's" - Holy Fuck from LP [Buy it]
14) Boxer – The National
World swishing past their van window, soft-edged and untethered. Trees, mailboxes, towns with generic names, states of cornfields and churches. They played cards across the backseat, plotted world tours, detailed the bony juts of their girlfriends' hips. They stayed with college friends or friends of college friends. They slept in infested motels or on the floor of the Dodge Ram, dulling the misery by lingering in nondescript bars till last call. They mailed back postcards to friends they suddenly loved, glossing over all the sad parts. Somehow, even the loneliness was implied, revealed only in a tilt in their handwriting, when in fact, it was the one constant in their lives, the sixth member of the band.
13) Fur and Gold – Bats for Lashes
She was honey and clover, a myth and a rumor. Twenty years old, in a hippie dress that whirled around her knees, the perfume of clove cigarettes, violet-flecked eyes that never settled on anything for long, flustered brown tresses. She was mystified by ordinary things like telephones and religion, but utterly enchanted by the idea of trees. She was the reason I believed in reincarnation, her soul easily millennia-old, the spirits of Persian queens and sylphs and sylvan nymphs surely still circulating within her.
12) Attack Decay Sustain Release – Simian Mobile Disco
That summer, we'd become obsessed with blowing bubbles. Sticking four or five pieces in our mouths at once. Chomping them up, mashing them into a thick, rubbery ball until our jaws ached. We'd even throw flavors together indiscriminately, cross-pollinating fruits. Bubble Yum Bananaberry Split with Bubblicious Lightning Lemonade and Savage Sour Apple. Our tongues would turn all sorts of weird, unnatural shades--the reddish pink of rare steak, the grapey blue-purple of varicose veins. But the greatest moment came when we'd puff out bubbles the size of our heads, giant orbs bulging from our lips. They'd grow bigger and fatter before finally bursting. They'd incite a sugar rush and the sound of the sweetest, juiciest pop you'd ever heard.
* MP3: "Hustler" - Simian Mobile Disco from Attack Decay Sustain Release [Buy it]
11) Curses – Future of the Left
By the time we'd sold our souls to the devil, it was old hat. Mostly, he just nodded solemnly and handed us a boilerplate contract. No salivating and giggling rabidly like we'd been hoping. No licks of fire sizzling from his claws or a volcanic, cosmic cackle. We didn't even have to sign the dotted line in blood. A ballpoint pen was A-OK, he said, before handing the forms to the notary public for stamping. Back above ground, there was a new crunch to our music, the rough slap of chords more brutal and hellish now. You could hear it in our screams too, a genuine terror infecting our vocal cords. Dire urgency and need. We tried not to think about the terms of our deal, but we couldn't help reminding ourselves: After dying, we'd have to live an infinite number of lives without music.
* MP3: "The Lord Hates A Coward" - Future of the Left from Curses [Buy it]
10) Proud Sponsors of Pepsi – Mas y Mas
The snarl of youth, flashing a sneer full of incisors. They'd stir up trouble on the bus and collect suspensions for talking back. Incorrigible, the principal called them, though they preferred the title of fuck-ups. Executing hardflips and boardslides at the skate park. Vandalizing the town plaza with Sharpies or pocketknives. Loitering next to signs that overtly forbade loitering. Taking lusty swigs from whiskey bottles at the junkyard. Slamming ferally on drum kits or milking electric guitars of their chaos. They never brought up a stomach raw with welts, a mom married to Jack Daniels, a deadbeat dad unseen since age four, what maybe was dyslexia. They never let on to the various hurts, finding shelter in insolence and second homes in loud sounds.
* MP3: "You Can't Play Without Ice" - Mas y Mas from Proud Sponsors of Pepsi [Buy it]
9) And Their Refinement of the Decline – Stars of the Lid
Up he soared, sanctified and weightless. The others had struggled or flailed, but he gave in right away, grateful as a helium atom. In the blue tractor beam, scaling toward the matrix of lights, he felt a warmth like none he'd known on Earth. A cold warmth but a pure one too, all-knowing, a tactile flame. The gift of transcendence. Up he soared, up to the maw of the ship, up through the vapor. Suddenly, the forest was miniscule, the hoary firs shrinking to white asparagus spears. His village was a speck now, his planet an electron. Up to the gaseous hull, the cybernetic mainframe, the pulsating nucleus of the vessel. Up to the paws of his new master, their whole flesh radiant with epiphanies.
8) A Celebration of Hunger – Spider Bags
Packed up the pick-up, said my temporary goodbyes. Put on my cowboy hat, pulling it low over my eyes. Told Cyndy I'd call her once weekly, though I probably wouldn't. Crept out of the driveway, winding down a permutation of roads I knew as automatically as a lock combination. Listened to the classic country station, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams et cetera, till it faded from range. Chapel Hill was gone then, the familiar eaves of roadhouses and greasy spoon diners nullified. Spent four days in a New York hostel, continually awed by the Chrysler Building and the beer prices. Headed through Cleveland and Fort Wayne and Battle Creek. Danced a waltz with a middle-aged lady named Elga in Milwaukee. Dissolved my liver and my checking account among the frost of St. Paul. After that, I headed south, the direction I trusted most. In search of the real heartland, more eager than ever to swim through its ventricles.
* MP3: "Waking Up Drunk" - Spider Bags from A Celebration of Hunger [Buy it]
7) American Gangster – Jay-Z
In front of the old projects, clay-red and squat. Apartment 2B, with the ragged blinds drawn. The site of hand-me-down Christmases and layaway birthdays. The gauntlet of adolescence, the crucible of manhood. Corner of Marcy and Division, slinging my first baggie ever. Knees knocking out threadbare beats, back against the brick. Shouting come-ons to the caramel-colored puertorriqueñas from stoops in cracking voices. Hotwiring jalopies and breathing in B-boy culture like the stink of dirty hot dog water. Watching friends get hooked or sent upstate, hearing updates like reading the obituary section. Trading rhymes between the shudder of the JMZ, refining my best flows. Moving up to middle management, already one foot off the block. Standing here twenty years later, still feeling the streets' imprint on my skin.
6) Guns Babes Lemonade - Muscles
When it kicked in, we were kings. The details became iotas, or maybe the most important notions we'd ever heard. Fingers braided into fingers were drawbridges over oceans, the panorama of waving arms was red-turquoise-purple coral reefs. Legs were vanilla gelatin, lips hardened into spoons. Our cells became speakers, our hearts transceivers of all the information in the area code. We'd burst into tears over nothing in unison, druggy romanticists, thin-skinned poets of pulse and glee. This was life writ large and ecstatic, spelled out in boldfaced, underlined Comic Sans. This was life as unending affirmation, and every body we touched turned into an exclamation point!!!!!!!!!!!!!
* MP3: "The Lake" - Muscles from Guns Babes Lemonade [Buy it]
5) Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? – of Montreal
Petting the lace, retracing the rise and fall of the frills. Rubbing the chiffon to his cheek, pressing the shapelessness of teddies to his figure. So she'd been gone for over two weeks, decamping to a Kristiansand hotel, fleeing with one suitcase and a string of ultimata. She hadn't yet returned to sign the papers or explain her logic or pack up her clothes. So he started wearing just her T-shirts, as an easy way to inhabit her smells. But then it was her skirts and her underthings too, then it was full ensembles and make-up and press-on nails until he even somewhat resembled her. In the bed, feeling the silk clench firmly around his waist, he pretended it was her holding him that way. Forgiving him for everything.
* MP3: "Suffer For Fashion" - of Montreal from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? [Buy it]
4) Sound of Silver – LCD Soundsystem
In the mirror, his nose pressing up to the glass. Examining every inch of skin, a private investigator of imperfections. He scanned his features again and again, isolating anything troublesome. Were the bags under his eyes puffier than yesterday? Was that a new wrinkle creasing his forehead? Most frightening was his hair, graying to the point of needing Just For Men. Under the harsh bulbs, the gray hairs looked phosphorescent and glaring. Just like his father who nodded off during movies. Just like his grandfather who told the same stale tales as reliably as a recording. Plucking out every defiant strand he could find, he reassured himself he was still young and vital as ever. But the more convincing evidence was the handful of silver swirling down the drain.
3) Kala – M.I.A.
It spread like a virus, liquid, porous. Passed through computer terminals and wireless routers, snaked into networks, leaked sloppily over operating systems. Dismantled arms in Australasia, pressed flesh in the Arctic Circle, beat on eardrums in the Americas. Wormed its way onto boomboxes in far corners of the world. Splashed through the atmosphere over satellite radio. Pumped from the tinny speakers of cell phones and bumped surreptitiously through the walls of repressed states. A little girl in Rwanda learning how to raise a sharp fist in the air. A little boy in the Torres Strait learning how to stand up and fight back.
2) I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead – El-P
The places I'd known were gone, boarded up, razed for condos. Some of my friends had moved on finally, shaking off the inertia that'd once defined them. Others had drank themselves dumb or stuck in the wrong needle or snorted one too many rails and never woke up. Yet others had vanished without a forwarding address, probably consumed by similar demons with different names. I was alone, sucking on painkillers like Tic-Tacs, jabbed by nightmares so grisly I pissed the sheets. I had killed men, collected a breast of medals, been redeemed by the great scam of patriotism. Generals had shaken my hand and I had shaken back. But now, embedded among my old streets, my hands still wouldn't quit shaking. I realized being a veteran is just as rough as being an addict or a ghost. The Army just has a better advertising budget.
* MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin') - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Buy it]
1) Friend and Foe - Menomena
The blackouts lasted for years and years. The old people were the first to go, useless without feeding tubes or pacemakers. The very young faded quickly too, not resourceful enough to replenish their little bodies. The rest of us were slower to perish, adjusting any way we could to the eternal outage. We embraced the Second Amendment as the only law in the land. Our moods all turned gruffer and darker, growing as relentlessly black as the scenery swathing us. Now we scavenged from our neighbors and devoured our lifelong friends when we craved another meal. Now we saw other humans as only obstacles or meat. By year three, the official word was that the cause of the blackouts was still unknown. But we all knew that if you pressed your ear to the ground, you could hear the computers and light fixtures and refrigerators chuckling softly.
* MP3: "Rotten Hell" - Menomena from Friend and Foe [Buy it]