I’m not as obsessed with lists as some of the music bloggers out there are. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ve become increasingly blasé towards year-end lists in general. Sure, they’re always an interesting read, something to kill the time as you make your way through your newsfeeds and subscriptions. But as far as creating them… well, in this constantly changing, media-saturated culture of ours, lists, which by their nature are intended to be definitive to some degree, often feel woefully archaic and limiting.
And yet there’s always this inherent desire to catalog and press order onto chaos, an instinct that seems doubly strong in music obsessives. So instead of wracking my brain this year, trying to come up with a list of the best albums of 2007 — a list that was outdated before I even started typing — and in an attempt to continue the Christmas spirit just a few more days, I offer you a mix.
I won’t claim that the following are the best songs of 2007, the songs that defined the year — they’re simply some of my favorites. They’re songs that have brought me great joy (and sometimes a dash of sorrow), made me wish I was in a band again, opened my eyes to Truth, blown my mind and left me picking my jaw up off the ground, caused me to dance around whilst playing air guitar in my office, helped me through long projects at work, and in short, have done all of those things that I always hope music will do.
“Slow” (The Mary Onettes, The Mary Onettes)
I’m not listing these songs in any particular order, but I will put “Slow” first because it is, quite simply, my favorite song of 2007. And I don’t think I can explain why any better than I did back in April: It’s a pop song that’s so effortless and gorgeous, it makes you want to live forever out of the hope that it might just be blasting on Heaven’s PA system whilst you and your loved ones dance away into the night.
“Ocean Of Noise” (Arcade Fire, Neon Bible)
Sure, there are other songs on Neon Bible (my review) that are more inline with the group’s storied incendiary sound. But “Ocean Of Noise” has stuck with me even moreso than, say, the revised version of “No Cars Go” (which is pretty damn good too). It’s the most haunting song in the band’s catalog, and its tale of failed relationships both human and Divine, packs as much of a wallop through its sorrow as the band’s other tracks do through their explosive nature.
“Drop Alberto Like It’s Hot” (100dbs, Aphex Twin Mashups)
The best mashups are those whose delightfulness comes, not so much via the humor or novelty factor, but from realizing a nigh-mystical connection between the most disparate of songs. “Drop Alberto Like It’s Hot” — which unites Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and Aphex Twin’s “Alberto Balsam” — certainly falls into that category. There’s just something right about the way in which Snoop’s laidback, even seductive vocals blend with Richard D. James’ inimitable beats and haunting atmospherics. Few musical moments were as sublime for me as the third verse.
“Dragonfly” (Low, Drums and Guns)
One of the things that I’ve loved most about Low is that they’ve never been afraid to reinvent themselves within the confines of their chosen style. And so what do they do after releasing their most accessible album (The Great Destroyer)? Why, release the starkest and most challenging album of their career. Indeed, Drums and Guns (my review) often feels like it’s been recorded in the most abrasive manners possible. And yet, there are incredibly haunting moments throughout, and none moreso than “Dragonfly”, during which Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker lament both personal and global tragedies.
“Bookshop Casanova” (The Clientele, God Save The Clientele)
The Clientele have built their entire career around pursuing a singular sound. And so it was a real thrill to hear them change things up a bit with this track, which takes the group’s breathy, dreamy pop sound and gives it a good swift kick in the pants with a disco-y beat and some trilling strings without taking anything away from the nostalgia, pining away for lost loves, and all of that other gorgeously melancholy stuff we’ve come to love and expect from the band.
“Salka” (Sigur Rós, Hvarf-Heim)
I’ve found myself becoming rather frustrated with Iceland’s favorite sons as of late. On the one hand, their music is often unspeakably gorgeous. On the other hand, they approach that same music with such a laissez-faire attitude that I find myself wondering if they even give one whit about any of it. Which is incredibly frustrating when it comes to a track like “Salka”, which falls into that “unspeakably gorgeous” category, with its soaring string-driven climax and Jonsi’s characteristically angelic voice.
“I Know” (Sally Shapiro, Disco Romance)
I don’t know many times I went to Sally Shapiro’s MySpace page just so that I could hear this track, which is easily the highlight from this year’s Disco Romance. Shapiro’s cooing vocals seem almost absurdly out-of-place with the italo disco beats and arpeggiated synths — and yet it works in a wonderfully awkward and retro-futuristic manner manner. It’s the sort of song that you’d expect to hear on mix CDs from the future — as it was imagined back in 1970s-era discotheques. And that synth solo that starts around the 3:40 mark? Totally bitchin’.
“Eleven Continents” (RF & Lili De La Mora, Eleven Continents)
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Francesconi’s electronic/ambient music for many years now. His latest album, a collaborative effort with Lili De La Mar (and others) eschews much of his trademark organic electronic sounds for an almost entirely acoustic affair. It’s still extremely gorgeous, though, especially with the title track. Francesconi and De La Mora are joined by Joanna Newsom on harp and vocals, and the result is a silvery little musical world of swirling guitars, harpstrings, and ethereal vocals.
“House Of Cards” (Radiohead, In Rainbows)
I had basically given up on Radiohead after Kid A. It’s not that their subsequent albums were bad; they just didn’t bowl me over. And after OK Computer and Kid A, I had come to expect nothing less from Thom Yorke et al. And so it’s with great delight that I can say that In Rainbows didn’t bowl me over so much as it refreshed and invigorated me, simply because Radiohead themselves sounded so refreshed and invigorated. “House of Cards” was a prime example of this, with Yorke’s effortless falsetto careening over guitars and drums that sounded almost — gasp — funky. And the fact that he was singing about seduction and destruction somehow made it all the sweeter. Even in this new relaxed state, Yorke still wasn’t afraid to stare into the void and sing about what he saw there.
“Beach Baby” (Miracle Fortress, Five Roses)
When I first listened to Five Roses, I handily dismissed it as the work of someone too enamored with the likes of Brian Wilson and Sufjan Stevens. And then I realized that I couldn’t get those dang melodies out of my head. I gave the album another spin, and it sank its claws in even deeper. And maybe it’s just the expectant father in me, but “Beach Baby” hit me especially hard, as Graham Van Pelt sang about the effects, fears, dangers, and promise that a newborn brings with it. “With the birth of a child comes the end of an age/Like turning a phrase that erases a rage,” indeed.
“Getting Special” (The Lodger, Grown-Ups)
Another track that I initially dismissed, but which slowly and surely sunk its considerable hooks into my brain until I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. “Getting Special” has the crunchy, dancy rhythms, staccatto guitars, and snotty vocals that you’d associate with a group like Franz Ferdinand, but once the chorus kicks in, it turns into something else — something considerably more delightful and just as catchy. Surprisingly, this was one of the first songs written by the band, as its craftsmanship implies considerably more experience.
“The Stars In Spring” (Epic45, May Your Heart Be the Map)
I previously lumped Epic45 in with an assortment of artists that I labelled as “nostalgists”, and on their latest album (my review) is perhaps the perfect summation of that particular sound. Listening to “The Stars In Spring” is like going through an assortment of old postcards, photographs, diary entries, and home movies. Each silvery, twilit guitar note practically drips with memories, most of them faded to near obscurity, and I find it impossible to listen to the song and not find myself staring outside the nearest window, lapsing into a particularly reflexive mood.
“Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)” (Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of the Decline)
Few bands are as adept at sounding timeless and vast as Stars of the Lid. And Their Refinement of the Decline was their first album in six years, but the duo didn’t so much break new ground as continue to explore the same territory they’ve been exploring throughout their career. Which, when you’re talking about a geography as endless as their’s, isn’t that big of a deal. At just under four minutes, “Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)” is one of the shortest songs on the two-disc affair, and yet its stately drones were more expansive than anything else I heard this year. Every time I heard this song, I found myself thinking in cinematic terms — it sounded like an alternate soundtrack for 2001, when mankind makes its first real foray into the universe and the wonders it contains.
“Dulce Et Decorum” (Alsace Lorraine, Dark One)
Countless bands these days are shamelessly ripping off the sounds of 1980s new wave and post-punk. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. However, Alsace Lorraine’s music isn’t so much influenced by those sounds (The Smiths, New Order, etc.) as it sounds like it’s coming over from some parallel universe where the 80s never really died out, where those genres never passed from popular conscience but continued on unabated. Which is to say that “Dulce Et Decorum” sounds awfully familiar and yet strangely new and unique all at the same time, a curious blend of nostalgia and the new. And the denouement, with its interweaving synth melodies and tones, still gets me every time, sounding like the band is slowly retreating back to that parallel universe to dream it up all over again.
“Springtime” (Rumskib, Rumskib)
Like The Mary Onettes, Denmark’s Rumskib wear their influences on their sleeve unashamedly, in this case the shoegazer and dreampop textures of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. But on a track like “Springtime”, those influences are manifested so perfectly that it sounds like Rumskib is the first band exploring those sonic areas. Jonas Munk’s production lends the track his usual electronic grace, but ultimately, it’s all about those layers of overdriven guitars and indecipherable vocals floating high overhead.
“Psalm 42” (The Trees Community, The Christ Tree)
If you’re lucky, you’ll hear at least one song in the course of a year that is, for lack of a better term, a religious experience. A track that speaks directly into your soul — even if you think you don’t have one — and, to borrow a phrase from Buechner, leaves you with tears and great laughter. “Psalm 42” was just such a song for me. Not surprisingly, the song was recorded by a Christian commune in the 1970s who travelled around and performed at monasteries. Re-released by Dark Holler this year, the music feels both prescient and timeless.
Prescient in the fact that folks like Joanna Newsom are now receiving heaps of praise for the sort of richly arranged, image-laden music that the Trees Community recorded thirty years ago, and timeless in the same way that all truly mystical art is freed from the constraints and demands of aging, fads, and relevance. But the greatest thing about “Psalm 42” is how both joyful and fearful the music sounds. There’s a sense of reckless play as well as a sense of reverence and worship, both of which are always humbling and refreshing to hear.