Oh, 2007...Where have you gone?

Hello all,

These lists are never easy to pull together. Knowing how I felt about some of the “Year End” lists that I’ve been combing through since mid-December, I’m aware that it’s always dangerous, and sometimes redundant, territory to summarize what you thought made the biggest impact this year, that year, so on, so on. And, for me, the albums that made the most impression weren’t necessarily albums that any rock-rag or critic thought much about. But, I guess it’s not always about societal impact, so much as it is about personal impact. I mean…it really does always come down to how an album makes you feel, because its impact truly starts with ONE set of ears. Eventually, other ears are touched, moods swing, cultures shift, the stars realign and thus a new era has risen with the sun, shedding new light on all of us. Wouldn’t that be great?

Anyway, not that this will necessarily cause cultures to shift, but these are my favorite picks for 2007. Comments are always welcome.

A couple notes: The numbers that I’ve used this year to rate the reviewed albums have been reconsidered for this list. Just in case there’s any question about why a 7/10 beat out a 9/10, when juxtaposed with a group of other albums, ratings may no longer hold as true as they once did. It’s all about context so, for the purposes of this list, the ratings aren’t concrete. Links will take you to their review.

Also, some releases made the list that hadn’t been reviewed. Those have been notes with a “*” and corresponding links will direct you to their respective websites. Also, release info and record label have been listed.

Hope you enjoy and thanks very much for reading. It’s been a great year.

Have a Happy New Year,
Letters From A Tapehead

15). PJ Harvey - White Chalk
Finding that little girl within, PJ Harvey took a break from rocking out and showed us all what she could do behind a piano. Beautifully melodic, though almost monotonous, Harvey stretches her abilities and her voice to facilitate this new direction and, in some ways, renewed some of the vitality that's been wasted on an otherwise overrun subgenre. "Grow Grow Grow" and "The Devil" won't leave your head for days.

14). Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
Josh Homme and Co. come back with Era Vulgaris, an album that proudly crowds industrial dissonance and aggressive guitars with driving rhythms and heavy percussion. Though somewhat stingy on the amount of tracks it offers, Era Vulgaris is an overall strong release from a band that continues to cut its own path in the mainstream while further alienating whatever fans they’d gained with 2002’s Songs For The Deaf.

13). Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends (French Kiss; Released 9.18.07)*
One of the best recommendations I've had this year, Les Savy Fav are an interesting mix of heavy new wave and pop punk, the latter genre being something I haven't been able to take seriously since The Descendents (pre-ALL, if you were wondering). Rhythmically intense and interesting, LSF are the type of band that make being "catchy" a good thing. Upbeat "Peggy Lee" and the ponderous "Brace Yourself" best represent the album's range of mood and ability.

12). The White Stripes - Icky Thump
As much as I love to beat up on the otherwise glorified White Stripes, their latest album, Icky Thump, was a surprisingly strong leap forward from a band whose jersey seemed ready for retirement.

11). Iron & Wine - The Shepherd’s Dog
Not necessarily the second coming of Jerry Garcia (thankfully), but definitely a hippie-era throwback for the modern age, Sam Beam transforms his past solo outings into a group effort, making some beautifully rich sounds for the folkster in all of us to chew on, digest and recycle.

10). Radiohead - In Rainbows
Taking most of its press from the band’s controversial “name your price” method of selling records and influencing theft, In Rainbows finds Radiohead simplifying their dynamic while also making some very layered and beautiful music. Easily this year’s most anticipated album.

9). The Grails - Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence; Released 4.24.07)*
After recently catching these guys live, I picked up their latest album, Burning Off Impurities and was more or less blown away. Purely instrumental, The Grails are a living soundscape, high on Latin and Middle Eastern influences and boldly rich in rhythm and atmosphere. Beautiful stuff.

8). Pissed Jeans - Hope For Men
More deserving of the nouveau punk crowns placed upon Against Me!’s criminally overrated heads, Pissed Jeans emerge ranting, raving and ready to cure all their bad days with a little ice cream. PJ frontman, Matt Korvette, riffs on joggers, fantasy worlds and beds over Black Sabbath-meets-Melvins guitar nuisance and kicks some life into a genre that’s been more or less crushed under Warped Tour weight and a serious lack of understanding.

7). Om - The Pilgrimage
Though not one of the more diverse or eclectic albums to come out this year, hypnotic bass/drum combo, Om, are intense for being only a duo. Very distinct and mesmerizing, very loud and intricate, Om are at the forefront of their own brand of sonic spirituality. Pilgrimage is their most explored effort yet.

6). Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (Polyvinyl; Released 1.23.07)*
An exercise in DEVO-catharsis, Of Montreal’s rather interesting Hissing Fauna is a synth popped microcosm of one man’s world brimming with mean chicks, self-doubt and his desire for a “lover with soooooooul power.” Pulling some of their inspiration from sources as likely as Talking HeadsMore Songs About Buildings And Food and seemingly out of place as Prince’s Purple Rain, Of Montreal manage to create a thoroughly proto-punk’d/glam’d and New Wave’d piece of upbeat cynicism. It feels like an early 80s collage, but with songs like the therapeutically improv’ed “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal,” Of Montreal’s content almost rings louder than their musical creation.

5). Marnie Stern - In Advance Of The Broken Arm
I'll admit that it's probably a stretch to place Marnie Stern's chaotic and fractured trip of a debut so high on the list, but the overwhelming resonance the album had on me put her there. Though I’m certain In Advance Of The Broken Arm garnered some high marks and praise among the indie rock writer elite, I know that its abrasiveness easily drove others to write it off as self-indulgent or pretentious. That being said, I give Stern credit for putting herself out there so honestly. She’s searching for her sound; what’s she’s found so far is fascinating.

4). Shining - Grindstone
If recognition can be readily granted to the easily defined, it should also be granted to those that defy classification. Grindstone, amazingly conceived album from Norwegian band Shining, is as much of a talent showcase as it is a confused masterpiece. Unafraid to stand outside the safety of categorization, Grindstone stands as one of the year's most original and potentially groundbreaking albums.

3). Battles - Mirrored
Also receiving praise in the “originality” and “groundbreaking” category is the full-length debut of electro-rocker quartet, Battles. Mirrored has deservingly earned itself a decent amount of recognition this year for its significantly creative and unique sound, and been placed high among the year’s best. Mirrored will undoubtedly stand as one of the decade’s finest albums.

2). Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
The year started off very optimistically for me upon hearing Friend Opportunity from indie trio, Deerhoof. Bursting with some of the most creative, powerful and odd moments a record can have, Friend Opportunity is the type of thing a mind enjoys wrapping itself around. It's smart without being snobbish and inventive without being pretentious.

1). Menomena - Friend And Foe
From its exceptional (Grammy-nominated) packaging to its well conceived and executed songwriting, Friend And Foe is a testament to the importance of a record's physical personality (take that MP3s!) as well as a band's distinguished musical identity. Passionately chaotic at points and expertly clean in others, Menomena have managed to craft a perfect piece of aural bliss that redefines the indie genre, (which has been otherwise stuck in an 80s New Wave rut), and could plausibly stand monumental as one of the greatest records ever made. Despite somehow avoiding consideration for many of the year's "Best Of" lists, Menomena are at the top of the Letters heap and will hopefully gain the recognition they deserve.

Runners-up:

16). Tomahawk - Anonymous
17). Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times (The End Records; Released 5.29.07)*
18). Thurston Moore - Trees Outside The Academy
19). Grinderman - s/t
20). Bad Brains - Build A Nation

* not reviewed...many apologies.
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