I started 2007 knowing that I was going to compile an end of the year mix, whereas last year’s was somewhat of a last minute decision. That being the case, I’ve had my ears open extra wide this year, and I’ve heard a lot. A lot of crap, but a lot of great music as well. Two factors result: first, this year’s mix is much more varied (I think) in genre and style than last year’s. So if you run into a track or two that don’t toot your horn, bear with me – there should be something for everybody here. Secondly, I had an overabundance of music to choose from. When I pulled together all of the potential candidates, I had over five hours of music. Granted, that included multiple songs from the same artists. Nevertheless, the whittling process was difficult. I will also admit that once I was satisfied with this selection of 22 tracks, I was something like 30 seconds over CDR capacity. So I went in to almost every track and shaved off a few seconds just so that I could cram it all onto one cd. I really couldn’t cut another track without throwing off the flow of the entire mix. So this mix clocks in at just under 80 minutes. Filled to the brim.
Alright, enough with the prefatory remarks. Ladies and gents, I give you:
1. The Good, the Bad & the Queen -History Song
The Good, The Bad, & The Queen (Virgin)
A seemingly unlikely, yet wholly welcome supergroup. Throughout the year, the more that I learned about this project, the more interested I became. It was first described to me as a collaboration between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simonon. Later I discovered that Tony Allen (formerly of Fela Kuti and Africa 70) was behind the drumkit, and The Verve’s Simon Tong was on guitar. And when I finally bought the damn record, I was pleasantly surprised to note that Danger Mouse was producing. All of this adds up to an incredibly enjoyable, if extremely moody musical excursion. This track is the album’s opener, and a suitable opener for this compilation as well. I find it a haunting ditty, to say the least.
The Good, The Bad & the Queen (official site)
2. Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - Time To Go
You Can’t Buy a Gun When You’re Crying (Damaged Goods)
I won’t claim that I’ve followed Holly Golightly’s career with any depth. A few songs here and there, but admittedly she was only represented in my collection by her contribution to The White Stripes’ Elephant album. First of all, I think that You Can’t Buy a Gun When You’re Crying might get the Gonzo award for best album title of the year. Secondly, the whole album has this sort of American west twang vibe that suits Golightly’s voice incredibly well. I also applaud the use of train whistles to augment the lyrics.
Holly Golightly (official site)
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs (MySpace)
3. Iron & Wine - Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog) The Shepherd’s Dog (SubPop)
I first came to Iron & Wine witih 2005’s Woman King EP. I fell in love with that disc, and this year’s full length, The Shepherd’s Dog is equally impressive. One of the things that I love about their music is that it’s rather subdued, yet fairly complex at the same time. This track is a suitable example. The layered vocals, the intricate rhythms of the percussion and guitar playing, the way organ, harmonica and supplementary percussion seem to float in and out of the song. I’m reminded that I need to check out the rest of their catalog.
Iron & Wine (official site)
Iron & Wine (MySpace)
4. Battles - Atlas
An early contender for album of the year for me, Battles first full length Mirrored came by way of recommendation from a friend. Upon first listen, I was pretty much blown away. I’ve tried to describe their sound to other people, but have failed miserably in doing so. I think that may be the marker of a great band. They’re on Warp, but they aren’t quite an electronic act. They’re often described as following in the tradition of math rock, but I’ve never been to keen on that genre, and I don’t quite think it fits Battles. At any rate, I got to catch them live over the summer, and it was one of the best shows that I’ve seen in a long time. On record and on stage, Battles seamlessly integrates live instrumentation and electronic gadgetry. More impressive is that on stage, all of the samples they use are recorded live on the spot. When they broke into this track live, the capacity-packed Picador all began jumping in unison which was at once an awesome and also frightening feeling. I feared for the strength of the second story floor.
5. The Dollyrots - Because I'm Awesome Because I’m Awesome (Blackheart)
My first encounter with this LA outfit was when James and I saw them open for the Gore Gore Girls in May. Opening acts are always a mixed bag. But if I see a band having not heard them and walk out with their cd, they’ve clearly done something right. Some folks might complain that The Dollyrots are “too poppy,” and that’s an understandable criticism. But that’s also what I love about them – they unabashedly embrace their poppiness. I can see this being big amongst high school kids. This track was also used in a Kohl’s commercial. Do I care? Negative. While this is my favorite track on the album, it is also indicative of the rest of the disc. Just good poppy rockin’ fun. No shame my friends, I have no shame.
The Dollyrots (official site)
The Dollyrots (MySpace)
6. Spoon - The Underdog
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
I have to admit two things: 1) The only other Spoon album I’m familiar with is 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. 2) I liked Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga well enough the first time around, but it took a second listen to really get into it. That said, it’s become one of my favorite albums of the year. In the Spoon material I knew previously, I was drawn to Britt Daniel’s well projected raspy voice and the band’s knack for melody. Both of these elements are all over Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I also commend the band for making an album that clocks in at 36 minutes. In the age of gratuitous 70 minute albums, there’s something to be said for brevity. As for my song selection, it was between this and two other tracks. This won out partially because it fit into the larger mix better, but also because it might be my favorite on the album. In addition a jumpy rhythm, I love the brass hook, not to mention the jangly tambourine. Further, I dig the sentiment – “You got no fear of the underdog / that’s why you will not survive.” Implied message: don’t get cocky – watch your back, slick.
Spoon (official site)
7. Gore Gore Girls - All Grown Up
Get the Gore (Bloodshot)
I’ve been following the Gore Gore Girls for a few years now. I think I first heard them on Little Steven’s Underground Garage around the time that Up All Night was released. A friend once described them (and I think accurately) as the perfect combination of 1960s girl group sensibility and Detroit muscle. I also place them in the tradition of the New York Dolls, but more so for their attitude than their musical similarities. Get the Gore was highly anticipated for me, and it certainly met expectations. In fact, I’ll venture to say that each Gore Gore Girls LP improves upon the last in terms of songwriting and production value. This song had been on their website for a year or so before the album came out, and it remains a favorite.
Gore Gore Girls (official site)
Gore Gore Girls (MySpace)
8. The Raveonettes - You Want The Candy Lust (Sony)
I wasn’t even aware that The Raveonettes were recording, so it was a pleasant surprise to get the news over the summer. This actually hasn’t hit Stateside yet, but don’t’ go ordering from Amazon.co.uk just yet – the US version will have bonus tracks for once. I’ve loved all of their work up to this point. They channel garage and girl group elements, and love the wall of sound. Lust is highly enjoyable, and presents another serving of the patented Ravonettes sound. My only complaint is that it doesn’t take the group into new territory. Each of their three releases to date have been distinctly their style, yet different enough to keep it interesting. Lust is great – I just hope that they don’t enter into a stylistic rut.
The Raveonettes (official site)
The Raveonettes (MySpace)
9. Candie Payne - By Tomorrow
I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (Deltasonic)
Liverpudlian Candie Payne’s debut album is undeniably retro in its feel. Yet while some tracks boast the production work of Mark Ronson (of Amy Winehouse fame), Candie Payne harkens back more to mid-‘60s swinging London rather than Winehouse’s take on American r&b of the same decade. The result is a highly enjoyable romp that makes one desirous for the days of go-go dancing. Initially, I’d slated the title track, an ominous, mid-tempo, minor key interpersonal lament. But instead, I went with this hyperactive foot stomper, at least in part due to the irresistible horn line.
Candie Payne (Official Site)
Candie Payne (MySpace)
10. The Budos Band - Budos Rising
This twelve-piece outfit from New York City comes to us from the Daptone label, home of such other soul revivalists as the Dap Kings and the Mighty Imperials. I actually remember going to a Daptone showcase at CMJ in 2002, although I don’t believe the Budos Band were on the lineup. Nevertheless, they are fairly representative of the label’s sound, while of course maintaining their own character as well. The second album is a 38-minute instrumental excursion that melds urban funk and soul with elements that invoke the American desert. I can’t explain it. Maybe I’ve just fallen victim to the album’s cover art. Either way, the album is solid – well worth checking out.
The Budos Band (Official Site)
The Budos Band (MySpace)
11. New Young Pony Club - Grey
Fantastic Playroom (Modular Interscope)
Somewhere between indie pop and electro, there is the New Young Pony Club. Fantastic Playroom has generated a decent amount of buzz in the blogosphere, although sources indicate that the band has been releasing singles in the UK (many of which appear on FP) for the last two years. Regardless, the album doesn’t sound “so 2005.” It might sound a little 2001, but I’m okay with that. The album includes a number of strong tracks in this dance-rock vein that are catchy as hell. Furthermore, they apparently have the seal of approval from David Bowie (so says Allmusic.com), so that automatically ups the ante.
New Young Pony Club (Official Site)
New Young Pony Club (MySpace)
12. Kylie Minogue - 2 Hearts
I tend to be a little bit behind the curve, so I’m only now getting into Kylie Minogue. Listening to her more recent albums, I’m baffled as to why her cover of “The Locomotion” was the only song to break in the American market, while she’s dominated the UK and Aussie charts for two decades. At any rate, one of the things that propelled me to explore her catalog a bit more was the video for "2 Hearts." Not only is the video smokin’ hot, but the song’s style was totally unexpected. Sure, one could argue (fairly accurately) that it’s pretty Goldfrappy (my new favorite adjective), but it’s done well. I also love the circus tent burlesque motif of the video. It’s good to see that she isn’t limiting herself strictly to slickly produced dance club pop (which I support anyway, but I’m just sayin’).
Kylie Minogue (Official Site)
Kylie Minogue (MySpace)
13. Blow Up - Everyman Everywoman
Yes, I’m a Witch (Astralwerks)
Alright – you know I love her. When I first heard that there would be a new Yoko album this year, I was immediately psyched. I’ll admit that when I heard it wouldn’t really be a ‘new Yoko album,’ I was a little disappointed. Then I saw the contributing artists, and then Yes, I’m a Witch began generating an incredible amount of buzz in the music press and online. It would be inaccurate to call Yes, I’m a Witch a remix album, nor is it an album of artists covering her work. Rather, it featured a slew of contemporary artists constructing new music around Ono’s vocal tracks. The results are both interesting and impressive. As a side note, this album led to a seminar paper that will hopefully be presented at IASPM 2008, but that’s another story altogether. There were a number of tracks I could have included. I went with The Blow Up’s take on “Everyman/Everywoman.” When the song was originally remixed in 2004, DJs cut up Ono’s lyrics to transform the song into an anthem for gay rights/gay marriage. Blow Up runs with this reworking, but puts it into this amalgam of surf/spy guitars backed by a house beat. I’m totally down with that. In addition, Yes, I’m a Witch and the companion Open Your Box (a compilation of remixes initially released 2001-2007) have given me fantasies of a Yoko Ono dance party. Sadly, I feel like I might be the only one that would show up. Iowa City just isn’t the cultural climate for such things.
Yoko Ono (MySpace)
14. Dizzee Rascal - Bubbles
Maths and English (XL)
I can’t explain it, but there’s something about the sound of a British accent rapping that I find aurally interesting. Dizzee Rascal’s third offering continues his off kilter brand of hip hop. This was staple in my car and discman during the early portion of the summer. So much so that I think I’ve almost reached a saturation point with the album. Alas. Having been released months before Common’s Finding Forever (see below), I was unsure how Dizzee’s collaboration with Lily Allen would come off. Surprisingly, it works. Unsurprisingly, the song (“Wanna Be”) is well suited for the character identity Allen established for herself on last year’s Alright, Still. “Bubbles” is definitely the highlight of the album for me – the beat, the groove, and the lyrics that seem to mock American top 40 rap culture. Sold.
Dizzee Rascal (Official Site)
Dizzee Rascal (MySpace)
15. Gameboy/Gamegirl - Sweaty Wet/Dirty Damp
I don’t even know how I came across this group. I think it was via
Off the Record. Regardless, this Australian dance outfit clearly doesn’t take itself very seriously (or at all), which is something I can appreciate. To my knowledge, they haven’t actually released anything yet, but they have a selection of tunes on their Myspace page that are generally a good time. This is byfar my favorite. For a spell this summer I listened to it nearly daily when I came home from running when I was literally sweaty wet and dirty damp. I’m pretty sure they’re talking about something else here though. Also, “wamp-wamp?”
16. Client - Drive
When I came across Client on the RegnYouth blog, the description led me to anticipate something akin to Kraftwerk. That’s not quite what their second album offers, but it is certainly well steeped in late 1970s/early 1980s electronic music. In addition to echoes of synth-pop past, other tracks on the album present a more broadly new wave vibe, wherein the duo gets a bit rockier on tracks such as “Lights Go Out,” “Xerox Machine.” These tracks were under consideration for the mix, but “Drive” won out, mainly for the lyrics and vibe. It puts me in mind of those late nights on I-80 making the trek from Iowa City to Pittsburgh.
Client (Official Site)
17. M.I.A. - Paper Planes
Kala was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Last year I was hipped to M.I.A.’s debut Arular, which instantly became a fixture in my discman for the summer of 2006. The follow up from the London-born Sri Lankan raised in India (!) doesn’t fail to disappoint. Upon first listen, I immediately felt that there was something different about Kala from it’s predecessor. Not just song structure, but something fundamental that I couldn’t put my finger on. Hemani then made the astute observation that Arular relied more heavily on electronic drums, whereas Kala makes greater use of what I’ll call organic percussion, for lack of a better term (of course, "Paper Planes" doesn't illustrate that fact, but I digress). In addition, M.I.A. has maintained much of the character of Arular while not repeating herself – a key factor in a successful sophomore album. This song stands out for a number of reasons. First, it appropriates “Straight to Hell,” potentially my favorite Clash song. Secondly, a number of people have commented (and I agree) on the jarring effect of the gun cocks and shots (CBS even censored the shots when she played Letterman). This is interesting given the prevalence of such sounds and imagery in gangsta rap for nearly twenty years (egads...). Says M.I.A. on that point: "I was going to get patties at my local and just thinking that really the worst thing that anyone can say is some shit like: 'What I wanna do is come and get your money.' People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they’re just leeches that suck from whatever. So in the song I say All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money. I did it in sound effects. It’s up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I’m sure they’ll get it." Kala is solid from start to finish, and if pushed to make such a call, it might top my list of 2007 releases. Now if I only had better luck with seeing her live.
M.I.A. (Official Site - do not click if prone to seizure)
18. Common - The People
Finding Forever (Universal)
With Common, we have another example of me being behind the curve. I’ve been familiar with Common for some time, but had never explored his work too deeply until early this summer when I finally picked up Be. On the strength of that album, I bought Finding Forever shortly after it came out (the same day that I purchased the M.I.A. disc, actually). There are certainly no disappointments here for me. Only knowing his two most recent albums, my base of comparison is limited. However, I can say that Finding Forever continues in the same vein as Be in terms of style and class. It’s simply a solid hip hop record, one that has the gumption to sample Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I’m also taken by the collaboration with Lily Allen, “Drivin’ Me Wild.” While I love her, Allen’s contribution to that track finally sees her stepping out of her cheekiness, and to great effect. “For the People” is simply a strong track, the first single, and one that I suggest would make a great campaign song for fellow his fellow Illinoian. Oh, and Common’s daughter found Nemo.
Common (Official Site)
19. Aceyalone – Lightning Strikes
Lightning Strikes (Deacon)
This little nugget came to my attention thanks to Pete over at IckMusic. This was the first I’d heard of Aceyalone, though he’s been making solo discs since 1995. As such, I have no idea how representative Lightning Strikes might be of his back catalog. However, if the 2007 release is any indication, I should go back and explore his work. Throughout the disc, Aceyalone makes use of beats and musical backdrops that are more dance hall than hip hop, leading to an end product that is a rather refreshing stylistic hybridization. The album also features a track with Chali 2na, formerly of Jurassic 5. Admittedly, that collaboration is better than anything J5 had put out since 2000.
Aceyalone (Official Site)
20. Justice - D.A.N.C.E.
† (Downtown/Ed Banger)
Justice was first billed to me as something to check out if you miss “good Daft Punk.” As someone who was fairly disappointed in the last Daft Punk LP, I was intrigued. While I liked the album when I first heard it, it wasn’t until I saw the 'performance' of "D.A.N.C.E." on Jimmy Kimmel that I was totally hooked. The song then became a bit of an obsession, although the whole album does in fact recall classic Daft Punk. And they’re French, go figure. It’s a solid dance record. Said Justice about this song: “It’s a defence of Michael Jackson and it’s not ironic at all.”
21. Chromeo - Bonafied Lovin’
Fancy Footwork (Vice)
One of the things that’s nice about being a music geek and interacting with undergraduates is that occasionally you’ll get hipped to something new and exciting. Knowing my penchant for dance and funk music, a student of mine recommended Chromeo, and this song in particular. I checked them out on MySpace and was sold immediately. They definitely get the award for best use of the Minneapolis Sound in 2007. The whole album follows this vein and it’s a funky romp from start to finish. Aside from the crisp production, this could easily pass for a 1984 release. This puts me in mind of a colleague’s response to last year’s mix: “I’m amazed that you found so many songs in 2006 that sounded like Prince.” Go figure. Lastly, it is well worth checking out Chromeo's videos on YouTube. As with Gameboy/Gamegirl, I’m pleased that these guys refuse to take themselves seriously.
Chromeo (Official Site)
22. White Stripes - Effect And Cause
Icky Thump (Warner Bros.)
And here’s your coda after that little dance party.
Jack White is a busy bee. Here’s the math:
1999: self titled White Stripes' album
2000: White Stripes' De Stijl album
2001: White Stripes' White Blood Cells album
2003: White Stripes' Elephant album
2004: produces Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose
2005: White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan album
2006: Raconteurs album
2007: White Stripes' Icky Thump album
And allegedly there’s a second Raconteurs album in the works. Is this cat going to release something every year? I’m okay with that – he has yet to fail in my eyes. I was a bit apprehensive about this album. I’ve loved every White Stripes disc thus far, and they seem only to get better with each album. 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan was undoubtedly my favorite, and I was concerned that album was the high water mark, and that the band would diminish in creativity and intrigue. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case. I will say that Icky Thump doesn’t reach the heights of Get Behind Me Satan, but it’s still a pretty damn good album. Like it’s predecessor, it does cover a decent amount of stylistic ground, which I generally appreciate. I went with this song for its simplicity and sentiment. I also like it when Jack White whips out the acoustic for a boot-tappin’ number. I almost put the half-skit/half-song “Rag and Bone” on here instead (which has yet to lose its novelty on me), but alas. “Effect and Cause” is a suitable ending, and this is the tune with which I leave you in 2007.
The White Stripes (Official Site)
The White Stripes (MySpace)
There was simply a bounty of good music this year, so cuts had to be made. There were a few minor criteria used in selection. I did after all have over 5 hours of music in my initially compiled list. First, I excluded anything that may have had a 2007 release in the States, but was initially released elsewhere in 2006 (Amy Winehouse, The Noisettes). Second, I cut covers (Erin McKeown, The Bad Plus, Ryan Shaw, Detroit Cobras). Other than that, it simply came down to what worked best in conjunction with the rest of the mix. Thus, these releases are all worthy of your time, despite not making the final lineup.
Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass (Def Jux)
Amina – Kurr (Ever)
The Bad Plus - PROG (Heads Up)
Bird and the Bee – Please Clap Your Hands (Blue Note)
[Includes an amazing cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” that will melt your heart.]
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Dandelion Gum (Graveface)
[Small note here. I’d first heard of Black Moth Super Rainbow early in the year, perhaps on Pitchfork, and thought to myself, “Well that’s an interesting name for a band.” I left it at that. Fast forward to this summer. A high school friend of mine asked if I’d heard Black Moth Super Rainbow. I relayed that I knew the name, but hadn’t heard the music. Turns out, I went to high school with these guys. Small world! The album is worth checking out – pretty damn trippy.]
Black Francis – Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl)
[ Return to form (finally).]
Detroit Cobras – Tied and True (Bloodshot)
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
Keren Ann – Keren Ann (Metro Blue)
Eleni Mandell – The Miracle of Five (Zedtone)
Erin McKeown – Sing You Sinners (Nettwerk)
Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
The Noisettes – What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? (Vertigo/Universal)
Ryan Shaw – This is Ryan Shaw (Columbia)
Bruce Springsteen – Magic (Columbia)
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (Republic)
John Zorn – Six Litanies for Heliogabalus (Tzadik)
Duran Duran – Red Carpet Massacre (Epic)
Granted, I wouldn’t expect much from a Duran Duran album at this point. But I was kind of amped when I saw that Timbaland was producing. The result is predictable – good production, subpar music and lyrics.
The Stooges – The Weirdness (Virgin)
There isn’t much to add to my initial reactions upon purchasing this album. I believe that this was the first 2007 release that I purchased, and one of the worst. Not *the* worst however. Sadly, that honor is reserved for another one of my top ten artists of all time.
Prince – Planet Earth
Again, I don’t have anything to add to my initial comments. Giving the album another spin while reflecting on the year’s releases, I feel exactly the same about this album. That is, disappointed. Fortunately, I don’t have to completely write Prince off for 2007, as the First Ave. show was certainly a highlight of my concert-going experiences.