Year in Review: My Top 10 CDs of 2007
I know, CDs, how old-fashioned am I? But while I do download music, I can't quite give up the tactile pleasures of owning an actual CD. Auckland's awesome Real Groovy Records is one of my favorite haunts, a place a record-store geek can while away hours digging through the bargain bins. Here's the tunes that perked me up this year nearly gone by:
1. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver - Irony turns into something a bit deeper in James Murphy's fantastic second album as "dance-punk" act LCD Soundsystem. Catchy electronic beats marry to smooth, dry songwriting. The goofy satire of his earlier work is here with "North American Scum," but an elegant wistful beauty comes to light too with the superb "All My Friends." An aging hipster's lament that it can't all stay the same as it ever was, and the disc from 2007 I played more times this year than any other. (Full review here.)
2. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger - Ryan Adams is so prolific that it's often hard to appreciate his output, but even his throwaways will stick in your brain. But with "Easy Tiger" he's put out his most polished disc since "Gold." The soulful country troubadour crossed with a burned-out junkie's passion matures into a fine crafter of songs with gentle gems like "Two" and "Goodnight Rose." He's like watching a young Neil Young and marveling at all the songs that might come out in the future.
3. Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II - Speaking of Neil, here's a surprisingly lovely and eclectic set by one of the greats, considering it's a "grab bag" of miscellany including one epic that dates back nearly 20 years, the sprawling 18-minute "Ordinary People," one of the best songs of this or any year. It's packed in with a varied but overall very good set of Neil songs that try out everything from garage-rock to sentimental ballads, like a greatest hits that never was.
4. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? - Early Bowie and T Rex in an electronica blender, with a dash of Pavement. A strangely fey and dazzling disco-pop album about the rise and fall of one man's soul, with the smashingly intense, 11-minute long "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," the beating heart at the middle of it all. Like the sound of a nervous breakdown with a beat you can dance to. (Full review here.)
5. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible - Their 2004 debut "Funeral" got a lot of ink, but this dense and melodramatic follow-up is just as good I think. Few bands can pull off the over-the-top rock 'n' roll savior thing they're going for, but tracks like "Black Mirror" and "No Cars Go" make it happen. A towering noise that casts a glittering spell. I get to see them live next month at Auckland's Big Day Out, can't wait!
6. I'm Not There original soundtrack - Tribute albums never quite work, but somehow, this two-disc ode to Bob Dylan is a marvel, with artists from Cat Power to Wilco to Antony and the Johnsons putting their spin on Dylan's legacy – props to them not going for the obvious songs and pulling some rarities out for a go. More than 30 songs and most of them put a fine spin on Dylan's world. Bonus points for the mesmerizing 1967 Dylan and the Band tune "I'm Not There," finally getting an official release from the Basement Tapes. (Full review here.)
7. White Stripes, Icky Thump - The most consistently eccentric band that sells top 10 albums, and another gem-packed ramble through Jack and Meg's closets. The Mexican wrestling theme "Conquest," the fuzzed-out "Icky Thump," the charming ditty "Rag and Bone" - it's all kinda sloppy and silly, and that's its charm. Keep on doing what you're doing, guys. Maybe less bagpipes less time, though.
8. The National, The Boxer - This one snuck up on me, a dour, moody suite of rock anthems that reveal themselves on repeated listens to be miniature masterpieces of tone and longing. Brooding bartione voice, fantastic drumming and songs that build in power. Perfect for a 3 a.m. post-nightlife chill-out. Or spiral into despair, whatever floats your boat. (Full review here.)
9. The Stooges, The Weirdness - Men in their sixties trying to pretend they're still punk, this comeback should've bombed (and a lot of people did hate it), but heck, I found this pure dumb rock fun at its clearest – music that's disorderly, inelegant and crude, with a slight wink to it. Not The Stooges of 1969, and really, how could it be, but an amusing revival. (Full review here.)
10. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky - A retreat from the dazed psychedelia of their last discs into mellow country pop, it's a "taking stock" album but still a welcome back porch singalong, Jeff Tweedy sounding relaxed and at peace and he can't help but spread that vibe a little bit. Better than I thought on the first few listens.
Honorable mention: The latest by New Pornographers, Björk, Foo Fighters, The Shins, and Iron and Wine are all good stuff.
Best live shows: The New York Dolls were terrific fun and so loud I think they broke my ears, and Bob Dylan was a living legend in fine form, but despite my qualms about the staging, I have to admit my trip to see Ryan Adams in August is the show I remember the best of 2007 – outstanding solos, riveting vocals and a passion that while occasionally misguided (really, couldn't they turn up the lights a bit?), it worked in the end and the songs certainly stuck with me.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Enjoy the holidays!