January 10, 2008

Best of 2007

Best of 2007 resized
2007 was a great year for music. In my list below you will find some concert photography (by me), surprisingly I saw most of the artists in my top 10 in concert this year. You will also find links to the albums on emusic, 7 of the top 10 are available there (so you have no reason not to get them). You also get information on whether or not the album is available on vinyl. 2007 is the first year ever I bought more vinyl records than CDs. I recently read an article that stated within 5 years vinyl will be the primary physical format music is purchased on (primary form overall will be digital of course). Only half of my top 10 was released on vinyl, but a couple more releases could happen in 2008 (for 2007 albums).


1. Thrice- The Alchemy Index vols. I & II**- Fire & Water (Pre-ordered CD, then got on emusic because I was impatient and couldn't wait. Glad I bought CD version though, because packaging is excellent as usual.)

It's hard for me to put into words how much I LOVE this album. It is my number one by a landslide. Usually I debate with myself forever over which album is going to be my #1 for the year, but this was an easy decision. The rest of my top 10 is interchangeable and does change on a frequent basis, but Thrice always stays at the top.
I have said it before and I will say it again, this album is not getting heard by the people that will like it. Even you, reading this right now, are saying to yourself, "Thrice is Metal/Punk/Emo/Hardcore and I don't like that kind of stuff." Well, you are dead wrong. Does Thrice have songs that could fit those genres? Possibly. Does this album? Not at all.
The Alchemy Index is a series of 4 EPs. Originally Thirce was going to release all four at once, but then decided to release the first two, Fire & Water in October 2007, and then the next two, Earth & Air in March 2008. The EPs are hard to describe, but thematically based on each of these four elements. They correspond to the elements musically & lyrically. Sounds like a potentially bad idea, but it worked perfectly.
The reason is worked is because Thrice was already pushing the envelope stylistically even before this project. Their previous album, Vheissu, was extremely diverse and a huge departure from their first three albums. Thrice, while having a punk/metal background, has matured beyond belief.
The first EP, Fire, is hard music. Very loud, but very different than the heavy stuff Thrice has put out previously. Production is radically different than any other hard music you have heard. Dustin does scream/yell, but he also sings and whispers.
The second EP, Water, is the one I listen to the most. Not necessarily because it is the best, but because my wife also likes it and she can't listen to the Fire EP because she doesn't like any music with yelling/screaming. The Water EP is almost impossibly to classify, but I will call it "quiet electronic rock." As different as the Fire & Water EPs are stylistically, they remain cohesive, which is impressive.
Dustin Kensrue's vocals and lyrics are spot-on as usual, and bring everything together. (He also released a solo album last year that you can read about below). Please, I am begging you, if you have never heard Thrice, or if you heard Thrice years ago and dismissed them, please check out this album. And since they left their major label (Island) and signed to an indie (Vagrant), The Alchemy Index is on emusic so you have no excuse. Now I am just hoping that when the next two EPs get released Vagrant does some type of amazing 4 vinyl LP set.


2. Eisley- Combinations (Bought CD)
I love female vocals. I love harmonies. I love pop-rock music. I love lush, diverse instrumentation. There you go, that is what this album is. I have been an Eisley fan since May 2002, when I bought (Moss) Eisley- EP1 from the band's website. I saw them at Cornerstone that year and have been following them closely ever since. Their first album, 'Room Noises', I found disappointing because so many of the tracks were new version of songs I already knew off their four EPs. However, the album is great and was my #2 of 2005. 'Combinations' blew me away on first listen. Part of the problem with 'Room Noises' is that the instrumentation on the album is essentially the same on every song. Not so with this album; they have incorporated dozens of unique instruments that greatly complements their sound. Plus sisters Stacy and Sherri Dupree's vocals have matured and their harmonies are even better. Then add more mature lyrics and you have a terrific second album. I saw them perform twice in 2007, the better of which was an acoustic show at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville. I highly recommend also getting the Like the Actors EP, which includes three songs that didn't make the album, each of which is outstanding. Where is the vinyl release for Eisley- Combinations?


3. Tess Wiley- Super Fast Rock'n'Roll Played Slow (got on emusic, then bought CD)

After being a fan for 12 years, I finally saw Tess in concert in 2007, at Cornerstone. It could not have come at a better time, right after the release of her 3rd and best full-length album. After leaving Sixpence None the Richer, Tess has released tons of music, but not a true album until 2000's 'Rainy Day Assembly'. It was full of amazing songs, but 9 out of 10 had been released in earlier demo-like version so there wasn't much surprise. 2003 brought her second album, 'Not Quite Me', which introduced a more acoustic sound. At the time I found the acoustic sound a little disappointing, because the songs were still upbeat rock songs, and I was longing for the edge of her earlier work. Well, this time I was prepared for how acoustic the album would be, but I was not prepared for how great the songs would be. I am no longer disappointed by the lack of guitars, I think the sound of the album is PERFECT. Tess played almost all the instruments herself, which include acoustic guitar, piano and minimalistic unique percussion. (There is a pretty impressive guest appearance from Buddy Miller though on guitar). The strength of the album is the songs, as it should be; these are easily the best songs she has ever written. As I say over and over again, I love female vocals, and it doesn't get any better than Tess' beautiful singing. I wrote an in-depth review of this album in the iTunes music store. (Unfortunately this will probably never be available on vinyl because Tess is on a small German record label- Tapete.)


4. The New Pornographers- Challengers** (Bought Vinyl & digital boxed set [all for $20, "Buy Early Get Now"]; available on emusic)

As I read reviews and look at year-end lists, apparently this album was "disappointing." Not for me! I think the New Pornographers 4th album is outstanding, and potentially their best. The problem most people have with it, as far as I can tell, is that it is "too mellow", with "not enough rock songs". I don't have the same complaints, I love the mellow tracks. The title track, as sung by Neko Case, is my favorite song on the album. I saw them in concert in Atlanta in October, the best show I attended in 2007. (I went to more concerts in 2007 than in any year since 2002). They played at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, and played for over two hours, which was extremely impressive. The show was spectacular and epic- the sound was perfect, the harmonies were right on. Seeing them live gave me a whole new appreciation for the band.


5. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible** (bought Vinyl which came with free MP3 download; available on emusic)
I don't have much to say about this album; it is great and just about everyone agrees. It is Paste Magazine's #2, Pitchfork's # 27, and Rolling Stone's #4 of 2007. I prefer Arcade Fire's first album 'Funeral' due to its intensity and rawness, 'Neon Bible' was more of a grower. If 'Funeral' is the best debut album of the 2000's, this is the best follow-up. The double vinyl LP set is gorgeous, side B of the 2nd LP is an etching of the Neon Bible logo. I am dying to see Arcade Fire in concert, but until I do, this will have to do.


6. Jimmy Eat World- Chase This Light**(pre-ordered on iTunes then bought Vinyl, which came with free MP3 download)
Initially disappointing, but after a few listens I grew to love this album as much as all of Jimmy Eat World's previous work. It is VERY poppy, more so than anything the band has ever done. I wish I hadn't done the iTunes pre-order, but it took so long for the vinyl to come out, I was impatient. As far as the music goes, they aren't breaking any new ground. But they are writing some of the catchiest songs of their career. 'Gotta Be Somebody's Blues is the most unique songs they have ever recorded, being driven by an epic string section. The best song on the album is 'Here it Goes', with a chorus that will stick in your head for days. In summary, if you like Jimmy Eat World's older stuff, definitely buy this. If you have never liked them, then this is not for you.


7. Via Audio- Say Something Say Something Say Something (got on emusic)
For the second year in a row I discovered an album that made my top 10 while working on my top 10. Last year it was Manchester Orchestra, when I discovered their album in January while working on my blog. This year it was Via Audio, when I read about them on another blog's best of 2007 list on December 14. This other blogger listed them at #1, and I can understand why. This is indie rock at it's best, female and male lead vocals, driven by guitar and keyboards. They sound like the next generation Anniversary, also very similar to Headlights. They aren't quite as good as the Anniversary, but I think they have better songs than Headlights. Although Headlights does have a new album coming out in February. The best two songs on the Via Audio album are 'Presents' and 'We Can Be Good', both of which are spectacular and two of the best songs of the year. Another similar band to the three I just mentioned here almost made my top 25- the Most Serene Republic (they do win the award for having the best album cover of the year).




8. Explosions in the Sky- All of Sudden I Miss Everyone** (bought Vinyl, which came with free MP3 download; available on emusic)
I keep meaning to blog about why one should buy vinyl. This album is the reason. For $15, including shipping, I got two color vinyl records, a free mp3 download of the album, and a free CD of remixes. The artwork is spectacular, see the top of the page. I don't listen to much instrumental music, but I love Explosions in the Sky. Their previous album, 'The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place' is my favorite of theirs, but this one isn't far behind. I generally like instrumental post-rock, but rarely buy it. The exception is Explosions, who I find to be the best at what they do. It is amazing to how much emotion and feeling they communicate without lyrics. Comparing this album to their older stuff, the most obvious change is the addition of piano. Band is best known for thier soundtrack 'Friday Night Lights'.


9. Zookeeper- Becoming All Things (got on emusic)
I have very mixed feelings about this record. Zookeeper is Chris Simpson, of Mineral and the Gloria Record, two of my favorite bands. Mineral and the Gloria Record were both indie rock at it's finest, combining for three masterpiece albums and a couple more great EPs. Chris Simpson is also potentially my favorite lyricist, recently being challenged by Dustin Kensrue. While Simpson's first two bands were rock, this album is fairly undescribeable, maybe neo-folk? All of the songs are based around acoustic guitar with piano, banjo, accordion, trumpet, etc. Very diverse instrumentation throughout, but it is all intentionally dissonant and out of tune.
The Gloria Record's 'Start Here' was my number one album of 2002, it was immaculately produced, very crisp and clean. Five years later Simpson has gone in a completely different direction, and honestly I just don't get it. Don't get me wrong, I love the songs on this album, but the instrumentation just seems chaotic. I know it is supposed to be, but I don't understand- it goes completely against what I am looking for in production qualities. Many of the songs on the album are much simpler, with just Simpson and his acoustic guitar. These are by far my favorite songs on the album, they are great- the best being 'Boy & the Street Choir'. Don't get me wrong, I do like this album, I must for it to be in my top 10, but try to completely forget Mineral and the Gloria Record.



10. Tegan & Sara- The Con** (bought Vinyl, which came with free CD of album)
My wife and I discovered Tegan & Sara when they opened for Cake at an outdoor show in Nashville in the summer of 2004. They blew Cake away; it was actually one of the best live performances I have ever seen. Tegan & Sara are twin sisters and great performers from a musical and comedic standpoint. We saw them in concert again in 2006 at the Variety Playhouse.
As far as the songs go, Tegan & Sara have written better. Their previous two albums display much better song-writing and are much more consistent. 'The Con' though is a huge improvement as far as production and instrumentation go. It was produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab and he definitely made his mark. Added to the guitar base are new and interesting electronic elements and keyboards.


best of 2007 11 25 smaller


11. Radiohead- In Rainbows (downloaded for 75 cents)
12. Fountains of Wayne- Traffic & Weather (bought CD)
13. Lovedrug- Everything Starts Where it Ends (bought CD, available on emusic)
14. Over the Rhine- The Trumpet Child (received Vinyl as gift, got on emusic)
15. Pinback- Autumn of the Seraphs (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
16. Right Away, Great Captain!- The Bitter End (got on emusic)
17. Blonde Redhead- 23 (got on emusic)
18. Smashing Pumpkins- Zeitgeist (got on iTunes)
19. The Innocence Mission- We Walked in Song (bought Vinyl, available on emusic)
20. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
21. The National- Boxer (got on emusic)
22. Bodies of Water- Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink (got on emusic)
23. Band of Horses- Cease to Begin (bought Vinyl, came with free MP3 download)
24. St. Vincent- Marry Me (got on emusic)
25. Neon Horse- s/t (bought CD)


Honorable mention: (digitally released in 2006, released on CD in 2007)
Rosie Thomas- These Friends of Mine (available on emusic)
Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home
These albums have a lot in common for me. First of all, I got them both with an iTunes gift card in December 2006. Secondly, they are two of my favorite albums of this last year, potentially top 5. But because of their strange release methods, it is hard for me to categorize them as either 2006 or 2007 albums. Like I wrote above, while they were released digitally online in 2006, their physical release, on CD, was not until January (Dustin Kensrue) and March (Rosie Thomas). Neither, unfortunately, has been released on vinyl.
Enough about the format, now about the music. Both are folk albums and folk at its best. Rosie Thomas is one of the top female singer-songwriters out there today. This is her 4th LP, and my favorite. Titled 'These Friends of Mine' because her friends- Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer, helped her record it. Denison's guitar and Sufjan's vocals and banjo are all over it and it sounds great. Rosie's vocals are the highlight, and as usual, they are angelic. Rosie's vocals are honestly so beautiful it is hard to believe. Seeing her live, which my wife and I did this past summer, makes her vocals even more impressive, but at the same time, puts you into more shock when you hear the sounds come from her mouth. Rosie is a beautiful girl, the thing is her speaking voice is drastically different than her singing voice- it's night and day. Rosie also does a stand-up comedy routine which is hysterical. All this said, you must see Rosie in concert. And of course, buy this album.
As far as the Dustin Kensrue goes, it is much more of a raw folk/rock (like Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan). He is the lead singer of Thrice, but you would never know it. The album is all acoustic, and his vocals sound very different than they do on most of Thrice's music. The song-writing style is also very different. Usually his lyrically are very symbolic, but on this solo album they are very literal. The song structure is also traditional, unlike Thrice. The highlight of this album for me is the title track, which is a modern retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son.


Mindy Smith- My Holiday
The last of my 'honorable mention' albums is Mindy Smith- My Holiday. I didn't really consider it in my list because it is a Christmas album. However, it is much more of a "true" album than most Christmas releases. Meaning that, she contributes many songs that she wrote, and not many traditional Christmas songs. It is an outstanding album, back up to par with her debut release (One Moment More). My wife and I found her second album, 'Long Island Shores', to be lacking the great songs she usually writes.






Most disappointing album of 2007 (and possibly the worst album of 2007):
Avril Lavigne- The Best Damn Thing
Not that my expectations were high, but nothing could have prepared me for this load of crap. I really did enjoy her first two albums; hard to believe it now.

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