It was a very good year

Listening Parties

So long, 2007!

It was a great one for music, no question: Armchair Apocrypha, New Magnetic Wonder, Neon Bible, The Flying Club Cup, 23, Friend Opportunity, The Reminder, Proof of Youth, Night Falls on Kortedala, Emerald City, Sound of Silver, Kala, Oracular Spectacular, Boxer, Challengers, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, In Rainbows, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Marry Me, Living with the Living, Icky Thump – all interesting, some even great, albums.

The Shins, Arcade Fire, and Spoon all hit the charts. Radiohead decided you could pay what you wanted – no, really, it’s up to you – for their new album. Two new and awesome Austin bands, Mothfight and Fiction, released some music. An Austin festival brought the Murder City Devils back to life. So this is about the time that everyone writes year-end lists. Okay, let’s get it out of the way: Person Pitch is album of the year!

photo / forklift Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-No Derivatives 2.0 Spoon: a very good band 

Got that out of your system? Instead of doing a year-end list, I thought we might take the time to look back on some of the year’s highlights in what I call the 2007 Non-Exemplaries, which is to say that I don’t want to name anything the best of anything. Not that some of these things aren’t exemplary.

Dark Horse

Hymns for a Dark Horse, an otherwise unremarkable album by the Bowerbirds, brings us four and a half of the most beautiful minutes of music this year. It’s the semi-titular track, “Dark Horse,” and it’s a folksy, lilting melody that blossoms into a beautiful mix of strings and vocals. The perfect anthem for being “snowed”-in during Ice Storm ‘07.

Another look at two great albums

Earlier this year, I said two things that weren’t true: first, that Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, was “not terribly interesting.” Mea culpa, it (like the other album in this section) is a record that opens up with each successive listening, and I think it makes a fine addition to Radiohead’s canon. In part, it’s because they’ve returned to “the rock” without sounding retrogressive. Yeah, it’s clear Radiohead is evoking their pre-electronic days, but these are not the same songs you would have heard on The Bends or even OK Computer (except for “Nude,” which is actually a holdover from OK Computer). In Rainbows gives us a band that has been through a pioneering electronic phase and then come back to crafting beautiful, organic pop songs. For proof, see what happened to “Reckoner.” The song, which struck me as dull live, now swirls and jingles and even has a cool breakdown that sounds like “The Glow, Pt. 2.” Rightfully one of the year’s best.

The other thing I said was that Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was “an album devoted entirely to ripping off the band’s own back catalog.” Now, if you couldn’t tell, I was being facetious in that column (so I’m not apologizing for the joke!) – this album was one of my favorites this year, right up there with the band’s best. Like I said in my initial review, each of the songs can cleverly be traced back to another sonic theme in the band’s back catalog, while simultaneously propelling the band forward into new sounds. Take, for instance, “The Underdog,” which takes the idea of “I Summon You,” pumps up the energy, and adds a flamenco flair. What other band is doing this? It’s awesome. Again, that’s the great thing about this album: It’s playful about the idea that there’s a “Spoon sound,” both nodding to that sound and popping out gem after gem. It’s one of the band’s most accessible albums to date, and it’s chock full of classics like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t Make Me a Target,” and “Black Like Me.” This was the first album for Spoon to chart, and it’s probably the first a lot of people outside the indie world have heard of them, and I think it’s a great place to start.

All I wanna do is [gunshot] [gunshot] [gunshot] [gunshot] and [cash register noise] and take yo’ money

Let’s use the form of Arcade Fire’s Funeral to make a point: “Rebellion (Lies),” the second-to-last track on the album, is (besides maybe the opener) the most climactic and glorious of them all. Many artists tend to frontload their albums, then save the second-to-last track for some downer song to lead us into the happy ending. As cool as that is, I love the big, joyous second-to-last track, and M.I.A.’s got it on Kala. It’s called “Paper Planes,” and while joyous might not be the exact word for a song dealing with immigration woes, kids with guns, and drug dealing, it’s still an exuberant, Clash-sampling, sound-effect slinging romp. And, let’s face it, when’s the next time you’ll hear a song this good with sound effects for a chorus?

Friend Opportunity

Not only the best album by a band that can’t stop making great albums, but also one of the year’s most underrated and certainly worth listening to until you get over the fact that Deerhoof is kind of pretentious, because, let’s face it, if you’re calling them pretentious, maybe you’re just pretentious too and can’t see that they’re just having fun, man. Poser.

photo / Kristin Hillery Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 MGMT at Fun Fun Fun Fest 

Jens: Not so silent

Coherent story-songs aren’t so big these days, which is why Jens Lekman’s “A Postcard to Nina” is – well – awesome. It’s written as a postcard, and even signed lyrically, “Yours truly, Jens Lekman.” (Curiously, he pronounces his name differently than he did on “Black Cab.”) Here’s the plot of the postcard/song: Jens meets a girl, Nina, in Berlin, and she takes him home – without telling him that he has to pose as her boyfriend so her father won’t discover she’s a lesbian. At family dinner, Jens is trying his best to dodge every bullet hurled his way by Nina’s nosy father, who insists on playing Jens’ record and even reading the booklet. Finally, dad catches Jens in a lie (he says he’s moving to New York – or was it Sweden?), but it blows over and now Nina’s father is emailing Jens every day. He sends back “out of office” replies. The fact that I can glean all that from the lyrics speaks volumes for this charming story-song. And it’s even got a catchy tune.

Albatross: How We Failed to Save the Lone Star State with the Power of Rock and Roll

Please buy our album.

The Zombies came back to life

It didn’t get a huge reception, but it did get a mention in Rolling Stone. This year MGMT released Oracular Spectacular, a Dave Fridmann-produced (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Starlight Mints, etc.) album full of psychedelia and countless other 60s and 70s influences. The band seems like it’s still finding its sound (and it’s gone through some lineup changes recently), but the album is still packed with incredibly catchy songs. I think the production leaves something to be desired – though whether Fridmann is to blame is anyone’s guess. Everything sounds a little too clean, but based on the fact that MGMT is currently touring with Of Montreal and will be touring next year with The Fiery Furnaces, chances are they’ll have more time to produce even better albums. At any rate, take advantage of this early point in their development to sample their broad palate of influences. Bands like this, they eventually settle down.

So long, 2007. You’ve been good to us. As 2008 rolls in, “Listening Parties” will be there to actually cover things as they happen. Imagine that.


John Michael Cassetta's picture
TOP staff

Adam your shamelessness dominates my Most Shameless Plugs of 2007 list. I’ll be there tomorrow though.