BW’s top 15 albums of 2007

A surprising number — though not quite all — of my top 15 albums of the year feature woodwinds. I especially love clarinets.

le loup

15. Le Loup, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (Hardly Art) MySpace

You may be tempted to ignore this DC collective because of the CMJ buzz they generated. Or maybe because of the blog buzz. Or maybe because the combination of banjos, loops, and apocalyptic lyrics may be too close a brush with Sufjanity. I prefer to think of Mercury Rev’s “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” as a precursor. If you’re not caught by Track 2, “Planes Like Vultures,” which announces repeatedly that “This world was made for ending,” you’ll be hooked by the generic shakeup on Track 3, “Outside of This Car, The End of the World,” which gives you entry to the synth pop rendering of a hand-clap tent-revival vibe that governs a good portion of this disc. (Try “We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!” for example.) If you want the end of the world to sound like a Nintendo 64 game on one TV set and Hee Haw playing on another — all in the same room, a children’s illustrated Bible and Cliff’s Notes to The Inferno on the coffee table — this might be what you want to play over the closing credits.

taken by trees

14. Taken by Trees, Open Field (Rough Trade) MySpace

Most of the instrumentation on Victoria Bergsman’s solo debut is spare — single piano notes repeated, a chamber orchestra at the lushest moments, muted snares or vibraphones. It’s meant to invoke the simplicity of an age gone by — a Coca-Cola commercial that promises to end all war through purchasing soft drinks and singing in perfect harmony. Bergsman, who formerly fronted the Swede pop band The Concretes, is now known as the chick who sings the seductive duet on Peter, Bjorn, and John’s infectious “Young Folks,” and if you listen to this album in the wrong mood you may be irked by the sing-song, babytalk lisps she veers toward most of the time (or the We-Are-Siamese-If-You-Please black keys jangle that steers toward chop-sticks orientalism on “Cedar Trees,” just as it did on PB&J’s whistling number). But there’s also something clean and hopeful here that warrants repeated listening: the promise of starting something fresh, like a flower blooming in the rain in slow motion at the start of a sex ed film, or a blunt-banged model wearing a crisp white dress cut just above the knee, each with only the slightest hint of irony.


13. Efterklang, Parades (The Leaf Label) MySpace

Bring your laptops, sure, but you’d better bring your clarinets too, and pick up a string section along the way. Where? To summer camp for experimental musicians, run by this Danish collective. Choral chants soar over combined waves of winds and static; frantic violins crescendo toward breaking points. This is chamber music for a new millennium. On “Mirador,” single-finger piano lines simultaneously hold down tradition and suggest improvisation until the song turns a corner into martial percussion and a low underline of muted horns; “Horseback Tenors” piles line upon line — chorus, feedback, horns, dueling string styles (pizzicato and staccato), crashing cymbals all swirl into something excessive and joyful. What might have sounded like a junkyard of genres and instruments more often than not offers optimal tension between the history and future of orchestral sound.


12. Samamidon, All Is Well (Bedroom Community) MySpace

Sam Amidon, the Vermont-born, Brooklyn-based folk singer and violinist (and collaborative blogger!), has an enviable CV, having recorded music not only with a number of bands (his projects include Doveman and Stars Like Fleas) but with young classical talents like the composer Nico Muhly. Recording with longtime collaborator Thomas Bartlett as Samamidon — his names crammed together — he brings this host of impressive friends into his own studio sessions, helmed by Icelandic superproducer Valgeir Sigurðsson, who’s worked with musicians like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Björk. Muhly arranges horns and strings; Eyvind Kang plays viola; Amidon plays guitar and banjo. These are traditional songs fully fleshed for a new millennium, old folk ballads for the hipster set. The title track, which closes the disc, offers a special bonus to anyone who grew up on this.


11. Akron/Family, Love Is Simple (Young God) MySpace

Give me an album whose second track (the fantastically named “Ed Is a Portal”) incorporates everything from hillbilly singalong chants to references to “Blackbird” to earnest spoken word bits that lead to Hare Krishna drivers and I’ll be hooked. But it’s really the chimes on the lullaby “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead,” whose chorus repeatedly offers the album title, that leads you like a somnambulist toward a tambourine Nirvana (the spiritual state, not the band, though maybe there’s a little Nirvana Unplugged in there too — the drummer with that bad ponytail). With a handful of songs that clock in at over 7:00 — and lyrics describing “chemical mountain chasers” — you wouldn’t be off to think of this as moving into 21c jam band territory, but it reins itself in at every possible wrong turn. When the over-the-top stoner anthem “There’s So Many Colors” finally ends, we find ourselves listening to crickets and looking at the stars. In the background a slide guitar gently weeps.

the artist formerly known as (smog)

10. Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whale Heart (Drag City)

The artist formerly known as (smog) sets out under his own name and it turns out he’s a little more country rock than rock and roll. (He even goes a little gospel on “The Wheel.”) “Sycamore” is the standout, all Spanish guitar serenade, but — call me a loyalist if you have to — baby’s baritone brings you through on anything he sings. Is “A Man Needs A Woman or a Man to Be a Man” his version of Willie’s “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)”?


9. Osvaldo Golijov, Oceana (Deutsche Grammophon) website

An Argentinian composer of Eastern European descent, Golijov stands — only in his late forties — as one of the world’s major classical music figures, a miner of folk traditions and forms for sounds to structure his energetic and inventive pieces. Composed in the late 1990s, prior to Golijov’s success with the extraordinary La Pasión según San Marco in 2000, Oceana (recorded here by the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus) features the Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, who alternates a variety of solo lines — some sound like 60s French pop, some sound like Eastern European Jewish melodies — with the full chorus’ heft and swell as it chants the title again and again. There’s no mistaking that “Oceana!” shouted at top volume is meant to sound like “Hosanna!” — but this seems to be a hymn rendered to the planet (and its watery spaces) rather than to the skies.

richard hawley

8. Richard Hawley, Lady’s Bridge (Mute) MySpace

Though this album isn’t quite on the level of its predecessor, 2005’s outstanding Cole’s Corner, there’s not a wasted moment on this record, which settles into a vein more readily identifiable with a specific era. Ever a crooner, on Lady’s Bridge Hawley plays almost exclusively with 1950s forms. His vocals land somewhere between Elvis, Orbison, and late Nick Lowe; the arrangements — especially the sweep of the strings — recall Nelson Riddle or maybe a backward glancing Jack Nitszche. From the upbeat rockabilly of “Serious” and the feel-good doo-wop of “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” to the sprawling cadences and thick orchestration of “The Sea Calls,” the sounds of another era — when big band gave way to the birth of rock and roll — conspire to make you feel at peace with getting old.

sunset rubdown

7. Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover (Jagjaguwar) MySpace

Spencer Krug continues to pound away at his piano like a vein-popping imitation of Charlie Brown’s friend Linus, and on this, the third album from one of his many sideprojects to Wolf Parade, he offers something more sophisticated than anything he’s ever released. Part Queen, part ELO, part Bowie, this record is like an emergency overflow for Krug’s imagination, packed to bursting with all the energy of operatic art rock. This is a much more ambitious record than Neon Bible or Spirit If …, to cite two more highly anticipated and better-known Canadian indie albums of last year. On “Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns,” a spooky vocal intro that conjures up images of hobbits on a bad trip builds into something more like the soundtrack to an alien abduction, hands down one of the weirdest — and most compelling — things to stick in my brain for a good portion of last year.


6. The Comas, Spells (Vagrant) MySpace

A month with a car in Boston this summer was all about this disc cranked up loud, 2007’s version of 2006’s Silversun Pickups. Andy Herod takes his lyrical cues from D&D — chuck full of wolves, spiders, and chalices, this is wizard rock of a more highly refined sort than Harry and the Potters — and writes a pop hook to compete with AC Newman. His duet with guitarist Nicole Gehweiler on “Come My Sunshine” may be the most infectious song I listened to this year, certainly the record the whole clan could get behind.

dan deacon

5. Dan Deacon, Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark) MySpace

The best-named album of the year. The party album of the year. Home of the song of the summer. Reviewed 2 July.


4. Colleen, Les Ondes Silencieuses (The Leaf Label)

Formerly an electronic minimalist composer, Colleen (aka Cécile Schott) turns up for her third album dressed for the Renaissance Fair: she’s dropped the laptop loops and now plays multiple instruments — guitar, spinet, percussion, violin, cello, the latter so lightly bowed (on the title track, for example) as almost to deal only in harmonics. The clarinet on “Sun against My Eyes” and “Sea of Tranquility” flows like melted butter over single-note strumming. This is still minimalism of a sort, music for slowburn weekend mornings, but music that sounds less connected to the late twentieth century and more to the long history of instrumental sound.

grizzly bear

3. Grizzly Bear, Friend EP (Warp) MySpace

“Little Brother (Electric Version)” is my favorite song of the year. I could put it on repeat for all of 2008 and never get tired of it. But I get positively giddy thinking that this EP is just a taste of what’s still to come from this band. Reviewed 3 December.

nina nastasia and jim white

2. Nina Nastasia and Jim White, You Follow Me (FatCat) MySpace

Jim White plays drums like a pastry chef whipping meringue, like a hummingbird caught in a greenhouse, like summer rain pattering on the roof of a tin shed. It’s not often that a drummer takes co-writing credit for an album, but I think his name should have come first here: most tracks, Nastasia backs him. By the two-minute mark on the opening number you know that this is his show. The delicately restrained freakout on “Odd Said the Doe,” my favorite song on this disc, is just one of the little gifts this record gives. It’s short — just over half an hour — but feels full of twists, turns, and all the right kind of tension, soft music that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

robert wyatt

1. Robert Wyatt, Comicopera (Domino) MySpace

This was the year I found Robert Wyatt. How could it have taken so long? First, Stella brought the 1982 7-inch single for “Shipbuilding” to Record Club early in the year. Then my brother emailed me a track from this newest album: “A Beautiful War,” one of the Brian Eno co-writes, the one on which Eno’s vocals twist with Wyatt’s trembly tenor in something so gentle and sweetly sad you wonder how it couldn’t soften the warmongers’ hearts. Recorded by virtuoso musicians who nevertheless come off as friends playing in Wyatt’s living room, the album divides its sixteen tracks into three sections, ranging from mundane issues close to home (styrofoam containers clogging gutters) to global politics (this is nothing if not an anti-war album), and ultimately to a bleak take on the present in which Wyatt leaves the English language behind and sings in Italian and Spanish instead. Closing with a tribute to Che, you wonder if the impulse is revolutionary or merely mourning the passing of revolutionary possibility. Either way, this is the piece from 2007 I imagine withstanding the passage of time. Let’s hope it outlives the wartime melancholy that provoked it.

10 responses to “BW’s top 15 albums of 2007”

  1. Tim Wager says:

    Hey Bryan! Cool list, as usual. I’ll have to check out the ones I don’t yet know. I was surprised to see Le Loup show up. Jen brought that one home at random and I’ve been loving it for a while. I never did the research to figure out who they were, so didn’t know if anyone else would know about them at all.

    Same goes for Colleen. Jen bought it because it looked cool, and it quickly became a favorite around our house. Did you see her open for Beirut? Her quiet, gentle stuff didn’t work in a large hall with a big crowd ramping themselves up for horns and sing-alongs, but I’d love to see her in a small room.

  2. Jeremy says:

    I love this list and am looking forward to hearing some of the albums I don’t recognize, including the stuff you played at NY record club the other night. (Incidentally, I actually bought that Efterklang CD here in NY at Other Music, in anticipation of playing it at the record club you hosted the other day… but didn’t get a chance to really listen to it.)

    My (extremely incomplete, off-the-cuff) list, in no particular order, would probably include the Bill Callahan and Sunset Rubdown albums, as well as the Grizzly Bear E.P. (I enjoyed the Taken by Trees and Jim White/Nina Nastasia albums, but really wanted to like them a lot more, being a both a Concretes and a Dirty Three Fan). My list might also include:

    1. Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup
    2. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago
    3. Low’s Drums and Guns
    4. Electelane’s No Shouts, No Calls
    5. The Handsome Furs’ Plague Park
    6. Sea Wolf’s Leaves in the River (I don’t care what Pitchfork says!)
    7. Feist’s The Reminder (I don’t care how many Ipod commercials or Starbucks compilations she ends up in/on)
    8. Ferraby Lionheart’s Catch the Brass Ring

    I’d like to see what others’ end-of-the-year lists look like…

  3. Hey guys.

    I hope people realized that the MySpace links are there so people can listen to samples of the music I’m talking about. I assume people realize that, but still — Farrell’s comment long ago about people needing to link to the music they’re writing about stuck. I was talking to a friend who reads TGW but doesn’t comment about the music writing, which bugs him since it often is about stuff he hasn’t heard and probably won’t seek out. I never know how people will read my lists: to some people they probably seem really mainstream and conventional; to others they may seem highly rarified. I’m just listing the stuff I’ve played most — what I imagine I’ll listen to for a while to come.

    Like Jeremy I hope other people will list their favorites from last year.

    Here are some things I wanted to include but didn’t because I’d run out of time to write:

    A few runners up: Dirty Projectors, Feist, Lavender Diamond, Frog Eyes; Supermayer; Goodnight Loving; Black Kids; Vashti Bunyan [that collection of early rarities]; Darjeeling Ltd and I’m Not There soundtracks, which both were favorite albums but I didn’t include because they were soundtracks. Whatever.

    A 2006 album I listened to and liked in 2007 and probably should have listed anyway: The Blow.

    Some cool songs on albums I didn’t include: “Bros” and “Pills” from Panda Bear’s Person Pitch; “Cuckoo” from Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam; “Beautiful Life” from Gui Barrato’s Chromophobia [which is my #2 dance/party song of the year]; “The Art of Letting Go” from Supermayer, which may become my new theme song.

  4. farrell fawcett says:

    Wow Bryan! I like to think i follow music, but lordy, what a list. I haven’t listened to 10! of these, haven’t even *heard* of 4 of them. How exciting. January will be a comicopia of new music. Thank you. And what beautifully crafted descriptions “hummingbird caught in a greenhouse.” As to your request for lists, well, the philadelphia homestead has a much more predictable round-up of 2007 faves: (in alphabetical order) Caribou Andorra, Deerhunter Cryptograms, Fiest The Reminder, LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver, Mathew Dear Asa Breed, The National Boxer, Of Montreal Hissing fauna, are you the destroyer, Panda Bear Person Pitch, Spoon Ga…, Sally Shapiro Disco Romance, Super furry animals Hey Venus. And yes, we too, LOVED “Beautiful Life”–definitely one of our 20 most played..

  5. so happy to please, f. i’d love to know which ones you didn’t recognize. i liked all the discs you mentioned too — caribou and deerhunter i probably neglected because i listened to them early in the year and then lost an ipod & am still rebuilding. the LCD i liked portions of. i still am probably the only person between here and brooklyn not to have heard the national album. i’ll cave. i don’t know sally shapiro and didn’t know SFA had an album out this year. you guys played me some matthew dear, which i really liked but haven’t got yet.

    did you guys listen to supermayer? if not, get it — it’s your kind of album.

    and if le loup was one you didn’t have, get the song We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!, which is full of handclaps. i know you like you some handclaps.

    i also liked an album by sleeping states and will have a god handclapper from that one on my mix, which i will actually produce in very short order.

    thanks for your list!

  6. lane says:

    “the only person between here and brooklyn”

    nice line

  7. Rogan says:

    Great list Brian. Just in time for my eMusic monthly downloads. Thanks.

  8. Trixie Honeycups says:

    Hey Bryan,

    The four things I hadn’t even heard of were: Samimidon, Osvaldo Golijov, Akron/Family, and Robert Wyatt. For the record, the sally shapiro is the weakest of the 10 we mentioned, but the rest are great. and yes, (nelson-inflected) haha, you finally have to listen to the national. We haven’t listened to le loup or supermayer (i find that album cover particularly annoying) but anything with handclaps rules! I’m extremely excited to hear them now. And even more so to hear your favorite tracks of the year. don’t hold out too long please.

  9. Trixie Honeycups says:

    that was not trixie, but itmayaswell’vebeen.

  10. I want to know what the real Trixie thinks. Will the real Trixie Honeycups please stand up?

    Also, I should have included the Bonnie “Prince” Billy covers album, _Ask Forgiveness_ on here somewhere. Some sweet little songs there.