New Music Wednesday Special Edition: The Best Music of the First Three Quarters of 2007

5 09 2007

by mr. travis

Since there is a bit of a lull in terms of new music this week, Cacophony’s resident music snob, mr. travis, has put together a bit of list of the best, worst, and almost there’s of the music world for the first three quarters of 2007.

With the fall and holiday months fast approaching, very often some of the best music of the earlier portions of the year becomes lost in the shuffle of the high profile releases, especially in the end of the year lists. What follows isn’t necessarily comprehensive (there’s no way we could listen to absolutely everything that’s released), but it is a good set of albums that should strike the fancy with anyone remotely interested in music. Please note that albums that have been officially released are included. While there are some upcoming releases that will no doubt be included on our year end list, just because they are available on the torrents or through various other nefarious means doesn’t mean that they are officially released. Remember kids, actually buying your music is the new “buy American.”

18 Favorites of 2007 (not really in any order besides alphabetical by album name):

Kings of Leon – Because of the Times

Maybe it was the touring with U2 that brought about such a record, one that came out of nowhere considering the band’s good, but nothing great body of work. From the epic opener “Knocked Up” (yes, about..well, pregnancy out of wedlock), these southern rockers place themselves as the heir to such greats as the Allman Brother and Lynyrd Skynard, with a live show that rivals the intensity of Guns N’ Roses during their 80’s heyday.

Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond

Yes, 90’s grunge/indie band Dinosaur Jr., with their original lineup back together, comes out of nowhere to produce one of the best of the year, an album that not only has its own merits, but makes the listener want to go back and reevaluate this underrated band’s entire discography.

The National – Boxer

Right now, the National is the indie “it” band, being sung praises by numerous mainstream publications. Beneath the hype is a killer record, one that is as intense as it is foreboding, strong and powerful without having to hit you over the head with the loud/fast dynamic that is so played out these days.

Papercuts – Can’t Go Back

Based in San Francisco, Papercuts plays a type of chamber pop/indie folk sound that includes excellent harmonies with lyricism that goes from the everyday intricacies of life, to the historical and political context of the ghosts of the past.

Bright Eyes – Cassadega

Conor Oberst and his rotating cadre of musicians that make up the band Bright Eyes, bring their best album yet, one that reigns in Oberst’s tendency for histrionics, creating an excellent country-rock album that is their most cohesive effort to date.

The New Pornographers – Challengers

Canadian indie pop “super group” turns their boisterous sound inside out to create a dark album filled with folk pop songs ranging from the political to the romantic. As always, Neko Case and Dan Bejar of Destroyer pop in for a couple of tracks, adding their distinctive vocals and artistry to an already excellent array of musicians.

Chuck Ragan – Feast or Famine

Ex-Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan takes his hardcore background and places such energy into an excellent collection of alternative folk tunes that bridge the gap between punk and the old balladry of folk music from long ago.

White Rabbits – Fort Nightly

Named after a group of female sculptors employed to work on the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the White Rabbits play a rambunctious form of indie pop that careens through different ballroom styles from days long gone, but given a twist that makes them relevant to contemporary sounds.

Menomena – Friend and Foe

Portland based Menomena, once a recipient of the Willamette Weekly’s Best Local Band award, take the accolades received on their debut album and build to create an even better album, one that makes this band one to watch in the future.

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Easily one of the best of the year, Britt Daniels and company continue to build an impressive body of work, especially considering they were left for dead almost ten years ago after being unceremoniously kicked off of a major label. But, they have survived and thrived, becoming one of the best bands of any genre today.

The White Stripes – Icky Thump

The White Stripes return for another record that expands their already large sound, further proof that they are one of, if not the, most inventive mainstream band today. For only having two members, this band continues to defy expectations, releasing album after album that builds upon the foundation of the previous one, even when there appears to be no further room for expansion in their sound. And this album is no exception.

Liars – Liars

Art-Punk-Avante Garde band the Liars return by taking their strange brand of art rock and mixing it with a bit of 70’s inspired garage rock. The result is nothing short of fantastic.

The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

The sophomore album can be difficult, both in recording and in the result. This second album by the Arcade Fire is the exact opposite of their debut; a dark, dismal record that sounds restrained and can be frustrating at first listen. But, give it time and it’ll open up, revealing its secrets within what appears to be a concept album dealing with the church, fascism, the church as fascism, and references to planes crashing into buildings. An excellent album, and by far one of the top 3 releases of the year.

Elliott Smith – New Moon

Any musician can make a hit single. It takes a special one to make continually great albums. But a true artist leaves behind an unreleased body of work that is as good, if not better than what has been released. And with this posthumous collection of songs from Smith’s days with the Kill Rock Stars label, his legacy becomes clear. The only downside is that he’s no longer here to continue building on his already legendary status.

Against Me! – New Wave

Cries of sell out are to be expected by any band touting anarchist and leftist beliefs. But, Against Me’s change very little, not moving an inch in their move to the majors as they continue to sing songs not only about politics, but about the industry as well, dangerously coming close to biting the hand that feeds them.

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

Yeah, they may have called their integrity into question by selling half of the songs on this album to Volkswagen for various commercial uses, but that doesn’t extinguish the soothing greatness that lies within. It’s different than the experimentalism present in their two previous albums, but Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting is for the most part unmatched in music today, keeping this album afloat.

Okkervil River – The Stage Names

A concept album about life on the road for an up and coming band sounds kind of pretentious, but Okkervil River pull it off in spades, creating one of the great records of 2007. Even better is their mourning tribute to John Allyn Smith, the deceased poet who met his end via suicide, in a number that begins as a sad sack memorial, but soon segues into “Sloop John B.” Highly recommended.

Dr. Dog – We All Belong

Yeah, it sounds like something from the 70’s, with its Beatles meet Billy Joel style of pop, but it’s different than most records out today, and the band is pretty good at what they do, giving a sort of timelessness to a sound that could very well come across as tired and lazy.

The Record That I Really Dug At First, But Now I Feel Is Kind of Crappy:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Baby 81

What sounded like a perfect mixture of their noise pop tendencies with the Americana of their Howl album is actually a paint by numbers regression. Which is unfortunate considering how spot on Howl was. Hopefully they’ll right the ship with the next release, but this is a misstep to the highest degree.

Worst, Most Needless, Completely Misleading Comeback of the Year:

The Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist? More like shitgeist. Who is Corgan fooling with his crew of studio musicians, pretending to be D’arcy and James? This reunion has the opposite effect of Dinosaur Jr.’s latest, it actually makes their previous work look worse, mostly because it all feels like such a sham.

Absolute Worst Album of the Year:

Blaqk Audio – Cex Cells

Maybe I’m picking on the poor A.F.I/Davey Havok/Blaqk Audio faithful, but this is just really, really bad. From the horrible vocals to the recycled beats, it’s just pathetic, both that it’s been released and that the little kids out there feel the need to defend such nonsense with the voracity usually reserved for something a little more important than Davey Havok’s latest audio masturbation session.




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