12.31.2007

Music: The Best of 2007, Steve's List, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the final posting in a series of reviews of the notable music of 2007. To see the first entry in the series, please go here. To see the second part of this review list, please go here.)

by Stephen Tringali

1) Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey [EP] Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s Cryptograms made it to the top of my “Best of 2007, So Far,” list, and six months later, it’s remained my favorite album of 2007. However, the reasons why may not be so obvious.

As I pointed out in that previous piece: “Tracks like ‘White Ink’ remind me of the sleep therapy tapes one of my friends listens to before passing out each night. And ‘Octect,’ which begins with the sort of nature sounds found on the album’s first track, ‘Intro,’ builds for nearly eight minutes on one bass line, a shimmering guitar lick, and wailing vocals.”

Beyond all that tape hiss, ambient sound, and ethereal noise, Deerhunter show off their solid grasp of the pop melody. Though their skill for crafting such pop songs isn’t exactly apparent on the first two-thirds of Cryptograms, the record’s last third, starting with “Spring Hall Covenant,” confirms their love of catchy hooks and swooning chorus harmonies.

Combine Cryptograms with Deerhunter’s 2007 release of the EP Fluorescent Grey, and listeners will find themselves enjoying material divided evenly between noise experiments and shoegazer pop.

2) In Rainbows Radiohead

The biggest surprise that Radiohead pulled off this year wasn’t that they released an album many thought would never see the light of day until 2008. It’s that In Rainbows sounds just as good, if not better, than previous Radiohead releases.

I’m surprised at its quality only because I’m wary of favorite bands who continue writing music and producing albums for as long as Radiohead has. This is not to say it’s impossible for one band to create excellent music throughout their entire career. But let’s examine Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, another highly anticipated 2007 release from another long-time critical darling that serves as evidence against great bands making great music for their entire careers. Let’s all try to forget that Sky Blue Sky was nominated for a Grammy.

In Rainbows tracks like “15 Step” and “Body Snatchers” set the album off to a great start, combining the glitchy drum tracks of Kid A with the robust guitars of The Bends. The remainder of the album dials down the heavy electric guitar antics and explores the possibilities of calculated melody: “Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” are among the most hypnotic songs Radiohead has ever recorded.

(For a discussion of the controversial and innovative marketing of In Rainbows, please see: "What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?")

3) Let's Stay Friends Les Savy Fav

I’d never heard of Les Savy Fav before this year. What clued me into them? An Adult Swim indie rock compilation entitled Warm and Scratchy. Weird, right? Well, that compilation contained “The Equestrian,” the second track off the new Les Savy Fav album, Let’s Stay Friends. Needless to say, the track stood out among less-than-enthusiastic cuts by usually exciting rock bands like TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene, and The Rapture. It sounded like a Fugazi-branded shotgun packed full of post-punk ecstasy that combined the fury of Repeater + 3 Songs with the catchy vocal melodies off The Argument.

Let’s Stay Friends lives up to the anticipation that “The Equestrian” created months earlier. Its riffs are among the heaviest and the grittiest listeners will hear this year. Fuzz bass roars on the opening of “Raging In The Plague Age” before giving way to a monstrous, post-punk guitar-driven chorus, and “What Would Wolves Do?” matches “The Equestrian” for the manner in which it blends pop crooning with post-punk teeth-baring.

4) Good Bad Not Evil The Black Lips

The Black Lips have had a big year — bigger, perhaps, than any other band for the way they began 2007 with very little press and ended it with more than they ever dreamed. A live release, Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, got their year off to a good start, cementing their power to transform lackadaisical studio recordings into foot-stomping punk-rock anthems. (For a short review of Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, please go here. For general information on the band, please see "Experience The Black Lips.")

Before the year’s end, the Black Lips managed to snag a spot performing on NBC's Late Night with Conan O’Brien and to sign a movie deal. In between publicity moves, the band released their best album to date, Good Bad Not Evil. A more concentrated effort than their previous albums, Good Bad Not Evil still maintains the Black Lips’ dirty signature with odes to their childhood (“Bad Kids”) and enough sloppy rockers (“O Katrina!,” “It Feels Alright,” “Step Right Up,” and “Cold Hands”) to keep the flower punk fans content for some time.

(To see a photo essay of The Black Lips' appearance in Washington, D.C. in March of 2007, please go here.)

5) Boxer The National

The National have an interesting sound: it seems familiar but somehow still unique. The band plows through their songs with the deliberation of a folk group. The simplicity of their songwriting also matches the folk distinction. But lead singer Matt Berninger’s delivery suggests post-punk a la Joy Division.

Many reviews have attempted to deconstruct The National’s sound, so it’s pointless to continue. What’s most important here is not whether the band’s sound is unique but why their latest album is so arresting, despite the fact that the band’s music sounds like a muted thunderclap and Berninger’s vocals sound rather plaintive and uninterested. The answer may be that within that hushed expression there is a hidden catch — the very reason that so many people love Joy Division or The Smiths or even Radiohead. Misery loves company.

(To see the second part of this year-end review list, please go here or scroll down.)

(Promotional photo of Deerhunter by Kasey Price for Kranky Records. To see the video for Deerhunter's "Oceans" from Cryptograms, please check below.)







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1 comments:

Jeff Siegel said...

"I’m wary of favorite bands who continue writing music and producing albums for as long as Radiohead has"

You're kidding, right? How about Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Irma Thomas, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Nick Lowe, REM, and Neil Young? Which are just off the top of my head.

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