10. Kanye West - Graduation
I understand it. I was ready to ditch the Kanye bus, too, until he dropped a party animal with exactly one bad track (Drunk and Hot Girls). No skits, no sappy ballads with Brandy, and at least three phenomenal end of the year chart toppers (Stronger, Good Life, Flashing Lights) that equal anything he’s put out before. I was ready to hate. I am still not impressed with his flow. But I am impressed with an album loaded hits that makes the stunning Late Registration look slightly stale.
It all has to do with Kanye the producer, who took back control and played it exactly the way he wanted to. Late Registration felt like the edges were smoothed over, but Graduation hits hard and often with miraculous sounds that are innovative and quirky.
I’ll never trade his rhymes for Hova’s, but in a year that saw American Gangster look back to past strengths, Kanye looked straight ahead and put together a staggering modern American hip hop record.
9. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
This is it. I remembering anticipating his first album with bated breath, hoping that I’d have some spark of light to equal his insanely great singles (Beat Connection, Yeah (Crass), Losing My Edge). It was a fine, fine record, but nothing even came close. What I was really waiting for was this stunning record, where every single song could be the best song he’s ever written.
That’s no joke. There’s not even one remotely weak track here. There are the crass, slightly goofy tracks (North America Scum, Us V Them) that equal the good times of his initial success, and then there is impeccable dance rock (All My Friends, Someone Great). As inspiring as those songs are, I prefer the jackass “Losing My Edge” LCD Soundsystem, and in that respect, didn’t listen to this album as much as I should have.
But I recognize its genius, and wish the album meant more to me. Perhaps, it feels too much like 2005. Did he miss his big chance? According to most music blogs, he didn’t. And I still have years to fully dissect what's going on here, which I'm more than happy to do.
8. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
E-Mail from Austin Diaz, December 8th 2005: “All of you need to get in touch with me as soon as you can over IM...I’ve been listening to the Jens Lekman album...and I’m really trying to not just buy into Pitchfork hype but this album is amazing. As Duncan commented, it sounds “Christmas-y” which it does and like Morrisey had a torrent love affair with Sea-Change-era Beck.”
This was right before our big year end list two years ago, and I had absolutely no time. I was juggling 10 new albums, trying to figure out what exactly I had missed and what was worth skipping. So I didn’t even give it a try.
E-Mail from Blake Royer, December 9th 2005: “I think of the affair as less torrential and more of a gentle rainstorm, with tender fucking, melodramatic role-playing, kinky balloons and other twee props.”
And I STILL didn’t download it. What was I waiting for? Musical recommendations don’t come much better than that.
It wasn’t until this wonderful and charming record that I finally got around to what I as supposed to already know. Jens Lekman is a man of many talents, including some impressive sampling skills, but it’s his warm story telling that keeps me around. Like just about everyone else in humanity, it was “Nina” that sold me. Was I the only one that wished I were in that situation, pretending to be the fiance to a lesbian? How precious is that?
7. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Blake said to keep trying, but it was taking a long time. I really loved Sung Tongs, and had liked Feels at first, even if I never listened to it after the 2006 list where I threw it in the top 10. I missed the more subdued feel of Sung Tongs, and was growing very weary of the bursts of screaming. I was tired of having to try so hard to like an album. Was I getting too old for this? Of course I wasn’t, I told myself, so I listened to it again and again and again...
Then one day I turned on “For Reverend Green” and realized it was the greatest fucking song I’d heard all year. I don’t mean this lightly. Animal Collective were always a band I wanted to like more than I did. Perhaps it’s the cool factor, the want to be more obscure, but I don’t have to pretend any more. All of sudden the heavens opened up and this absolutely perfect song appeared to me. And I didn’t have to do anything except adore it. That was easy.
And quickly the rest of the album fell in the line. “Peacebone” and “Fireworks” were next, and then I was humming “#1” like it was a pop hit. Albums do take time, but they need to inhabit your day and not sit on the shelf looking pretty. This is the first time Animal Collective jumped in the game and played.
6. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Indie rock kids have been trying for years to sound like Bruce Springsteen. It’s cute. But no one ever figured out that there has to be something to fight for, some strife to get over. It’s not about rocking with abandon, it’s about breaking away, cutting your loses, and starting over, even if that’s an impossibility. Arcade Fire are the first band to actually come close. It’s no accident that he invited them on stage to sing “Keep the Cars Running”, this is mimicry on the highest level.
But it’s still mimicry, and that’s the only reason this album doesn’t have the dark intricacies and rambling confusion of their fantastic debut. This album is streamlined, obvious, and, at times, rather clumsy. The lyrics are weighty and overbearing. But their heart is there, and the rage they conjure up is real.
Ironically, my favorite songs are the ones that stray furthest from the Funeral multi-suite template. (Antichrist Television Blues) is straight verse chorus the whole way through, yet they manage to weave a twisted tale of money, god, and power into one of the catchiest 5 minutes in 2007. The title track is a simple 2 minute lullaby played as quietly as 7 talented musicians possibly can. It's theses new fantastic directions that get me the most excited, and what kept these songs close to the top-played list all year long.