Sunday, December 30, 2007

Joseph's Year-end Post

In the past, I have made it a point to be thorough in "music appreciation," taking on an aesthetic burden that was never really mine to carry. However, this year has been patently different. I found myself missing major releases [Jose Gonzalez, Akron/Family, Beirut, etc.] and falling deeply in love with a small portion of the musical releases of 2007. Hence, this list should not serve as any definitive judgement on the year in music. Rather, this should indicate what I have enjoyed throughout the year in ever-growing fondness.

N.B.: You might take issue with certain list-makers for not being albums proper or not being 2007 albums per se. However, they are 2007 releases, no more and no less.

10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The single characteristic shared by all of these albums is honesty. This is manifestly so with Spoon's fifth full-length release. The songs still have the visceral rumbling intensity that laces each of the previous releases, yet it isn't grinding or monotonous. Rather, the songs have a crisp bite that piques curiosity unfailingly. The songs are pure and honest and the album has a nice unity. While the 45 minute album leaves me wanting more, I admire that statement as well. Not my favorite Spoon, but a strong addition to an historical legacy.

9. Battles - Mirrored.  I had an urge to put Explosions in the Sky's superb 2007 album up in this spot, but reconsidered as I began writing. What I enjoy in instrumental bands isn't as much the melody or even the transcendent sweeps of melodic manipulation. I like the power. I like the ballistic energy. Hence, Battles must oust Explosions [funny to you? It is to me.] This album is tremendous, massive, enigmatic. Math-rock is often the descriptor, and that might be similar to enigmatic. However, there's such a direct access through the percussion that softens the querulous melody[or lack thereof]. Makes good laundry music.

8. M.I.A. - Kala. This has been the most fun album of 2007. Yes, even moreso than Hissing Fauna. M.I.A.'s lyrics border on the absurd; she rhymes like we all want to rhyme and she gets away with it because, again, her honesty is so direct. Her pure voice and direct sensibilities [of what? the street? the burbs? Sri Lanka?] make her almost adorable until she starts pulling cash registers, clips and bustin' caps. This album is pure fun.

6. Tie: Joanna Newsom - Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band ep & Grizzly Bear - Friend EP. Joanna Newsom produced my favorite album of 2006 and she released a gripping recording of a private acoustic session with masterful instrumentalists accompanying her. This album is intimate and mature, rich with the subtle nuances that are present in the studio albums played to perfection with additional graces that enrich the songs tremendously. Tasteful in its simplicity.
The Friend EP is just what Grizzly Bear fans should want after 2006's Yellow House. They have expanded their views by looking introspectively, reviewing their history from their present standpoint and recycling it[the history] through their new development. Old songs, like Shift and Little Brother, gain new significance with these deliberate reinventions, the former becomes softened and sweetened like a bite of caramel in the mouth while the latter gains grandeur and is honed to become something incisive. I obsessed over the radio versions of Little Brother and He Hit Me and am blown away by these perfect studio productions.

5.  Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog. I was surprised by this album. Woman King EP remains my favorite Iron & Wine production and I was delighted to hear Sam Beam embrace that quality of mythic, true folk tradition instead of the singular and personal nature of the previous albums. Rather, this album feels inclusive of others in its production and subsequently includes the listener en masse, instead of isolating the listener, like before. This is a refreshing turn for Beam and it, too, remains honest in its execution and content.

4. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam. This album hasn't become stale or overplayed. I've had it since July. It is a testament to AC's relentless standards for honest songwriting. This album is almost flawless and translates perfectly to almost any disposition. Just listen to it, with the volume turned up.

3. Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall. This concert took place in 64, I think, but the recording was released this year. This concert is Neil and his guitar and sometimes his piano. It is unyielding in its honesty and the vulnerability is palpable, especially on songs like The Needle and the Damage Done. For a quiet evening indoors, perhaps with a crossword puzzle.

2. Panda Bear - Person Pitch. As I continue to my favorite albums of the year, the things I have to say grow less. I believe that's because these albums start to be more simply beautiful. They are summed up easier and with more precision in fewer words. This album is certainly of this sort. No album has produced a better atmosphere in which all things can fall away and a certain peace is established. Layers upon layers of ambient sounds slowly flood the heart and produce relaxation and calm. This album is good anytime and anywhere.

1. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky. This is my favorite Wilco album ever. Jeff Tweedy's songs gain relevance in their honesty, expressing community and individual difficulty[as well as victory] in plainest terms. He avoids the vague images that are most often standalone in his songs. This album is like a confession. The music gains new depth with its blatantly traditional approach. The simplicity of the songs along with the strength of their content establishes this as a truly timeless album.

Other items of note: We cannot turn our back against albums like "In Rainbows," which have significance not because of the songs or even the aggregate album, but rather because of the large step that was finally taken in favor of musical integrity.
The Arcade Fire established themselves as one of the most innovative and energetic artists in the past decade, releasing a prophetic and self-conscious album that confirmed their genius.
Deerhoof were the best Deerhoof yet.

That's my year. I'll add more as I remember more, but those are my thoughts for now. Thanks for taking the time. See you again next year.

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