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Scene presents the best albums of 2007

Sean Hoban | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If you were a new indie rock band that made a stunning debut in the past five years, you put out another album in 2007 (The Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, The Shins, LCD Soundsystem, Feist, Beirut). If you were an already established indie rock band with a long string of albums (Wilco, Ted Leo, Bright Eyes, White Stripes), you also put out an album in 2007. As such, top-10 lists already creeping out on the internet and in the zines are bound to be weighed down by the big names. However, none of these bands/ musicians made my top 10 list. How come? While each put out pretty solid albums, they weren’t phenomenal. To be blunt, it is the music lovers typical (and annoyingly overused) statement, “Well, I liked their early stuff better.” But it’s true – mostly these bands borrow very heavily from the amazing albums they put out in the past few years: Arcade Fire’s earth – shattering self – titled, Iron & Wine’s memorable collaboration with Calexico, Beirut’s exploratory Soviet sound, The Shins folksy Simon & Garfunkel style. They each have added some new complexities, and were even remarkable, but just not top of the pile. Others have stuck pretty much entirely in the same sound we’re used to – Ted Leo, Wilco, etc. Good music, all of it, but too static, too safe, and we demand something new, something we haven’t heard.

In summary, excitement and freshness was found elsewhere, outside the big names. Six of the following are nearly brand new artists, on their first album. These new faces have put out career defining debut records that can be likened to little else this year, full of compelling, captivating and enigmatic sounds. The remaining four (only two with more than two real albums) have altered their sound in a fresh and enlightening way that puts their new material at least on par with the songs that first took you by the hand and showed you something brilliant.

1. Jens Lekman, “Night Falls Over Kortedala.” Possibly the most beautiful release of the year, while still remaining lighthearted; as inspiring or more so than the first time you heard Sufjan Stevens (also one of the best live acts of the year).

2. Fiery Furnaces, “Widow City.” The brother-sister duo add some tough rock & roll elements to their quirky, literary and downright weird sound. You might even think the guitars resemble 70s rock, or grunge, but they are as inventive as ever, especially on the standout track ‘cabaret of the seven devils.’

3. Ryan Adams, “Easy Tiger.” His most refined and consistent album by far (of course, that is not saying much), this latest in a long line of records blends the bare elements of Heartbreaker with his unabashedly country twang. There is both the soul baring honesty of Joni Mitchell and the cocky rock n’ roller.

4. Chromatics, “Night Drive.” Everything good about the 80s underground is

distilled and redefined for a brighter and slightly more fun generation of young music lovers. Vaguely sinister, but also lovely.

5. St. Vincent, “Marry Me.” Competing with Jens for most beautiful record, every song is different, some jarring and some whisper soft, but all breathtaking.

6. Panda Bear, “Person Pitch.” One of the first great records of the year, its cheery optimism is still getting played and talked about eight months later.

7. The 1900s, “Cold & Kind” For fans of Belle and Sebastian with a slightly country rock feel, very young and lively. Along with the Fiery Furnaces, this group is from Chicago, so you may get to see them soon.

8. Bat For Lashes, “Fur and Gold.” Rather creepy at first with a slightly Arabian nights feel, dark and aromatic, honest but confusing, easy to get lost in, etc.

9. Kate Nash, “Made of Bricks.” Alternately fun/ spunky, endearingly innocent/naive and ernest/ heartfelt, she replaces Lilly Allen as my favorite British girl singer.

10. Battles, “Mirrored.” Weird, innovative, difficult, mind bending, CRAZY. And another phenomenal live show. Some congratulations are in order, of course, for all the bands listed in the first paragraph for continuing their fine careers – they certainly have not slacked off. Particularly fun were the White Stripes, the Shins, Of Montreal, Deerhoof, and the Animal Collective. Also fantastic, although not albums proper, were the following: the stark and moving Neil Young “Live at Massey Hall 1971”; the sleek, dark and sexy “After Dark” compilation of artists on the Italians Do It Better imprint (see the Chromatics); the noise – rock self – titled EP from Health. Finally, complements to MIA and Justice for my two favorite songs of fall 2007, “Paper Planes” and “D – A – N – C – E.”