Much has been made of the fact that most music fans have been moving towards singles rather than albums in the past few years. I didn’t notice how much this had affected my own listening until I sat down to make a top five list for the Mercury (which, sadly, never actually ran). When I looked at the list of albums that would make the top five cut, I realized that I had to cut a lot of albums that had great songs but that I didn’t really listen entirely. It made it easier to pick a top five, but also made me realize that I really needed to make a singles list, too.
For ya’ll though, I expanded to a top ten. Here goes, in reverse/countdown order:
10. Eleni Mandell, Miracle of Five. 2007 was the year I began writing about music for a living, and this was the first great discovery that resulted. Like Suzanne Vega, her lyrics get better the more you pay attention; like Laura Gibson, her singing brings to mind a warming fire on a chilly day. Mandell’s fire has a bit more smoldering, sultry sass than Gibson’s, though, and when she sings about the “Make-Out King” in her bed, you might just wish you could be such royalty.
9. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin. I can add to the pile of “doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but that’s cool” reviews, and mostly move on. However! They deserve props for titling a song “Detlef Schrempf,” ’cause seriously, who remembers the NBA’s best German anymore? The fact that it’s a beautiful song with the lines “you say you’re gonna go, then be careful/And watch how you treat every living soul” makes it even better.
8. The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse. Go to el.bo.ws or Hype Machine or whatever and find the song “Devastation.” Crank that shit and tell me that it doesn’t combine the best moments of every single rock song that ever made you feel like nothing in the world mattered but that song, while also reminding you that you actually kinda love Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” despite that band’s penchant for douchebaggery. And maybe they whine a bit too much sometimes, but who else can make “what a fucking pile of shit” sound SO AWESOME?
7. MC Frontalot, Secrets From the Future. The moment I realized I could sing the entire hook of the amazing opening title track was the moment I realized that this guy could end up being the next generation’s DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. That’s a compliment, mind you. This album has some flaws, but “I Hate Your Blog” and “It Is Pitch Dark” more than make up for a song about a dude with Asperger’s.
6. Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of the Decline. A beautiful album before you even listen to the music, this triple-vinyl chock-full of Eno-esque ambience apparently puts my hyphens into overdrive. So here are a few more: hilariously-titled (pretty songs should never be named, “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface”), maximizingly-minimal, mood-creating, calm-inducing, well-conceived.
5. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away. I know full well that sometimes I’m cranky about music. If you’ve met me, you’d know that I still hate Björk, I don’t know why “Handshake Drugs” made it onto a million Wilco releases, and I’ll never get why anyone likes anything Morrisey has ever done. This year though, we can mark as The Year I Finally Got The Shins. I blame it on “Red Rabbits,” with a side order of “Sea Legs.” These songs are just weird, and I LOVE THEM.
4. Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime. Seriously, she could have released “New York is a Woman” as an “album” and it would still make my top ten because I can’t get over the beauty of lines like, “New York City spread herself before you/with her bangles and her spangles and her stars.” The rest of the album mines territory familiar to her fans, such the 99.9 F° style of “Unbound” or the sparse, folky “Edith Wharton’s Figurines.” In a year when I discovered a lot of amazing female singer-songwriters, it was fun to realize that Vega laid the groundwork for my discoveries.
3. St. Vincent, Marry Me. I love me some surprises, and one of my favorite ways to discover new bands in the last few years has been checking out the opening bands I’m about to see. St. Vincent, the work of one Annie Clark, was recommended by a co-worker and it turned out that she was opening for The National, a band I saw for this first time this year. Her live show’s energy and chaos underscored just how boring those boys were that night, but let’s focus on the album. Marry Me continues to excite me in the way that most great albums do: I discover something new each time out, and I find myself gradually liking songs I hated (particularly “Your Lips Are Red,” though it still grates soemtimes). As I moved on from early favorites (”Now, Now”) to new loves (”Marry Me”), I knew: it’s just that good.
2. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. Whichever album got you into Wilco is probably your favorite. It’s probably due to their style-shifting tendencies. Regardless, I fall prey to this, too, and so every time a new album rolls around, I compare it to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and it loses. With Sky, Wilco consciously went the way of The Band, playing all the parts in the same room without a lot of overdubs. They totally pull it off here–a testament to their talent–and it makes for an album that feels a bit like a cozy blanket on a rainy day. That said, bed linens aren’t typically that exciting–though certainly underappreciated–and sometimes this album slides too far into Dad Rock for me. I won’t join the jerks who whisper about Tweedy being better when he wasn’t sober–this is a guy’s life, after all–but as a long-time Wilco fan, I do miss the blistering Tweedy guitar-rage.
1. matt pond PA, Last Light. The folks over at Pitchfork don’t seem to like Matt Pond’s crew, and I’m not sure why. Last Light was the album I listened to the most and the closest, and that makes it my album of the year. It was a sing-along favorite right from the opening, title track (”As the shadows will fall and run/ They will run, they will run, they will run”), and “I wish you would say/When I fuck up that it’s okay,” from “Sunlight,” still rings true. The piano-driven “People Have a Way” is tailor-made for a Ben Folds fan like me. Get this album and help me figure out how to make sure that Pond doesn’t stay overlooked for long.
Thanks for checking in. There’s a lot more to come with this new endeavor!
I wrote about some of these folks for the Mercury. The links, for interested parties:
matt pond PA