Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 Favorites: Albums

So I’m stuck at the airport and I finally had the motivation (and time) to finish off this article that it seems like I started ages ago. So I guess, out of the bad, comes some good, much like everything else. Also, for some of the song stuff I attached the link to the youtube video for their music video because I don't know how to stream songs. I know, no point in having a music blog without that vital skill, but I'm trying here people. And besides, some of what drew me to these bands are these music videos I'm linking up here.

One of my friends who have their own music blog asked me what my favorite group was. After answering “The Red Hot Chili Peppers” I was informed that my music sucked and I had to start listening to “good” music. What followed was the beginning of a humongous amount of new music that I listened to regularly in the last six months. I also started using youtube more as my own private radio station – something I strongly suggest. Unable to get a hold of most of these albums, I bought a bunch of them on Amazon, used, for a few dollars, and Amazon, being the trusty sales-person they are, recommended some more music. Checked those out on youtube, and bought some more.

I started listening to a few instrumental acts (Explosions in the Sky and Ratatat) after I discovered explosions on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. I also started listening to a bunch of lo-fi/indie-pop/anti-folk acts (Stars, Neutral Milk Hotel, Regina Spektor, Kimya Dawson) suggested by my friend. When Kanye’s new CD, Graduation was about to come out, I bought a bunch of CD’s from “harder” rappers (Nas, Jaylib, Madlib, Madvillain, Danger Doom, MF Doom) and checked out Gym Class Heroes after I saw them on the MTV Video Music Awards. My last discovery came when I was tinkering around on youtube and stumbled into foreign (mostly European) pop music (The Cribs, The Servant, The Prototypes, CSS, Maximo Park).

So that was a pretty big span of four drastically different genres. And bear with me here, since I didn’t do this last year, and my friend did, there were a bunch of great 2006 albums, so this year I included 2006 albums in my top ten, while notably including some of my favorite older albums I started listening to this year: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998) by Neutral Milk Hotel; Soviet Kitsch (2004) by Regina Spektor; Holiday (1994) & Get Lost (1995) by The Magnetic Fields; Neon Golden (2002) by The Nowtist. Also, since I didn’t really have time to do album reviews this year, this article is really my only chance to blog about them, and so if the entries get a little long for you, I apologize.

First, the close but no cigar discs: Prototypes (2006) by the Prototypes which had a lot of energy and flair, but not quite the, how do you say, English lyrics to realty compete here. I mean, I loved two of your French singles, but asking me to find a spot in my heart for those French “filler” songs that I can’t understand, is a lot. Our Earthly Pleasures (2007) by Maximo Park was an album that I liked, that I thought was similar to The Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, but I was wrong. While it has (maybe) a better single in “Girl’s Who Play Guitars,” it just doesn’t have the consistency or the quality of Men’s Needs. Boys and Girls in America (2007) by The Hold Steady was the closest, and the hardest one I had to cut. It might be better than some of the albums on this list, and I listened to it about ten times in the last week or so, but I couldn’t take one of the albums below, off that list. Although I have to say that “Chillout Tent” is probably one of my favorite songs of the year. Now, Here are my ten favorites:

10. Don't Quit Your Day Job! (2007)Consequence
Favorite Song: Don’t Forget ‘Em
Favorite Lyric: “Man I promise, when I get old enough/I'ma buy you a limo, and we gon' go to Red Lobster"

I foolishly missed Consequence despite loving Kanye’s The College Dropout, where Consequence guest starred on two tracks. However, my dad sent me an article from the Cinci Enquirer about him early in the year when he heard I had started listening to some rap music. I tried to get a listen on iTunes, but those samples don’t tell you much, and I soon quit. When I started using youtube again, I remembered and I checked him out. The first music video I watched, “Don’t Forget ‘Em” was boring and not very flashy, but the song was downright addictive. Of all the songs I have watched on youtube, I struggle to think of a song I listened to more. It didn’t take me that long to get my act together and buy the album on Amazon for $2. ‘Quence uses a few pretty funny skits (which is saying a lot because I normally get annoyed by most rappers’ skits) to tie together a strongly thematic album about the desire to make it big, and also the fears of making it too big. The singles on this album are very strong: Don’t Forget ‘Em, Callin’ Me, Grammy Family, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. The filler around them is just okay, and for a while I thought the album wasn’t going to make it. But it sneaked in, right here at #10.

9. How to Destroy a Relationship (2007)The Servant
Favorite Song: Hey Lou Reed
Favorite Lyric: “I don't want to be no one/I dream my dreams/Suck in my screams/I don't want to be no one”

These boys should not to be confused with the Christian rock band of the 70’s. I stumbled onto these boys when I was bored in my room one day and it suddenly came to me that I wanted to listen to that crazy song from the Sin City preview. I finally found them and on the iTunes comments page, someone had posted their website where they have their entire discography posted for you to listen to in streaming. This was AWESOME – I got to listen to both of their full-length albums and their half-length albums and really got into them. They were really the first Euro-pop group I started listening to before I started looking for more. How to Destroy a Relationship is a pretty good album, but it isn’t nearly as good as their self titled, The Servant (2004). That was the album I really fell in love with at first – it had more and stronger singles, and the filler didn’t seem like filler. But that album was too old for this list, and I started listening to How to Destroy a Relationship more. It’s still pretty damn good, and the single, Hey Lou Reed along with a bunch of the other songs have more humor than the group’s more serious debut. And I think that humor pays off and makes some of the non-singles sound better and more fun to listen to.

8. Cansei De Ser Sexy (2006)Cansei De Ser Sexy
Favorite Song: Music is My Hot Hot Sex
Favorite Lyric: “Why is that we stand so still?/People gonna start thinking we're statues”

I will be the first to admit that I found these girls (and one guy) when I went looking for, “that song from the iTunes iPod touch ad”. And I found them, in a big way, and after some wikipedia reading, I found a bunch of their songs and music videos on youtube. This time, I wasted ZERO time in buying their album on Amazon. This also helped me rediscover The Prototypes, who I had listened to earlier in the year (also because of their American single being used in an iPod ad – what can I say, they pick good music). CSS’ music video for Music is My Hot Hot Sex is really cool – they do some cool things with light and texture that make the video a lot of fun, and all the girls have a good stage presence that this video accentuates. When I first got the album and listened to it on my way home one weekend, I thought that one good single couldn’t push them into this top ten list. After a few more listens I realized that I loved a bunch of the other songs: Patins, Alala, Art Bitch and Alcohol (plus the obvious singles). I loved their attitude, I loved the flavor they brought to their music, and the bass beat they lay is damn good. The strongest personality though, front woman Lovefoxx has a great voice that fits perfectly for the group. I’m looking forward to their follow up to their first internationally released album.

7. Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever (2007)The Cribs
Favorite Song: Men’s Needs
Favorite Lyric: They were all equally intriguing...(okay, I'll be honest, I plain couldn't choose - it's not about the lyrics with them)

I found this group all on my lonesome and mostly by accident. During my obsession with Quence’s “Don’t Forget ‘em” I would occasionally branch out to listen to his other songs when I grew tired of listening to “Don’t Forget ‘Em” four or five times in a row. So one time, after typing ‘Consequence’ into youtube, I clicked on the song “Consequence” by The Notwist. And then I somehow found The Cribs. Hmm…that story doesn’t make a lot of sense to me now, but it did when I started writing it. More substantively, this album was probably my favorite Euro pop-rock album that I started listening to, and the album has this great energy that makes it easy to listen to and easy to get into. The funny music video for the single, Men’s Needs sure helped too – it’s pretty funny, and shows off everything the band is about. This album earned it’s spot here though because the whole album is consistently good, without any major disappointments, as each and every track is just as strong as the next, with a few standout favorites of course (Our Bovine Republic, Moving Pictures, Men’s Needs).

6. Everything All The Time (2006)Band of Horses
Favorite Song: Our Swords
Favorite Lyric: “Out on the wall sounds of banging is constant coming from your head/And desperate the calls came and ringing from those wanna wring your neck”

The best part about being given this album was how good it was. The worst part was buying their follow up album, 2007’s Cease to Begin and being completely disappointed. But this album is great. It has a sort of soft intensity that is hard to explain. Maybe that’s a poor word choice, but that’s what comes to mind. The words and lyrics fit perfectly with everything else they have going on, and contrary to most of the other groups I used to listen to, and characteristic of my favorites now, you can really enjoy the lyrics. I got this CD toward the end of July right before I did a lot of driving in my car and I basically alternated between this album and two others. I probably listened to it over ten times in about five days. The album doesn’t get old, and only gets better. I became addicted to “Our Swords,” often listening to that song alone even if I just had to run a short errand. After that I developed other favorites: the aptly titled “The First Song,” “The Great Salt Lake,” and “St. Augustine.” It seems to me that the songs on this CD have perfect beginnings and endings. And the middle parts are damn good too.

5. As Cruel As School Children (2006)Gym Class Heroes
Favorite Song: Shoot Down the Stars
Favorite Lyric: “This isn’t how it was supposed to be/Reminiscing don’t stand so close to me”

This is another album where I can almost pat myself on the back for finding it on my own, but it was really my search for the destruction of my soul (the weird desire to watch the MTV Video Music Awards to blog about them). I decided to check out the music for the big single from the artist of the year award (or whatever it’s called) that led me to the great video for “Cupid’s Chokehold.” The song was pretty good, but the video was hysterical, and I loved it so much because it actually fit the song (one of my pet peeves are abstract music videos). On a whim I decided to buy the album for a couple bucks when I bought Quence’s album – never thinking that this poppy-er, more accessible album would be the one I liked more. Again, this was another album where I really loved every song – and the flow and the mix were perfect. Just as people jumped on the (unfortunate) Limp Bizkit bandwagon over rap-rock, I would love it if Gym Class Heroes led a rap-pop wave. The only (mild) annoyance was the three skits on the album that were mediocre at best and made me want to skip over them when I listened to the album frequently in one car-sitting.

4. Begin to Hope (2006)Regina Spektor
Favorite Song: On the Radio
Favorite Lyric: “But I wake up in fear/You will never be my/You will never be my fool”

This was the first album I got this summer that really took me. I thought that if I was actually disciplined enough to make a top ten list, this would surely get the top spot. Why didn’t it? Not for lack of trying. I love every song through and through, and the first four, Fidelity, Better, Samson, and On the Radio, are downright addictive. To illustrate how much I liked this album: I listened to it over twenty times in the last four months, on my laptop alone. That doesn’t count my iPod or in the car. That’s a hell of a lot. Three things contributed to this album slipping to fourth place. First, I loved Soviet Kitsch a hell of a lot too (listened to it about just as much as BtH) and it was tough to separate the two, and when I did I realized I didn’t get “Your Honor,” which might be my favorite two-minute song ever (I guess Band of Horses "Our Swords" is pretty close too). Second, the albums below really stood out, and it should be a testament to them when I say how much I loved this album. Third, in particular, the album below took a little bit of the wind out of Regina’s sails – not that they are that similar, but I viewed them as similar, and in the last month or so, Kimya leapfrogged Regina.

3. Remember That I Love You (2006)Kimya Dawson
Favorite Song: Loose Lips
Favorite Lyric (this is the only place where I indulged myself and refused to make a choice): “Call me up before your dead, we can make some plans instead/Send me an IM, I'll be your friend”; “So I tattoo instructions on my ass/That say "don't ever put this body is a casket/Burn it and put the ashes in a basket/And throw them in the Puget Sound”

I think I’m done beating the “before Juno” drum and I can get into the comments. This album knocked my socks off. It took me two or three times through before I realized that some of Kimya’s songs were REALLY sad. Maybe that means I’m a shitty listener, but the WAY she sings to me seems to be so happy and light that I couldn’t believe the songs were that sad. By the fourth or fifth times (and I lot more times after that) I began to really get to the depth of the emotion in these songs. Instead of making me sad, I just developed a deep respect for the album and turned it on a lot. Regina’s lyrics were great, and pretty clever too, but Kimya’s here are leaps and bounds above. Of all the albums here (and first place makes this close, but Kimya still wins), this album has the best lyrics. I downright love almost every word she says (the one bump on an otherwise perfect stream is her “FUCK BUSH” rant on Loose Lips that seems out of place to me). What she says just rings so true, and obviously I don’t have to deal with things like a child growing inside me, but I like to think I can relate to some of the other stuff. And the stuff that I haven’t had to deal with now, I feel like I will relate to those events based on these songs, especially “My Mom.” If Juno didn’t make you run out and buy her latest, hopefully I convinced you. Maybe? A little? Come on…

2. Graduation (2007)Kanye West
Favorite Song: Everything I Am
Favorite Lyric: “Everything I’m not/makes me everything I am”

I started this list a while ago. And up until about five minutes ago, this album was in the top spot. It felt so right for me to put it #1. It represented a lot of what I wanted to say I did in 2007. To me this album shows a confidence, maturity, and skill that were missing from Kanye’s first two albums and mix tapes. I feel like I could talk about each of those three factors in relation to every song on Graduation, which, apart from Barry Bonds and Drunk and Hot Girls, is the closest to perfect of any rap album I’ve listened to (I’ll admit that’s pretty limited). Instead, I will focus on my favorite, Everything I Am, which crystallizes all three factors. A huge part of confidence is identity, knowing who you are (and who you aren’t) goes a long way to shaping your conception of self, which seems to be the cornerstone of confidence. Everything I Am’s premise, is obviously a song about identity, and Kanye’s confidence in the lyrics go beyond his boyish arrogance to reach true confidence “I never be picture-perfect-Beyonce/Be light as Albi or black as Chauncey/Remember him from Blackstreet/He was as black as the street was/I'll never be laid back as his beat was.” He calls out a bunch of people and identifies some stereotypic paths he could have pursued, but he didn’t. The next line is a piece of wisdom beyond Kanye’s years – “I never could see why people'll reach a/Fake-ass facad they couldn't keep up.” I think this speaks to his maturity, as a person, and as a performer. He clearly understands the faces people put on to make it big in the business and he didn’t mince words here, or leave this open ended. Additionally, a subtler sign of maturity is the efficient, waste-free album free of skits and jokes – some miss those skits, but I sure as hell don’t. Also adding to the polished, less-rap feel of the album is the intro, Kanye’s best (Good Morning) that mixes the benefit of the classic rap intro with, well, a song. Now the chorus, or the repeated verse, “Everything I’m not/makes me everything I am” is ridiculously addictive (yet simple) and represents a new stage in Kanye’s skills. Before, I was drawn into Kanye’s songs by his hooks and his beats, that were different than other rap acts – they were poppy-er, and more musical (to me). What made me love his songs, like Never Let You Down, was the beat. You sang along with the song Kanye sampled, and that was what stayed with you. On this album, you better believe you’re singing along with, and loving the lyrics themselves – the beats are still great (much better than on Late Registration) but the words are even better. Those three things meant a lot to me for a while, confidence, maturity, skill. I thought I’d come a long way in all three. Then I realized that my confidence boost was artificial, I still felt like a teenage kid, and “skill improvement” was just out of reach. But still “Everything I’m not/makes me everything I am” stuck with me, and almost pulled off the top spot. I don’t think I have a clue who I am, or who I’m going to be, but I did know who I wasn’t, and that was a big part of who I was – who I am. If you can’t look past “Stronger,” you need to; Champion, I Wonder, Good Life, Flashing Lights, and Everything I Am are too (ridiculously) good for you to not listen to.

1. In Our Bedroom After the War (2007)Stars
Favorite Song: Take Me to the Riot
Favorite Lyric: "You despise me and I love you/
It's not much but it's just enough to keep...”

Bedroom was another one of those three CD’s, along with Everything all the Time and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea that I burned at the end of the summer and kept in my car for a while. It must be obvious now that the album that received significantly more play that Everything, was this album. I was much more likely to listen to this song back-to-back-to-back than probably any other album I listened to this summer (and maybe ever). The album benefited from the fact that it was so different than everything else I was listening to at the time. It’s tough for me to really say that this album is “better” than Set Yourself on Fire, which I just bought recently, but I know for sure that this album will always mean more to me. And one of the reasons this song squeaked into the top spot was that this album, and Stars, brought a substantial wave of new music down upon me. Much more than Kanye did. Or at the very least, the music that I started listening to because of Stars was a lot better than the post-Kanye/Graduation music. Perhaps this disc got an unfair advantage because I listened to it an hour before I completed this list (and made the switch), but I would like to think it was much more than that. I mean I could talk about how great the music was – I loved the synergy and flow between the first three songs, and while I think every other person who has blogged about this song has hated the second track, The Night Starts Here, I loved it as a great lead in to my favorite song, Take Me to the Riot. After that the album continues it’s greatness and takes me to synth-pop-bliss. Maybe that’s not what I should call it, but I just did anyways. I do like to think that the greater reason this album is my 2007 favorite is that it really captures my most powerful memories from the course of the year. Well, for the most part, my life is pretty simple, but that simple life changed a hell of a lot between May and July and I think I will forever remember some of them with In Our Bedroom After the War as their soundtrack, or maybe their anthem. Again, I could probably go through all of the songs – because the whole album, really does speak to those experiences, but I will focus on my favorite, Take Me to the Riot. Now I’m not the only one to pick this one as their favorite song, and those music purists probably know more about why the song is so “good,” but I’m talking about why it’s my favorite. I won’t pretend to know the meaning of the song (can you ever know for sure?) but I will talk about what the song means to me. I’ll start with my favorite lyric of the year, “You despise me and I love you/
It's not much but it's just enough to keep...” It is a phrase that I find incredibly powerful and exceptionally heart breaking. Not sure what else to say about that, I shouldn’t really have to. The two verses a verse or two before make it even more powerful, “What now kid?, which way love?/Will we ever make up and be friends?” Another somber question that is (perhaps) answered by the sad “answer” above. The synth charged ending, the repeated “let me stay” wraps it all together…begging to stay and falling on deaf ears. Cut away all that emo crap I just mumbled out and you still have an amazing album.

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