The Ten Best Albums of 2007

858 albums
Caribou’s Andorra.
Merge Records

How does one define 2007 in terms of the music it produced? Surely the selections should reflect the events of the year: in this case, record low temperatures, iPhones for everyone, and an over-abundance of celebrity crotch-baring. At the same time, records making the annual list should be timeless; they should be representative not only of yearly trends, but also be able to withstand a 10-year flashback without much embarrassment on the reviewer’s behalf.

A first, this list seemed impossible. There were a couple of obvious top picks, a few extreme disappointments, and a sea of seeming mediocrity filled up with unknown self-releases, iPod bands, and just plain bad electronica. At the cost of sounding rockist (only because our list incidentally seems to glorify the white and the guitar-bearing), I think we have done the job of sea sifting with some expertise and have culminated our findings into the best of the best. Here we present a top 10 countdown of albums that exemplified 2007 as we (and maybe you) lived it.

10. Caribou — Andorra

Andorra, the fourth full length from the artist formerly known as Manitoba, is named after the tiny, Catalan-speaking country nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. What has this to do with the music, you ask? More than you’d initially think. Psychedelic with sleigh bells, multi-tracks, and monumental orchestration, Andorra is like the center of an open cluster, irregularly binding isolated genres to create a unique yet familiar sound (like the hybrid language and secluded culture of the Andorrans themselves).

Opening track “Melody Day” waits not even a second before kicking into full speed, utilizing fuzzy bass, lax double-tracked vocals, anachronistic guitars, and flutophone (??!!?) to get its strange, otherworldly message across. This sound continues throughout the record and succeeds especially on “She’s the One,” which uses a percussive and repetitive backing vocal track, handclaps, vibraslap, and electronics to convey a strangely instrumented pop love song.— Dupuis

9. A Sunny Day in Glasgow — Scribble Mural Comic Journal

Even if you disregard how A Sunny Day in Glasgow is fronted by a pair of identical twins, there’s no way you could confuse them with anything normal or even terrestrial. This album sounds so evolved, it could’ve just as easily been recorded in 3007 … in another solar system.

Vocalists Robin and Lauren Daniels channel some ancient non-language as their brother Ben drapes their ghostly melodies with not but the finest and most surreal synthesizer effects. Dream pop has always been about the pursuit of perfection in both sound as well as structure, and Scribble Mural Comic Journal comes startlingly close to achieving it. And we’re meant to believe this is a debut?— Lee

8. Panda Bear ­— Person Pitch

Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox) is a one-man chorus from the clouds in this masterpiece of sound that is just as crowded as its menagerie-in-a-hot-tub cover art. Person Pitch is so dense with reverb that the foreground is nonexistent. What’s left is a tasty mixing bowl of samples, electronic effects, and even street noises that celebrate the busy asphalt-foliage meld our world has grown into. (What negative connotations?) This is a record that can be enjoyed equally as a soundtrack to your morning commute on the T or an archaeological expedition through the Amazonian jungle. Or, for the truly imaginative, both at once.— Lee

7. Blitzen Trapper ­— Wild Mountain Nation

It’s painfully redundant to tell you that Portland is housing some pretty freaking fantastic musicians at the moment, including but not limited to Menomena (which you’ll be hearing more about shortly) and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (see: all-time hero). Well, another Portland favorite (and Tech year-end chart topper) has toured with the latter and will play with the former next month; this can only mean good things. Blitzen Trapper (oft compared to Malkmus’ inaugural band Pavement, and with good reason) combine raucous, oddly timed guitar lines with in-your-face mountainous folk. Sound impossible? Check out Wild Mountain Nation, the third and last album BT self-released before signing to Sub Pop last summer. The band seems to be possessed by a couple of copyrighted ghosts: the first some part of Matador’s early ’90s lineup, the second a kissing cousin of modern-day Wilco. Consider Wild Mountain Nation the lo-fi recording of the exorcism, performed by unordained priests with demonic intent. — Dupuis

6. Deerhunter — Cryptograms

Frontman Brandon Cox’s eccentric and candid live performances (and interviews, and blog posts) made him one of the most compelling rock personalities to arrive in 2007. The hype surrounding Deerhunter’s breakthrough album was so polarizing that you could basically put anyone who listened to it into two camps: those who thought the emperor had no clothes and those who thought the emperor had really, really good clothes. Place me among the latter group who see Cryptograms as a revelation painted in noise and distortion. What is truly superb about this album is its symmetry and balance: for every moment of aggression and bristling squalor, there is one of calm and poignant desolation. With a track list that alternates between electrifying post-punk and serene shoegaze, Cryptograms is an astonishingly tangible portrait of a wounded childhood.— Lee

5. White Rabbits – Fort Nightly

In an article published in The Tech last spring, I asked: “Am I allowed to declare an album of the year as early as March?” The now-obvious answer: No, you’re not. Okay, so Fort Nightly didn’t wind up topping the annual ranking, but placing fifth ain’t too shabby. Driving piano lines, laid-back Caribbean beats, assaulting drums, and constantly groovy guitars define this six-piece’s unique sound, which the band has described as “honey-tonk calypso.” Throw in some fantastically devious harmonies, cooler-than-cool frontmen who trade songs with minimal hassle, and a generally debauched attitude and you’ve got all the components of their 2007 debut. According to the Bushwick band themselves, a new album is in the works. Maybe next time I’ll prematurely rank it and then follow through with my prediction.— Dupuis

4. Of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

In the decade or so that Of Montreal has existed, songwriter Kevin Barnes has made a living penning chaotic melodies that paint themselves into a corner and only occasionally escape. Only the most diehard of fans can say that every Of Montreal song is good, but only the most cynical and heartless music fan could say that any song on Hissing Fauna is bad. This album takes its place among the great breakup albums in recent memory alongside Blur’s 13 and The Clientele’s Strange Geometry with lyrics that may hit close to home in the most absurd way possible (“Somehow you’ve red-rovered the Gestapo circling my heart”). The sheer volume of ideas and the frenetic pace at which they’re delivered establish Barnes as some sort of mad genius; who else could turn heartbreak into such pleasure overload?— Lee

3. The Besnard Lakes — … Are the Dark Horse

The eight tracks on this record average almost six minutes in length and have titles such as “Disaster” and “Devastation.” Clearly, a song is no trifling matter in the eyes of the Besnard Lakes; this is as anthemic and passionate as indie rock gets. By combining equal parts Beach Boys and Lynyrd Skynyrd in a slow burn, the Montreal-based Besnard Lakes span the coasts and make the most authentically American album ever made by an un-American band. The husband and wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas save the album’s most affecting moment for the their finale, “Cedric’s War,” which rides a defeated vocal harmony into a “Good Vibrations”-type finish that’s equally thrilling as the real thing. The album title could reflect the underdog status the band has had in the Montreal scene, but it’s hard to imagine how an album this perfect could be so underrated. — Lee

2. Menomena — Friend and Foe

Had Menomena continued the anagrammatic theme of their first album, I Am the Fun Blame Monster (a rearrangement of “the first Menomena album”), they might have noticed that Friend and Foe conveniently turns into “Faded Inferno.” Of course, Menomena is also a lot cooler than I am, and they probably spend less time on Anyway, indulge me, ’cause faded inferno is actually a pretty fitting phrase. Musically and lyrically, this album is all about balances between dark desires and noble aspirations, hell and heaven, and, duh, friends and foes. The crazy agitated crashes of Danny Seim’s drums and Justin Harris’ smooth yet pleasingly raucous saxophone create the soundscape of a world in chaos, while Brent Knopf’s staccato piano and powerful organ toss a religious element into the trio’s dark, comic, and at times bathetic mix. Of course, for all my rambling analyses, an accurate description of Menomena and their latest record can be truncated to two succinct words, as is often the case with rock reviews: FUCKING ROCKS. — Dupuis

1. Radiohead — In Rainbows

After what may have been the 10 most anticipatory days of my music-listening career, Radiohead’s seventh LP, In Rainbows, emerged for the general public’s consumption via the group’s Web site, “Dead Air Space.” This album’s importance in ’07 is obvious for a number of reasons: its label-less release, its innovative online distribution, the attention it’s received from media outlets such as CNN, and, oh, I don’t know, the fact that it’s a Radiohead record in general. Its musical subtleties, however, are what make it the most important album of ’07. On the surface, it’s an unapologetic exploration of both sonic and worldly beauty, combining true soul melodies and instrumentation with aching words of sadness, longing, and love. This might be off-putting for those who have come to expect that good ole’ Yorkeian disquietude, but further album archaeology — especially on Disc 2 — uncovers apocalyptic intent and themes as mad as any past effort. It’s the phenomenally fitting combination of these dipolar modes that makes In Rainbows top of the pops this calendar year, and surely this sentiment will carry over for years to come. — Dupuis