My '07 Top Ten (Part 1)

Counting down from ten, here are the first five of my ten favorite albums from 2007. Rankings are always difficult after the top five, so the following feel a bit indefinite to me...but I tried:

10. Burial - Untrue
I've just started listening to this, so there's not much I know about dub-step artist Burial. But with an impressive net score of 91 on, and a good first impression, I feel Untrue deserves to be included on this list. By just the artist, album, and cover art, you have an idea of what it sounds like. It's a bit like Massive Attack, but with the eerie darkness of Black Heart Procession and a hint of that Daft Punk flair (some tracks more than others). Untrue evokes a range of enigmatic moods that warrants repeated listens.

9. Robert Gomez - Brand New Towns

Upon hearing Robert Gomez, the Elliott Smith influence is immediately obvious. While it's possible he may just have the unfortunate circumstance of having an eerily similar voice, Gomez is by no means a rip-off artist. While the songs have the beautifully vulnerable, melancholic feel and whispered vocals of Elliott Smith, all the ideas on Brand New Towns sound compositionally fresh. One never feels he's trying to fill the loss of Smith with himself. His music's more of a tribute than an ape-ing, for he creates his own agency. The songs have a bit more harmonic daring, and some are actually optimistic! Gomez is clearly talented, for Brand New Towns is remarkably consistent. There's nothing drastically innovative going on here in terms of style/genre, but Brand New Towns is a songwriter doing what he does best, and that's good enough for me.

8. Frog Eyes- Tears of the Valedictorian
Frog Eyes is hit or miss for a lot of people. With their penchant for manic vocals, volatile harmonic movement, and raucous instrumentation, many find them difficult to listen to. Frog Eyes offers no relief for such individuals, as they continue to explode with unruly charm on Tears of the Valedictorian, which becomes obvious from the start on the ironically titled opener, "Idle Songs." What intrigues me about Frog Eyes is how they manage to create such brilliant, inspired motifs and lace them within a circus-like maelstrom of sound. It sounds spontaneous yet preconceived, primal but cultivated. It's intoxicating, and they champion this approach with "Caravan Breakers, They Prey On the Weak On the Old," one of my favorite songs of the year. While the album could be described as "more of the same," one does notice that many of the tracks are longer than usual. Whereas 8 of the 13 tracks on 2004's The Folded Palm were under 2.5 minutes, the 9 tracks of Tears of the Valedictorian run for an average of about 4 minutes. They feel more like movements then songs, as seemingly unrelated ideas are connected within the same song. That said, the style still sounds very Frog Eyes, but there are few bands out there pulling off songs of jarring grace so well.

7. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
It would seem that the positive response of Band of Horses' debut album, Everything All the Time, gave them the confidence to polish their craft, for Cease to Begin sounds more cohesive and mature. While the debut album had plenty of engaging themes, they were undermined by mediocre song structure. They would be approached too quickly, left undeveloped, or overshadowed by too much other, less interesting material. But on Cease to Begin, the core delight of the songs are carried through their entirety; you love them from start to finish. The best examples of this are the phenomenal "Island on the Coast" and "Cigarettes Wedding Bands." Cease to Begin has some down-tempo numbers, and while they are warm and professional, I would say they are the album's weakness, as they damage its consistency. Nevertheless, the album's highlights more than outweigh its setbacks. This album was surprisingly good, and I feel like an eye should be kept on Band of Horses' future output.

6. The Tough Alliance - A New Chance
Another pleasant surprise from Sweden. The Tough Alliance sounds like Röyksopp and Junior Boys teaming up with Jim Henson. It's primarily vocals and synths/electronics, all wrapped in tangible fun. It's frisky, giddy, and high-spirited, but it avoids drowning you in sunshine and the obnoxiously saccharine, cloying nature of twee-pop groups like The Polyphonic Spree (sorry TPS fans) with variations in ambience and mood. "Miami," for example, is in minor, but still creates an energizing texture. Just listen to "Something Special," "First Class Riot," or "The Last Dance," they should put a smile on anyone's face.
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