I've been compiling end of year charts for over 20 years now. Which just goes to show what a trainspotter I am when it comes to music! I like end of year charts, not because I'm curious to find of which records are rated better than others. I simply use charts to pick up on great records that I may have missed as the year goes by. Even though I'm a regular reader of at least four monthly music magazines, myriad music sites and blogs such as Pitchfork, and an avid fan of Last.fm, there's still loads of records that fall under my radar. I'm also an big fan of eMusic, which apart from some good editorial, is the only way I can afford to hear as much music as I do. Of the 90 albums I've listened to this year, only a small handful didn't come as part of my eMusic subscription.
However, one thing I find really hard, past the top few albums, is to try put a chart position against every entry. How can you rate Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' splendid take on Americana with Tinariwen's desert blues, or James Blackshaw's acoustic folk with the After Dark compilation of Italo-disco? Hard isn't it. So, after my Top 10, all the releases are in alphabetical order. I suggest that if you haven't heard any of my Top 10, then you should do yourself a big service and check them out immediately. While, for those of you with adventurous tastes, the rest of my Top 40 come very highly recommended. And while we're on subject, we'd love to know what your Top 10 albums of 2007 were, so get posting…
1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver
With an increasing interest in everything post-punk I was wondering how long it be before bands picked up on Talking Heads sinuous funk as an influence. Try listening to Someone Great or Us v Them from James Murphy's sophomore release and tell me you can't hear touches of Fear of Music or Remain In Light. While distant echo's of Joy Division and New Order can be heard lurking on All My Friends, which were brilliantly covered by both Franz Ferdinand and John Cale for an EP, along with Murphy and Co covering Joy Division's No Love Lost. Murphy is a clever enough to take whatever he 'borrows' and make it his own. And this truly is the album of 2007.
2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
They disappear for four yours and come back with an album that sadly got more column inches for how it was retailed, rather than the music. Apparently many of these songs had been part of their live set for some time, and were not written together for an album. However, you'd never guess, as this is a stunning comeback. If you failed to like some of the more recent albums for being a little too unconventional, this album should give you a nice warm glow.
3. St Vincent – Marry Me
This got an album of the week in the Sunday Times, but amazingly hasn't sent the critics at the Mojo/Uncut/Word into total paroxysm of pleasure. This is one stunningly inventive record. Like Kate Bush or Bjork, sidewoman to the stars Annie Clark (well, she's worked with the wonderful Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree) is totally unique. This quickly became one of my favourite records of the year. Please give this record a listen…
4. M.I.A – Kala
All I'm going to say is if this doesn't win the Mercury Prize next year, the judging panel should be garotted. This is a stunning, inventive, buzzy and sonically inventive record that puts 90% of those 'UK indie guys with guitars and a couple of Clash albums' totally in the shade. If this record doesn't make you smile, jump up and down, and grin like an idiot you are sadly ready for 'pipe and slippers'.
5. New Young Pony Club – Fantastic Playroom
A great companion piece to the LCD Soundsystem. I was a huge fan of the likes of the Human League, The B52's and some of the ZE records catalogue back in the day. While I really enjoyed much of what was classed as Electroclash a few years back. NYPC often get bracketed with the Klaxons, but this is far better record than the 2007 Mercury Music Prize winner, which I thought was a pretty average record considering all the hype. You may have already heard the single Ice Cream (it was used in a recent Intel advert), but the rest of the album is almost as good. Their music certainly fits well with the Italo-disco scene, which was no-doubt one of this year's big things…
6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
The fuss about this band is well deserved. I won't try and sum them up, but instead leave it to the Observer Music Monthly who claimed that "The Canadian septet are the greatest art rock group since Talking Heads stopped making sense". This is stupendously big music, which in places also reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen in their prime. How come British bands don't seem to want to make music as big or as inventive as this anymore?
7. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Panda Bear (real name Noah Lennox) is one-quarter of New York experimental rock group, Animal Collective. However, this solo album is a real departure from any of his previous work. If you can imagine Brian Wilson producing a new opus to match the legendary Smile album, but with only a sampler and a pair of turntables for company, you might get some idea where this record is coming from.
8. Stars Of The Lid - …and Their Refinement of the Decline
Stunning, truly beautiful music with violin, cello, muted horns, effects-laden guitars and electronics. If you've ever enjoyed Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki or Gavin Bryars, you'll love this album. And with titles like Dopamine Clouds Over Craven Cottage you get to ponder the connection between this blissful music and Fulham FC's ground…
9. Apparat – Walls
Last years 'Orchestra of Bubbles' with Ellen Allien delivered some of the best electronic music of 2006. DJ Sascha Ring's latest as Apparat goes even further from the dancefloor and mixes up the genres with touches of everything from minimalist composer Steve Reich to the blissful indietronica of Sigur Rós and Ulrich Schnauss. This record deserves a broader audience…
10. Arboretum – Rites of Uncovering
For fans of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy or Nick Cave's murder ballads, but with stunning sinewy guitar improvisations in the vain of Richard Thompson, Neil Young, Television or Quicksilver Messenger Service. A very dark take on folk-rock, but supremely rewarding..
And the best of the rest (in alphabetical order):
Akron/Family – Love Is Simple This is their rather oddly named Akron/Family's third full album (if you don't count their split release with label boss Michael Gira). The ever on the ball Pitchfork claim that "Love Is Simple is Akron/Family's bold, unvarnished paean to discovering god within nature, through a fusion of drum-circle bliss, religious signifiers, and classic rock." These guys just get more and more interesting, and literally wear their heart on the sleeve!!
Battles - Mirrored I only got around to buying this album very recently, and boy I'd been missing one heck of a record, even if was just for the brilliant single Atlas, which was Plan B magazine's track of the year. Yes that good.
Bjork - Volta When I heard first single Earth Intruders, I was fully expecting this to be my album of the year, but in retrospect it didn't quite make the grade. Not because it wasn't as inventive and individual as ever, but the M.I.A album seemed to outdo Bjork at her own game. Which takes some doing.
Bodies of Water - Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink This doesn't get an official UK releases till the 22nd of January, so hopefully it'll be one of the albums of 2008! Bodies of Water are Arcade Fire's shoutier brothers, or the B52's kids holed-up with some weird cult that espouses drunken sing-alongs in LA's Laurel Canyon, and "you've still got to deal with arrangements equal parts Ennio Morricone, Godspell, classic punk, and Ben-Hur soundtrack". A joyous record, that should raise a smile and make you want to bounce around the room.
Budos Band - The Budos Band II They come from New Jersey, but sound like a cross between Fela Kuti, Ethiopian jazz (and if you haven't heard the Very Best of Ethiopiques: Hypnotic Grooves from the Legendary Series, buy it now) and 1970s blaxploitation soundtracks. From the same label as Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, so unsurprisingly as funky as hell…
Caribou - Andorra The man formally know as Manitoba, ditches his take on glitchy electronica, to totally embrace 60's psychedelia and sunshine pop. If you want to hear what the likes of the Zombies Odessey and Oracle would sound like if it was made today, then this is as good a starting place as any.
Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur Contemplative downtempo european jazz (very ECM in places), featuring guest vocals from this month's 'Tim Buckley' Patrick Watson, Mercury Prize nominee Lou Rhodes, and the ever wonderful Fontella Bass of Rescue Me fame.
Cloudland Canyon - Silver Tongue Sisyphus I love a bit of Komische music dear friends – Can, Neu, Amon Duul, Harmonia, Cluster, Klaus Schulze and the like. And this is as good a take on contemporary Krautrock as you are likely to hear (although one member of the group comes from Memphis via Brooklyn). Only two tracks mind, so set the controls for the heart of the sun and drift off in ecstatic bliss…
Efterklang - Parades The last few year's has seem some amazing music emerging out of Scandaniavia. Efterklang hail from Denmark and should appeal to fans of anyone from Boards of Canada to Sigur Rós. This take on orchestral pop is a perfect record to listen to on cold and crisp winter days.
Eluvium - Copia Matthew Cooper and his music have been around for some time, but I only discovered him this year. This album joins his love of contemporary classical music with ambient music, but very much in the Brian Eno tradition, rather than Ibiza Chill Out Volume 52 stylee.
Harmonia – Live 1974 And after some nouveau Krautrock with Cloudland Canyon, here's the real thing. This album was recorded on a train station in 1974 in Germany, and not released till now. For those of you not familiar with this shortlived band, they were made up of Cluster's Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Neu!'s Michael Rother, but if you haven't heard their two albums, Deluxe and Musik Von Harmonia, then you've missed out on two of the most important electronic albums of all time! This is more improvised and probably not the place to start, but a truly great record none the less.
Holy Fuck - LP I'm not sure where to file this album. Is it electronic dance music made by two hyper-active drummers with a love of early-Can and knackered old keyboards, or is it a new hybrid of Krautrock mixed with Alan Vega and Martin Rev's Suicide? Who cares, this is lots of fun and has me bouncing in my chair as we speak. Holy Fuck indeed…
James Blackshaw - The Cloud of Unknowing I only very recently discovered this album via John Mulvey's, Wild Mercury Sound end of year chart in Uncut magazine. This 25 year-old acoustic guitarist should be up their with the likes of John Fahey and Bert Jansch. An uncommonly beautiful record, and by an Englishman to boot!
Matthew Dear - Asa Breed Matthew Dear's background is in electronica, and more specifically dancefloor-friendly techno. But like fellow dance artists, Apparat and LCD Soundsystem, he has produced an album of songs that still have one toe in club-culture, but are probably best enjoyed away from the dancefloor. Fans of Arthur Russell, New Order, Remain In Light era Talking Heads, or recent albums from Hot Chip and the Junior Boys should explore.
My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me The Workhorse My Brightest Diamond, aka Shara Worden is another female artist connected to the very wonderful Sufjan Stevens, she is a member of his touring band and is also signed to Sufjan's Asthmatic Kitty label. Worden uses her powerful classically-trained voice to twist her music into some interesting places. Fans of the Throwing Muses/Kristin Hersh, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos should all find something to enjoy in this record.
Nancy Elizabeth - Battle and Victory If you found the idea of Joanne Newson's folk music interesting, but found her voice a bit hard to take, try Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe out for size. She hails from Wigan, and is as close to a Sandy Denny or Vashti Bunyan as any British folk singer has got, and like both those artists she is no stickler for tradition.
Phosphorescent - Pride Phosphorescent is Matthew Houck. Musically he's been compared to Will 'Bonnie Prince' Oldham, Sparklehorse and Iron and Wine, while the London Evening Standard went as far to declare him "the most significant American in his field since Kurt Cobain." But Houck is very much his own man, and this is a great record of contemporary Americana.
Plants and Animals - with / avec EP It was eMusic that really picked up on this band and gave them an almighty push on their staff blog. Hailing from Montreal (yes, yet another great Canadian band) these guys have so many reference points it's dizzying, but both Radiohead and Talk Talk come to mind. This is more than an EP, even if it features only 4 tracks. Each song seems to be made up a suite of tunes. Check it out.
Robert Plant And Alison Krauss - Raising Sand Who would have guessed old Percy would come up with this, especially in the year that Led Zeppelin got back together to play for the first time since 1988. Producer T. Bone Burnett should take much of the credit for this faultless record. Plant does a fantastic job, and is subtle as you like against Krauss' more tender bluegrass tones. The album gets bonus points for including two Gene Clark songs.
Robert Wyatt - Comicopera The man is a genius, and one of the most humble men around. If you don't know Robert Wyatt's music you really should. Even Paul Weller fans have an excuse for buying this, as he features on a number of tracks.
Rufus Wainwright - Release The Stars I do like a man in a pair of leather lederhosen! He may out-camp Elton John, but this man has a stunning voice, a brilliant songwriter and deserves to be a huge huge global star. However, I just wonder if his music is sometimes a bit too clever for real mass market appeal. On a totally different tip look out for the Supermayer remix of Tiergarten. Who would have ever thought you could mix techno with Wainwright's rewriting of the great American songbook.
Shearwater - Palo Santo (Expanded Edition) This is a bit cheeky, as this album is strictly a reissue. However, it does include an extra albums worth of new material, and a number of tracks have been remixed or added to, hence its inclusion here. And as hardly anyone bought it the first time around it really needs mentioning. I picked up on it from a fantastic review in the excellent Plan B magazine by Sean Michaels. The band are believe it or not a side-project for Jonathan Meiberg, from Austin-based band Okkervil River. The most obvious reference points is a folky take on late period Talk Talk (and on that note will Mark Hollis ever make another record?)
Stephanie Dosen - A Lily in the Spectre Release on former Cocteau Twin bassist Simon Raymonde's Bella Union, this great record made it a great year for female singer-songwriters. You may have caught her rather striking persona on Jools Holland's show recently. This is a very pretty record. There's the odd touch of Liz Frazer (when is her album coming?), or maybe the Cranberries but without the histrionics, or possibly a more folky take on the Sundays (with added Nick Drake-style strings), but with the odd wisp of Americana thrown in. Sweet, in more ways than one.
Studio - West Coast Someone described this as the Happy Mondays and the Cure's Robert Smith trapped on Ibiza with only some old Can and Afrobeat records to keep them company. This is from the same label in Sweden as the excellent Jens Lekman, and is just as inventive. The band dominated the new Balearic scene 'through the sheer ambition and invention of their delactable fusions'.
Thurston – Trees Outside the Academy As Pitchfork aptly pointed out, what does the Sonic Youth frontman "(Thurston) Moore do with the bare and noiseless architecture of an acoustic guitar and a verse-chorus-verse set-up?" He makes a great album of real songs that proves that one the godfathers of contemporary noise can still write some great pop tunes.
Tinariwen - Aman Iman: Water Is Life Formed in a Libyan refugee camp, these exiled nomads from Mali spend their lives wandering the Western Sahara desert. Tinariwen make some of the most amazing music you've ever heard, and offer proof if any was ever needed, that 'the blues' came from Africa. The album is produced by Robert Plant sidekick Justin Adams, who also made an excellent album of his own in Soul Science this year.
Various Artists - After Dark The Italians Do It Better label has taken a love of electro, early 80's synth pop, Blue Monday, and the Italo-disco of Georgio Moroder and found a whole raft of interesting new bands. The music brought together on this album seems to playing in the same space that also includes the new Balearic sounds of Swede's Sally Shapiro and the excellent Studio, and the UK's A Mountain of One. Glass Candy and Chromatics are the labels 'big' names (both acts produced excellent albums this year), but this album is worth admission alone for Mirage's remix of Indeep's 1982 classic "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life". I have a feeling that this label will be huge in 2008.
White Rainbow - Prism of Eternal Now More 21st century Krautrock , but this time from Portland Oregon's Adam Forkner, who mixes Krautrock with minimalist drones inspired by the likes of Terry Riley and Brian Eno. A big thanks to Plan B editor Frances Morgan for recommending this album and Cloudland Canyon to me.
White Stripes - Icky Thump Hopefully you know what they sound like. This my fave White Stripes album in some time. If you didn't get on with Get Behind Me Satan, this should restore your faith.
Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals Another band who seem enthralled with David Byrne and Brian Eno's take on world music. Yeasayer's debut album is genre-bending journey into Remain in Light era Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Middle Eastern and African music, and even a bit of dub. One eMusic user said of this album "if Lindsey Buckingham had taken peyote trip in the Sahara dessert and then decided to make music with some nomadic tribesmen, this is probably close to what it would sound like! And that sound would be awesome!"
And if you want even more interesting albums to check out from this year, here's the rest of the stuff I listened to (and enjoyed) this year…
Alasdair Roberts – The Amber Gatherers
Alela Daine – The Pirate's Gospel
Amiina – Kurr
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
Ben Frost – Theory of Machines
The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
Buraka Som Sistema – From Buraka To The World
The Chromatics – Night Drive
Citay – Little Kingdom
Cloudland Canyon/Lichens- Exterminating Angel
The Dirty Projectors -Rise Above
Dragons – BFI
Dungen – Tio Bitar
Editors – An End Has A Start
Electrelane – Axes
The Fall – Reformation Post TLC
Feist – Reminder
Field Music – Tones Of Town
Findlay Brown – Seperated By The Sea
Glass Candy – Beat Box
Go! Team – Proof of Youth
Good, Bad and the Queen – Good Bad and the Queen
High Llamas – Can Cladders
Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
Joni Mitchell – Shine
Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature
Justin Adams – Soul Science
Kassin+2 – Futurismo
La Otracina – Tonal Ellipse of the One
Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers
The Life On Earth – Look! There Is..
Maria McKee – Late December
Mariee Sioux – Faces In The Rocks
Marissa Nadler – Songs III: Bird on the Water
Marla Hansen – Wedding Day
Mavis Staples – We'll Never Turn Back
Meg Baird – Dear Companion
The National – The Boxer
Oakley Hall – Second Guessing
The Octopus Project – Hello Avalanche
Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer
Patrick Watson – Close to Paradise
PG Six – Slightly Sorry
Rickie Lee Jones – Sermon on Exposition Boulevard
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight
The Ruby Suns – Listen
Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Us Away
Seasick Steve – Dog House Music
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights
Strategy – Future Rock
Taken By Trees – Open Field
Wooden Shjips – Wooden Shjips