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2007: Singles Going Steady

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Tom Zimpleman recounts his favorite albums, and their best songs, of 2007.

2007: Singles Going Steady

Whether it’s because iTunes is supposed to be making the album obsolete, or just because I was constantly busy this year and usually listened to music in the background while I was writing/reading/editing/driving, I found as I tried to sum up the year that individual songs stuck out more than complete albums. So I’ll try something new this year: I’ve listed my ten favorite albums of this year, along with my favorite song from that album. I wouldn’t have said this before compiling a year-end list, but 2007 was a strong year; selections like Travis Morrison, Stars of the Lid and Les Savy Fav may betray a little bit of nostalgia for the early aughts, but most of this year’s albums strived to break new ground rather than recreate the sound of a past era. Here’s hoping that continues in 2008.

Travis Morrison Hellfighters - All Y’all (Barsuk Records)

I probably listen to the Dismemberment Plan more frequently now than I did when they were active, and nostalgia makes me miss them more and more as the years go by. All Y’all, however, is pretty good consolation. Travis Morrison has always had a gift for finely observed lyrics about post-collegiate urban life, and All Y’all is, more or less, his take on going through his early 30s in D.C. I haven’t gotten to that age yet, but when I do, “You Make Me Feel Like a Freak” will have given me an idea of what to expect.

Favorite song: “I’m Not Supposed to Like You (But).”

Menomena - Friend and Foe (Barsuk Records)

While Friend and Foe doesn’t quite have the heady appeal of I Am the Fun Blame Monster (for instance: no anagrammatic album title), it’s a much stronger pop record from start to finish, and in “Rotten Hell,” it has one of the year’s best songs.

Favorite song: “Rotten Hell.”

Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)

The easiest thing to say about Noah Lennox (the Animal Collective member known as Panda Bear) is that he sounds a little bit like Brian Wilson. And that offhand description might give you a general idea of what the vocals on Person Pitch sound like, but it doesn’t give you an idea of the hugely diverse array of samples that support those vocals. Nor does it give you an idea of the intricacy with which those samples are assembled into long, beautiful compositions. Lennox does not just sound like Brian Wilson, then, but he also has an equally pleasing musical sensibility.

Favorite song: “I’m Not.”

Phosporescent - Pride (Dead Oceans)

Pride is the third Phosphorescent record, and its one that Mathew Houck recorded largely on his own, although with a number of people providing backing vocals. This album is thus more sedate than any of the previous ones, but Houck shows an impressive ability to craft moving and dramatic songs out of only a few elements. And his vocals definitely belong in the Bob Dylan-Willie Nelson-Will Oldham canon of unconventionally great singing voices.

Favorite song: “Wolves.”

Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline (Kranky)

An album that’s conceptually interesting, since Stars of the Lid have basically built whole songs out of held notes that fade in and out, but also one of the most beautiful albums I’ve heard in a long while. The song titles joke about this being music to fall asleep to (“Even if You’re Never Awake,” “Another Ballad for Heavy Lids”) but I think you’ll notice more worthwhile things about it if you listen to it while wide-awake.

Favorite song: “Even If You’re Never Awake.”

Les Savy Fav - Let’s Stay Friends (French Kiss)

And here’s an album that you definitely need to be awake to enjoy. We’re a couple of years removed from the glut of ’80s-influenced east coast bands that clogged the pages of the independent music press, but we’ve now got the definitive album of that movement, and from the band that can rightly claim to be the forerunner of all the others. If Les Savy Fav take another six years off before releasing their next album, I doubt that anyone would complain so long as the songwriting is as uniformly excellent as it is on Let’s Stay Friends.

Favorite song: “The Year Before the Year 2000.”

Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall (Reprise / WEA)

Recorded between the releases of After the Gold Rush and Harvest, Neil Young’s 1971 performance at Massey Hall captures a time when he was still writing and trying out much of his best work. Listen, for instance, to the meandering “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold” medley or the extended version of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” which opens with a short discussion about the tragic lives that inspired Young to write the song. Also noteworthy is his galvanizing performance of “Ohio,” which prompted a roaring ovation from the audience.

Favorite song: “On the Way Home.”

Frightened Rabbit - Sing the Greys (Fat Cat)

There were two fairly notable releases by new bands from Glasgow this year: Sing the Greys and the Twilight Sad’s Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. Frightened Rabbit got less attention, but their album stands up a little better at the end of the year. Their songwriting is a little more diverse – from straight-up pop songs like “Be Less Rude” to more epic rock songs like “Square 9” – and displays a cutting sense of humor (just listen to the way they call out other bands on “Music Now”).

Favorite song: “Music Now.”

Mice Parade - Mice Parade (Fat Cat)

An incredibly fun album from a venerable indie rock group. Just trying to identify all of the guitar tunings takes three or four plays of the album.

Favorite song: “The Nights After Fiction.”

Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust (Constellation)

I thought when reviewing this album last spring that it would probably wind up being one of the best albums of the year; so far, I think it’s the best. Separating themselves from the quiet-loud-quiet atmospherics of other instrumental groups and the jazz-inspired structures of post-rock, Do Make Say Think have produced an album that’s stylistically varied and surprising, flawlessly played and, at times, catchy as hell.

Favorite song: “In Mind.”

Finally, a few songs deserving of an honorable mention:

“Leave Me Like You Found Me,” Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
“Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead,” Akron/Family - Love is Simple
“Waxwing,” Alasdair Roberts - The Amber Gatherers
“I Am the Man for You Baby,” Jay Mitchell & the Mitchellites - Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay
“Ira,” Charlie Louvin - Charlie Louvin

By Tom Zimpleman

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