I’m renaming this post in the first sentence to “My Own, Personal Favorite Music from This Year” because between not being a music reviewer and not having bought several hundred albums after becoming financially independent from a marriage to a wealthy heiress, I didn’t listen to every major album that came out in the past twelve months.
But I did listen to some (and I really liked some of what I heard), and since my opinion is very, very valuable, it’s important to get these views out there.
If you feel that there’s something that should be on here that isn’t, I’m sure you’re right, and you’re welcome to state your case. There are a good handful of albums (Spoon, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, etc.) that would be lock to appear on this list if I’d actually listened to them, so don’t fret. You’re welcome to put your recommendations in the comments, and maybe I’ll check them out, but the odds are strong that I’ll probably just chuckle quietly and ignore them. I don’t really need anyone else’s opinion when mine’s so awesome.
I thought about re-titling this post “Christmas Gifts For Music Fans,” but decided I wasn’t that desperate for readers frantically trawling Google for last-minute shopping help. To be more accurate, I decided that I am that desperate, but was just unwilling to admit it aloud.
10. All the Lost Souls by James Blunt. I, like most – like Blunt, actually - tired of Blunt’s first album through constant overplaying. But it’s surprisingly good to hear him again, Blunt’s voice is distinctive, melancholy and his songwriting’s grown shades and contrasts, with more than a hint of razor-sharp vengeance in his tone. A fully welcome, unheralded sophomore effort.
9. We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse – Like their previous albums, it grew slowly on me, as originally I was baffled by its eccentricities. Hard-edged snarling cynicism layered on top of jangling guitars and gentle harmonies, the album’s energy and tone is harder and darker than it’s been in recent memory. Good New For People who Love Bad News had a few immediately accessible singles (who on this planet didn’t love “The World At Large” on their first listen? I ended up sticking it as the theme for one of my final films in college), but We Were Dead was a tougher slog in the early going for me. It turned out to be worth hitting “repeat” half a dozen times, though – one of the most enjoyable, expressive, lasting albums I’ve heard in the last few years.
8. Wincing The Night Away by The Shins – The Shins are the sort of band that hits and misses – they aren’t worried about getting you and keeping you as much as they are just getting you. Natalie Portman was right: they’ll change your life. But it’ll never be an entire album that gets you, it’ll be one song, one moment. The one that got me this time was “Turn On Me.” It’s more than worth a listen, as is “Phantom Limb” or “Sleeping Lessons,” which is featured in the latest Zune commercial.
7. Alright, Still by Lily Allen - I have very few albums (though as you know, dozens of TV shows and movies) that I can call a guilty pleasure, but this one indubitably is. Allen disses jilting ex-boyfriends, catty girlfriends, and lecherous pub crawlers in painful detail but with an airy British tone over Mark Ronson pop hooks – it reminds me, for all the world, of the female Britpop version of a ghetto rap album. It absolutely shouldn’t work, and yet somehow Allen and Ronson make it work. Perhaps the secret lies in Allen’s ability to deftly mix self-absorbed nonsense with softly-sighing clarity of vision. On “Everything’s Just Wonderful,” she looks at her life and asks aloud, “don’t you want something else, something new, than what we’ve got here? Until that day, I guess we stay, doing what we do, screwing who we screw.” If pop was like this more often, less people would complain about the radio.
6. It Won’t Be Soon Before Long by Maroon 5 - It’s a pity it’s become so fashionable to hate Maroon 5 so passionately, this album’s too good for people to miss. I’m as quick as anyone to jump bandwagons (though, bizarrely, I’ve remained on Ben Affleck’s for several years now), but there wasn’t any real good reason to leave. Adam Levine kills on this album, letting his soaring falsetto tear into lovers past with both a sad tremble and a knowing leer. Outside of “Kiwi,” a disaster of a seduction tune, the album is across the board exceptional.
5. All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions In the Sky - I’d heard good reviews but hadn’t jumped on board with these guys until I saw “Friday Night Lights” and first heard the sweeping, atmospheric guitars that elevate the show. Explosions in the Sky has no vocalist, they’re writing songs for movies that seem to only exist in their heads. I want to go and make those movies. If you’re looking to check them out for the first time, download “Your Hand In Mine,” the song that plays as the emotional theme for “Friday Night Lights” (both the movie and the show).
4. In Our Bedroom After The War by The Stars - I’ve been pushing these guys for a while – if I didn’t force you to listen to “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” you didn’t hang around me for very long the past few years. But this album is heavier and sadder and… weightier. The music is as lush, the themes as sweeping, and the interplay between leads Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell as natural as it’s ever been (by the way, how great a name is “Torquil?” My first kid is definitely named Torquil, even if it’s a girl), but the songwriting comes out with its scars still healing. Download “Personal,” a dialogue between two people trying to start a relationship through a personal ad, one of the quietly saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Or, even better, download the title track, the best song on the album and lock for you to leave on “repeat” after your first time hearing it. I once drove to Dallas and listened to that song close to 40 times along the way.
3. The Reminder by Feist - She doesn’t need my help now that her iPod commercial has vaulted her to notoriety, but if you haven’t heard “1 2 3 4” by now, give it a spin. What a great song. The rest of the album varies from very good to very good but not as good as “1 2 3 4.” I’ve never been able to recommend an album as clearly with the “if you like this song, you’ll like the album” strategy as this record. Go check it out – and, of course, it would be appropriate that if you do, you check it out on iTunes.
2. The Con by Tegan and Sara - I stumbled upon this by accident; I’d never heard of the duo, but everywhere I turned, I was reading glowing reviews of the album, and I figured it was worth giving it a shot. I loved it – if it wasn’t for “Neon Bible,” it’d be a lock for the top of the list, it’s head-and-shoulders above almost every album put out this year.
So, counting Millan, that’s four female artists on the top ten list this year – five, I guess, if you count Tegan and Sara separately, though I suppose I’m really stretching at that point. That’s not just rare for me, that’s completely unprecedented. I rarely really enjoy female singers. I’m a fan of Leigh Nash, and Sarah McLachlan, and I like some PJ Harvey, plus maybe occasionally some Norah Jones, and then, uh… no one else. So this is huge.
1. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. This how you know the “Neon Bible” album is good: let’s say you’re making an iPod mix, or a mix CD, or, I dunno, a mixtape, depending exactly where you are on the technological spectrum (McLuhanites to the left!), and you start looking through your music for possible tracks. While you’re still on the A’s, you come across Arcade Fire and say, “well, I’ve got to put something from them in. Lessee here, I have to put in ‘Keep The Car Running.’ And of course ‘Intervention.’ And ‘No Cars Go.’ And – geez, I can’t leave out ‘Ocean of Noise.’ And, y’know, ‘My Body is A Cage’ might be my favorite song right now.” Before you know it, you’ve picked the whole album, song by song, for your mix. And then you discover you can’t bring yourself to cut any of it, so your mixtape (or whatever), entitled ‘Best of 1970-2007’ is about one third Arcade Fire.
I would estimate that’s happened to me at least three times in the past year. That’s how good that album is.