domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2010

Os Melhores Discos de 2007 - Pitchfork

Following yesterday's list of our favorite tracks, we at Pitchfork close out 2007 with our annual review of the year's 50 best albums-- and start a new tradition with our first Pitchfork Readers Poll! We'll need your votes by December 23 at 11:59 p.m. CST. The results will be published during the first week of the new year. Enjoy the holiday season! Daily news, reviews, and features resume Wednesday, January 2, 2008.

50: Tinariwen
Aman Iman: Water Is Life
[World Village]
It's easy to get caught up in the story of Tinariwen: They descend from some of the world's last truly nomadic peoples-- the Kel Tamashek or Tuareg-- and formed in a refugee camp. But the narrative is just background, a conversation piece that's not necessary to enjoy their work. The electric crunch of "Cler Achel" is breathtaking-- especially the way it contrasts with its hypnotic massed vocals-- and "Matadjem Yinmixan" whirls with the force of a cyclone. You can feel the empty spaces; these musicians locate their home in the music, a sound that feels like it's been part of the world as long as we have, as essential as blood, as elemental as fire. --Joe Tangari

49: Dizzee Rascal
Maths + English
Dizzee Rascal's best asset as an MC is his directness. There's no side to him, no great tricks or poetics, just an urgent sincerity giving the best tracks on his third album extra wallop. His hilarious demolition of a former mentor on "Pussy'ole" is a highlight, but his trump card in battle is contempt. "Find a pretty girl and settle," he advises a rival, stinging worse than more elaborate insults. Elsewhere, Dizzee brings endearingly wide-eyed cheekiness to stripclub raps ("Flex") and horndog summer jams ("Da Feelin'"), and teams up with fellow straight-talker Lily Allen for a bouncy meeting of bullshit detectors. When he turns his hand to big-picture musing on "Excuse Me Please" he sounds gruesomely naïve, and it's a shame there's not more high-impact storytelling like "Sirens". But for all the guest stars and style jumps, Dizzee's kept his rawness and focus. --Tom Ewing

48: Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt reconvened his own big band-- featuring friends Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera-- for his first album in four years, and his first for Domino. The result, Comicopera, is a slyly ambitious, dolefully funny three-sided concept suite, taking in alcoholism and aging, the continuing fiasco in the Middle East, the horror of world politics, and the consolations of the imagination. Best of all, though, is what we least expected from the longtime cult hero: "Just As You Are", a bittersweet duet, co-written with his wife, Alfie, and sublimely sung by Wyatt and Brazilian bossa nova queen Monica Vasconcelos. --Stephen Troussé

47: Yeasayer
All Hour Cymbals
[We Are Free]
With its caterwauling vocals, half-African guitar-runs, queasy rhythm section, and fixation on xylophone loops, this Brooklyn quartet's debut should be a muddled mess of post-TVOTR Williamsburg claustrophobia. But despite their often world-weary lyrics, dystopian angst isn't Yeasayer's defining trait; their hazy psychedelia aims for gooey warmth, not stressed isolation. When they rock out, as on "Wait for the Wintertime", they do it with dub-metal swagger, bending fuzzy riffs around airy trumpet sighs. When they groove, as on "Sunrise", they layer their drum-ripples into disorienting waves. And when they bliss out, as on "2080", they do it with breathless intensity. But as confounding as their studio trickery can be, Yeasayer still make sure to end the album on an uncomplicated heart-tugging note, singing a devotional group-hug hymn to their friends and family. For these four, sound is religion. --Tom Breihan

46: Marissa Nadler
Songs III: Bird on the Water
In a year marked by the chaos of UK new ravers, L.A. noiseniks, and Baltimore freaks and geeks, the muted hues of Songs III: Bird on the Water almost felt subversive. With understated grace and startling consistency, Marissa Nadler cooed lovelorn, wayworn, and woebegone across these 12 tracks, content to tread paths trodden a thousand times over if it meant finding the one detail all those before her had missed. So what if these weren't the combustible songs from fashionable forward-thinkers? Nadler was still killing us, albeit softly. --Matthew Solarski

45: Ricardo Villalobos
Fabric 36
The internet hasn't been kind to mix CDs. With vast archives of up-to-date club sets trading online, the idea of paying $20 for a session recorded six months ago seems absurd. Ricardo Villalobos' Fabric mix turned that problem on its head, devoting his entire session to new productions of the loopy percussive tools and stoned flights of timbral fancy he uses to anchor his sets. Less esoteric than his recent releases for Cadenza and Perlon, but less pop than his remixes for Beck and Depeche Mode, Fabric 36 hones in on the groove and won't let go, molding jazz-kit samples, hissing synths, and a battery of effects around rambling, pitched-up bits of dialogue and bizarre outbursts of taiko drumming. The album climaxes with "Primer Encuentro Latino-Americano de la Soledad", an edit of a song by Chilean prog-rockers Los Jaivas that proves once and for all Villalobos is no mere minimalist. --Philip Sherburne

44: Les Savy Fav
Let's Stay Friends
In the six years since the release of their last proper full-length, Go Forth, many of Les Savy Fav's stylistic tics have emerged as full-on musical fads. The band could have easily cast itself as unsung trendsetters with Let's Stay Friends, but instead they chose to downplay their best-documented strengths, sanding their angular edges and streamlining their dance-punk grooves. The result is a solid, multifaceted, and stubbornly gimmick-free indie rock record. Tim Harrington's lyrics are still sly and clever, and his delivery still tightly wound and frantic, but Let's Stay Friends finds him coming into his own as a more versatile-- and occasionally downright tuneful-- singer. The rest of the band follows suit, branching out into new expressive territory without sacrificing its well-honed energy. For a group as explosive as Les Savy Fav, the understatement of Let's Stay Friends may be the ballsiest thing they could have done. --Matt LeMay

43: Stars of the Lid
And Their Refinement of the Decline
In 2001, Stars of the Lid released The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, a meticulous, methodical 2xCD set of build-and-release hums and drones that would have served as a worthy career pinnacle for many bands. SotL's Adam Wiltzie relocated to Belgium, and bandmate Brian McBride headed west to lead the University of Southern California debate team. The duo's long-awaited 2xCD followup, And Their Refinement of the Decline, was therefore eventually composed and recorded on two continents. Another set of deceptively slow and simple songs, Refinement eases between strings, horns, a children's choir, a harp, electronics, and gently washing guitars. --Grayson Currin

42: Ghostface Killah
The Big Doe Rehab
[Def Jam]
Even though it harbored the most cinematic treatment of Method Man's balls yet put to tape, Big Doe Rehab's crystalline rap narratives left some unimpressed. A few dissenters instead hailed the hallucinogenic properties of the Wu's 8 Diagrams and noted, correctly, that the Tony Starks of "Jay Cutler on dust" had misplaced his strawberry kiwi stash and suddenly started to make sense. Like Jay-Z, Ghostface here turned to the unlikely hitmaking team of Diddy, Sean C, and LV in search of a pipeline to the PCP-strewn streets of his past and found it, to the delight of action-movie connoisseurs and the chagrin of those in rap to see just how far the form could be stretched. --Zach Baron

41: Life Without Buildings
Live at the Annandale Hotel
[Gargleblast/Absolutely Kosher]
A live album by a practically unknown band, released five years after they broke up, and containing one previously unreleased song... what's the big deal? The deal is that it's a salvaged jewel. Life Without Buildings chopped and riffed like a souped-up variation on late-period Velvet Underground (check out the piercing harmonics guitarist Robert Johnston flings out on "Juno"), but their most distinct feature was singer Sue Tompkins, a stammering Glaswegian language artist who turned phrases over and over, inverting and examining and disassembling and reassembling them a word or a syllable at a time. Their repertoire, already vivid on their lone studio album, Any Other City, was riotously alive in performance: Tompkins' play with her lyrics' rhythm and rhetoric is thrilling, and everyone sounds like they're so wound up they're about to bound off the stage. Plus, that new song ("Liberty Feelup") is a knockout. --Douglas Wolk

40: Beirut
The Flying Club Cup / Lon Gisland EP
[Ba Da Bing!]
Zach Condon's 2007 output-- split across the Lon Gisland EP and sophomore album The Flying Club Cup-- displayed the deft hand largely absent from 2006's Gulag Orkestar, a promising, much-loved but one-horse debut. On Lon Gisland, Condon continued to swoon and croon, his voice its own brass instrument, but the addition of a full band colored his vision with ornate and riveting melodies. Swathed in Gallic scenery, instrumentation, and waltz rhythm, follow-up Flying is a love letter to France-- playful, profound, even a little poppy-- with fresh melodic ideas that nevertheless retain Condon's increasingly impressive stylistic fingerprint. --Liz Colville

39: The White Stripes
Icky Thump
[Warner Bros.]
Unlike Samson and Metallica, cutting Jack White's hair only made him stronger. With Icky Thump, the White Stripes returned from Hollywood exile to remind us why we fell in love with them in the first place: monster classic rock riffs ("You Don't Know What Love Is [You Just Do as You're Told]", "I'm Slowly Turning Into You"), gleeful, messy stomping ("Rag and Bone", "Bone Broke"), goofball experiments ("Conquest", "St. Andrew [This Battle Is in the Air]"). The garage may be lined with platinum now-- and cluttered with new toys like synthesizers, horns, and bagpipes-- but Jack and Meg are still candy cane children bashing away in their little room, as odd and loose as ever. More bands should try having this much fun. --Amy Phillips

38: Wu-Tang Clan
8 Diagrams
[Loud/Universal/SRC/Wu Music Group]
While we were wondering whether RZA would attempt to regurgitate the Wu-Tang Clan's mid-90s halcyon days or bring his crew into the modern rap world, the producer had other plans. 8 Diagrams-- the Wu's first album in six years-- is a collage of stoned spaghetti loops, psycho-babble hooks, and gritty, abstract lyricism. Think the Brothers Grimm battling it out with Maggot Brain while Willie Hutch coos in the background and you're beginning to get the picture. The album is brooding, dynamic, dense, and ultimately, one of the most singular hip-hop releases of the year. Sure, it's occasionally alienating, and requires multiple listens to locate its subtle charms, but it also accomplishes something rare for a modern Wu album: It reveals a new musical chamber, and adds one more chapter to one of the most storied groups in hip-hop history. --Sam Chennault

37: Grizzly Bear
Friend EP
Grizzly Bear played vanishing bedroom pop on Horn of Plenty and baroque psych-folk on Yellow House. That they revealed their third incarnation with an extended EP mostly comprised of revamps, covers, and remixes is a token of their warranted confidence as players and arrangers. The once-tiny "Alligator" now swells to cavernous proportions and "Little Brother" gets wired with jumper cables, laying down a psych-rock template that persists through the EP's alternately melting and jagged Crystals cover. More than a nostalgic retooling of the recent past, the Friend EP is a teaser for the near-future of indie rock's most elegant, ambitious outfit. --Brian Howe

36: Iron and Wine
The Shepherd's Dog
[Sub Pop]
Sam Beam finally completes the jump from his sparse voice-and-guitar beginnings into full-band, maximalist splendor. The Shepherd's Dog is an eclectic, complex record, the disparate imagery of the lyrics merging with the organic texture of the music to create a dream-like flow. "House By the Sea" rises from a Reichian pattern to a rubber-rhythmed song cut with dashes of West African music, "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" clatters with Americana signifiers, and "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" is a drop-dead gorgeous closer. Beam's approach to singing has grown in sophistication, and he layers his distinctive whisper falsetto into billowing clouds of harmony all over the record. --Joe Tangari

35: Black Lips
Good Bad Not Evil
Though they've been around since before the great garage-rock renaissance of 2001, Atlanta's Black Lips wouldn't hit their stride until 2005's Let It Bloom-- long after the movement had breathed its last corporate co-opted gasp. And this year, as the world at large finally sat up and took notice, they managed to breathe new life into a sound nearly as old as rock'n'roll itself. On Good Bad Not Evil tunes about Hurricane Katrina, holy war, and original guitarist Ben Eberbaugh's tragic death are framed as abused-lover howlers ("Katrina"), under-the-boardwalk boasts ("Veni Vidi Vici"), and knucklehead honky-tonk ("How Do You Tell"). The band's other 2007 release, live LP Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, recapped their career over the sloppy hoots and hollers of Tijuana dive-bar regulars, but here, Black Lips cemented their reputation not as bone-headed revivalists, but as clever punks with songwriting chops to match their genre's progenitors. --Marc Hogan

34: James Blackshaw
The Cloud of Unknowing
[Tompkins Square]
The Cloud of Unknowing borrows its title from a 14th century mystical Christian text primarily concerned with contemplative prayer. It's a name that suits fingerpicking guitar virtuoso James Blackshaw especially well, since it's not difficult to picture his work as a intuitive quest for the divine. Using only his 12-string guitar and an occasional violin or glockenspiel, Blackshaw effortlessly reconciles various elements of Renaissance string music, UK folk, and 20th century composition. Bracketed by its long-form title track and the exquisite "Stained Glass Windows", the album achieves a certain natural symmetry, as Blackshaw allows each of his numerous interlaced melodies to build with an exceptional patience. And though traces of dissonance lap at the edges, what's most striking here is the profound elegance of the album's architecture, Blackshaw's stunning technical prowess, and the unwavering confidence of his contemplative vision. --Matthew Murphy

33: King Khan & the Shrines
What Is?!
Garage rockers and retro revivalists might act as if they're in a universe separate from our own, but don't let the analog hiss or those sweet fuzz tones on What Is?! fool you: King Khan's ears are everywhere, and this is his thesis on just how much range the genre can cover. Chalk it up to a frontman with a killer deadpan, and a band that can pick up stomping, treble-heavy power-pop jams, pristine Sunday morning AM jangle, gritty soul, and some serious uncharted psychedelia, all without losing its humor or bite. --Jason Crock

32: Sally Shapiro
Disco Romance
[Paper Bag/Diskokaine]
Forget retread; what Sally Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn did for Italo-disco on Disco Romance might best be described as rehabilitation. Making no secret of their affinity for several of the genre's forgotten acts, Agebjörn and his accidental muse/vocalist delivered on the promise of "I'll Be By Your Side" with a collection of songs sleeker and more sophisticated than many of their stylistic forbearers. This is Italo-disco refurbished for the future, still hellbent on capturing our hearts, but now that much smarter about getting to them. --Matthew Solarski

31: Deerhoof
Friend Opportunity
[Kill Rock Stars]
Asked to describe the Justin Theroux movie they've scored, Deerhoof settled for "OCD rom-com." Which might make Friend Opportunity their ADD pop album. Recorded off the back of tours supporting Radiohead and the Flaming Lips-- and self-consciously aspiring to the grandness of those bands' production-- Friend Opportunity is among the group's richest, most focused records to date, and shows that the departure of guitarist Chris Cohen hasn't hindered their ambition. Practically every song seems to casually coin a new genre: marching-band merseybeat ("+81"), Stravinskyian j-funk ("Believe ESP") and even, on "Whither the Invisible Birds?", the supper-club space ballad. --Stephen Troussé

30: Caribou
Dan Snaith's last two albums have pushed in the direction of sunny psychedelic pop, but only flashes of fleshed-out melodies shone through. Using the radiant, winsome chamber-pop template established by the Zombies, Andorra represents Snaith's headfirst dive into writing and singing pop songs. It's Odessey and Oracle fan-fic, sure, but Snaith engineered plenty of himself into the formula he's been working toward since 2003's Up in Flames. His towering percussion arrangements, motorik rhythms, and multi-layered instrumentation are all here, but now they serve firm melodic structures-- underscoring the spookiness of "Afterhours", and giving the bashful choruses of "Melody Day", "Eli", and "Sandy" color and lucidity. --Eric Harvey

29: Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
There's a reason Bon Iver's origins are recounted every time the name is mentioned. Justin Vernon's debut under that moniker actually does sound like it was recorded in a remote Wisconsin cabin during a lonely winter and after a disappointing break-up (in this case, the dissolution of his former band, DeYarmond Edison). These nine spectral songs about lost love convey that isolation through Vernon's alternately puzzling and pointed lyrics, but even more crucially through the music's eerie, unfolksy ambience. The best bedroom auteur album of the year, the self-released For Emma, Forever Ago shows new possibilities for the old sensitive-guy-with-a-guitar genre, and will see wider release via Jagjaguwar in February. --Stephen M. Deusner

28: Dinosaur Jr.
[Fat Possum]
At first, "Almost Ready" sounds like a cruel tease. The first song on Beyond, with its perfectly sloppy J Mascis guitar and irresistibly mopey hooks, doesn't just nearly match Dinosaur Jr. classics "Little Fury Things" and "Freak Scene"-- it actually sounds like it was made in the same room, by the same guys, around that time. But there's no way all of Beyond could hold up to masterpieces like You're Living All Over Me or Bug, right? So, so wrong. From the wistful stomp of "Crumble" to the drifting melodics of "We're Not Alone" to two prime Lou Barlow pieces, Beyond is the great lost 1980s Dinosaur Jr. album many of us had long forgotten we were waiting for. That it seems so effortless and natural is just icing. --Marc Masters

27: Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
Following 2004's Funeral was hardly a pressure-free endeavor, but Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's self-produced sophomore LP, is packed with just as many bombastic anthems-- if a bit more grown-up. Tracks like "(Antichrist Television Blues)" earned the band surprise comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, an analogy that feels strangely apt given the Boss' history of political (and personal) indignation. Frontman Win Butler howls and broods, spewing righteous accusations, shouting about the ocean and falling bombs, while his bandmates push and push. Consequently, Neon Bible is one of the most unapologetically propulsive records of the decade, constantly hurtling forward, on, up, and out. --Amanda Petrusich

26: Various Artists
After Dark
[Italians Do It Better]
After five years of enthusiastic revivalism, you'd think Italo-disco had no more depths to reveal. Which gives the dark Italo revelations of the Italians Do It Better label a strangely transgressive air-- surely this belated aesthetic pinnacle could only result from a deal with the devil. No surprises, then, that on the label's After Dark compilation what stands out is the awesome pagan solemnity with which the artists approach their reference points. Check the Mirage remix of Indeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life", wherein spectral synthesisers cast a deathly pallor over the original's hedonism. But the artists' own songwriting is more startling: The glassy textures of Chromatics' "In the City" seep through the song's airy femme-pop like a slow-acting poison, while on Farah's "Law of Life" a troubled state-of-the-world soliloquy is set against synth loops so portentous you'd be forgiven for believing that the world was (very quietly) ending. --Tim Finney

25: The Tough Alliance
A New Chance / New Waves EP
[Sincerely Yours/Summer Lovers Unlimited]
There's a reason people remember William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech but can't recall the actual winner of the 1896 election. Nothing sells politics like big, heavy-handed one-liners, and the Tough Alliance know no music better solidifies these maxims than pop. While their catchy hooks and carefree island vibe can sound hyperglycemic, they sucker punch you with Situationist politics and an aggressive optimism unique in popular music. Thanks to incendiary live shows, the ironically challenged have accused the duo of encouraging violence and anarchy, but considering the cult of personality found on these two releases, it's hard not to grab a 2x4 and join the revolution. --Adam Moerder

24: Dan Deacon
Spiderman of the Rings
Spiderman of the Rings is the most joyful album of 2007. And it wants to share that joy, to seep its DayGlo cartoon giddiness into the darkest recesses of black-clad hipsterdom. Why fold your arms when you can paint the town neon? Why pout when you can bounce? It's impossible to feel like a mature adult listening to Dan Deacon's hyperactive opus. The Woody Woodpecker cackling, the lyrics about "ghosts and cats and pigs and bats with brooms and bats and wigs and rats that play big dogs like queens and kings and everyone plays drums and sings," the entire "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" aesthetic-- this music zeros in on the basest childhood impulses towards things that are bright and shiny. In Deacon's world, the drugs are replaced with Kool-Aid, everyone's friends, everyone likes to dance, and nobody cares how they look. Naïve? Sure. Refreshing? Definitely. --Amy Phillips

23: Studio
Yearbook 1
In 2007 no trend was more decadently tailored to the idiosyncrasies of music obsessives than the return of Balearic-- that hippie-chic interzone of supremely supine dance-rock. For those grown disillusioned with further tweaking of the disco-punk template, Balearic's unfashionable expansiveness and unabashed splendor can be both a restorative tonic and an illicit thrill. Swedish band Studio dominated the field through the sheer ambition and invention of their delactable fusions. Offering impossible visions of Can making a Happy Mondays tribute album or the Cure backed by Fela Kuti, the music moves imperceptibly from bouncy percussive workouts to undulating seas of dub echo and glittering starsailor guitar, all wrapped in a perfectionist 80s art-rock sheen. On Yearbook I, a compilation of work to date, Studio effortlessly unite their disparate inclinations into one nation under a groove. --Tim Finney

22: Okkervil River
The Stage Names
Self-aware theatricality is nothing new to indie rock, but few bands have taken it as far as Okkervil River did on The Stage Names. Tearing down the fourth wall with passion and skill, Okkervil River created a sprawling and self-referential musical world both clever and deeply affecting. Abandoning or conspicuously undermining conventional signifiers of sincerity, The Stage Names emphasizes the emotional power of theater and craft, sneaking in numerous references to other bands and songs, as well as to Okkervil themselves. This complexity allows the band to communicate not only through the palpable force of Will Sheff's voice, but also through reference, citation, and irony. In embracing their artifice, Okkervil River crafted their most moving album yet. --Matt LeMay

21: Dirty Projectors
Rise Above
[Dead Oceans]
A re-imagining of Black Flag's Damaged, Rise Above was made mostly from mercurial Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth's memory. Here, he focuses on social neuroses, using baroque compositional curveballs to spotlight problems with alcoholism, depression, and police ignorance, while Black Flag's elemental hardcore fury cedes to his vision of twisted guitar lines, rising string sections, Dirty South beats, and perfect vocal accompaniment. Black Flag opened Damaged with "Rise Above", but that's how the Projectors end it, leaving on a note of hope. The sound is different than it was two decades ago, but the problems remain the same. --Grayson Currin

20: Liars
The fourth album from Berlin/L.A. trio Liars opens with the best one-two punch of the year: the riff-riot "Plaster Casts of Everything" chased by the bouncy "Houseclouds". But once you stop hitting repeat on those gems, the rest of the record is just as addictive-- and just as simple and direct. So far the band's only constant has been change, so maybe it's no big shock that their new obsession is stripped-down takes on past inspirations like shoegaze, trip-hop, Butthole Surfers-style freak-rock, and even an unabashed Jesus and Mary Chain rip. What is surprising is how well the band's distinctive elements hold up: The dominating drum beats, the murky, hypnotic production, and especially Angus Andrew's rangy voice. It all adds up to another beautiful curveball from a band that clearly has a lot more in store. --Marc Masters

19: Feist
The Reminder
Not even those who fell under the spell of Leslie Feist's 2004 breakthrough Let It Die could have anticipated a follow-up as full-bodied and satisfying as The Reminder. Where that earlier record was a half-and-half collection of originals and covers that charmed in spite of its wobbly make-up, The Reminder showcased a more ambitious, prolific, and surefooted Feist. And while the sudden ubiquity of the caramel-sweet "1-2-3-4" might make it tempting for curious onlookers to dismiss Feist as indie's all-dancing, "warm fuzzy"-dispensing answer to MOR pop, The Reminder is about as conflicted about love as they get. From the frosty motorik of "My Moon My Man" to the desolate spaces of "The Water" to the tentative celebration of nervy highlight "Past in Present", this is a more complicated and considered record than any Starbucks-invoking kneejerker would have you believe. --Mark Pytlik

18: Kanye West
[Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam]
Kanye West's Graduation is flossy even for a classic "I'm rich, bitch!" hip-hop album. On his 2004 debut, the big-headed Chicagoan famously couldn't pronounce Versace; now he's putting the "Christian in Christian Dior" and dropping Fifth Ave. brands like like Hermes and Goyard into his rhymes without hesitation. But even with the exploding offshore accounts and worldwide arena crashing, Kanye isn't satisfied. Having conquered the pop world on almost every imaginable scale, he challenges himself here by trying to turn a Can song into a stadium anthem about the dark side of groupie-dom. Then he takes on critics of his rhyming acumen by dueting with the best rapper alive-- and besting him. "Wait 'til I get my money right," he chants on "Can't Tell Me Nothing"-- a patently ridiculous statement for a man who has Louis Vuitton's Paris HQ on speed-dial. If Graduation is any indication, Kanye will never be able to simply sit back and relax. That sucks for him... but it's great for everyone else. --Ryan Dombal

17: The National
[Beggars Banquet]
In Matt Berninger's creaking moans and the band's dramatic, dynamic shifts, the National attempt to express nothing short of the all-encompassing dread of 21st century American life. But against all odds, the band keeps pretension in check, and demonstrates why the band has drawn comparisons to such disparate, dissimilar acts as Joy Division and Bruce Springsteen. The influence of the Boss lurks behind at least some of the group's most stirring statements, providing the populist spark that sends "Mistaken for Strangers", "Fake Empire", "Apartment Story", and "Ada" straight to your heart and soul. Except on Boxer the darkness isn't on the edge of town-- it's descended over our heads like a suffocating cloak as the band tries in vain to claw its way out. --Joshua Klein

16: Lil Wayne
Da Drought 3
[Young Money Entertainment]
In which our deranged, slurry-voiced Louisiana rap superstar takes two hours out of his busy schedule to wax eloquent about drugs, guns, sex, cars, monsters, robots, Rocky films, Tonya Harding, and his wicked crush on Ciara. Wayne's been finding his voice over the past couple of years, honing his bizarre croak into a vehicle for intuitive free-association and inexplicable digression. In 2007, he went into overdrive, reportedly recording several new tracks every day for months at a time, and this 2xCD mixtape is both the purest and most wide-ranging display of that voice we've yet heard. Wayne hijacks many of the year's most iconic rap beats and runs crazy-eyed loops around them, batting them around like a kitten with one of those dangly-string toys. When he's on, his demonic hypertext ramblings feel like prophecy-- and with Da Drought 3, that's true of almost every track. --Tom Breihan

15: Justice

[Downtown/Vice/Ed Banger]
An album this contentious and divisive (XLR8R named it one of the best and worst albums of 2007) has to be doing something right. In Justice's case, that "something" is rechanneling house music into something noisier and more aggressive, all claustrophobic compression and double-wide midrange frequencies. Fans and detractors alike claim it's part of a move toward big, dumb rock-friendly posturing, but that overlooks Justice's real strengths: Following in Daft Punk's footsteps by converting the seething abrasion of Human After All into Homework-caliber grooves, turning danceable basslines into joint-torquing spasms, and splitting the difference between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Rick James/Zapp/Cameo digital funk (with a good dose of pop-and-lock electro and Italo-horror prog for emphasis). Plus, it's hard to fault the egalitarianism of any band that includes AC/DC, Shalamar, and Pharoahe Monch in their liner-note thank-yous-- a list notably concluded by two entities: God and MTV. --Nate Patrin

14: Deerhunter
Cryptograms / Fluorescent Grey EP
Few bands kept the blogs busy this year like Deerhunter-- be it for their music, run-ins with muggers, onstage meltdowns, line-up changes, or frontman Bradford Cox's countless questionable blog posts-- but the Atlanta indie rock iconoclasts' second record demanded listeners turn off their computers and switch on their turntables. Recorded sequentially in two separate sessions several months apart, Cryptograms takes full conceptual advantage of vinyl's traditional two-side split to chart a linear progession from psychosis to serenity. The album's ambient interludes serve as crucial mediators, easing the transitions between the equilibrium-upsetting reverberations of "Lake Somerset" and "Octet" to the stripped-down distorto-pop melancholy of "Strange Lights" and "Hazel St.", a disarmingly poignant portrait of a 16-year-old Cox wishing he could fit in with other suburban kids. That Cryptograms' vinyl edition comes packaged with the four-song Fluorescent Grey effectively confirms the EP's status as the album's third side, providing a more lucid look into Cox's psyche. --Stuart Berman

13: Jay-Z
American Gangster
[Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam]
1930s gangsters, 70s Motown, 80s DePalma, 90s Shawn Carter-- it'd be a stretch to call Jay-Z a postmodernist, but few MCs exhibit the kind of passion for wrapping themselves in pop culture history that he does. American Gangster is, of course, an album sparked by the story of an inner-city drug kingpin getting rich off addiction in the midst of a war-torn and recession-plagued America, but it plays more like a retro-tinted version of the same scenarios laid out by your typical present-day hustler epics. That permanency of the grind, and the nationwide-spanning misery that fuels it, could be why Jay-Z fits so comfortably in Frank Lucas' shoes, but he's also entrenched himself as a rap Scorsese: He's now so far past the point of familiarity with the criminal (and artistic) empire story that he can embellish it, elaborate on it, and run virtuosic rings around it as much as he sees fit. --Nate Patrin

12: No Age
Weirdo Rippers
[Fat Cat]
A Los Angeles-based two-piece with a penchant for guitar fuzz, No Age are poised to dominate in 2008: The band (guitarist Randy Randall and vocalist/drummer Dean Spunt) recently signed to Sub Pop, and were extensively profiled for a New Yorker feature on L.A.'s burgeoning art-punk scene, a community anchored-- like No Age-- by the all-ages/alcohol-free performance space The Smell (check it looming on the cover). Weirdo Rippers, their debut long-player, culls material from five vinyl-only EPs (each released on a different label), and offers up a thick, heady haze of gurgling guitars and tip-tapping drums. The record is noisy and disorienting, but beneath all those pedals and hums, Weirdo Rippers is also perfectly soft and melodic: The more you listen, the clearer it gets. --Amanda Petrusich

11: Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala
[Service/Secretly Canadian]
I didn't always love Jens Lekman. I thought I heard too much Magnetic Fields in When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog, too much Belle & Sebastian and too much filler in EP compilation Oh You're So Silent Jens. I was wrong: Both previous LPs have moments of bittersweet, sample-crowned crooning to rival anything on Night Falls Over Kortedala. Lekman's latest, however, is the singer at his most focused, spectacularly succeeding as an artist of wit and heart. Wry storytelling plus an Avalanches-like propensity for pop theft help the gentle crooner bring us to his Iraqi hairstylist's beauty salon, a tidy Swedish countryside, or the dinner table of a semi-closeted lesbian friend's conservative father-- crossing decades (sometimes continents) of recorded sound. "I have a love for this world/ A kind of love that will break my heart/ A kind of love that reconstructs and remodels the past," Lekman sings. There's your 1,000-word review in one squeeze-box-backed epigram. --Marc Hogan

10: Burial
With Burial's 2006 debut, it helped to have some investment in dubstep; Untrue is for everyone. Or at least anyone who's ever walked home alone on some late night, soaking in the creaky sounds of a city asleep. No album in 2007 conveyed so much loneliness through the sheer palpability of its atmosphere. To listen to Untrue is to be thrust inside a world whose blurred dimensions are marked by hisses, crackles, and indeterminate noises somewhere in the distance. But the record will be best remembered for its ethereal singers, beamed in from another plane and wailing away into the void. Their voices, which are key to the record's wide appeal, still don't work quite as expected. Rather than humanizing or softening the stark backdrop, they reinforce the music's sense of alienation. They're the voices you miss; the ones you'll probably never hear again. --Mark Richardson

09: The Field
From Here We Go Sublime
Philosophers and poets use the notion of the sublime to capture the feeling that comes from witnessing something so vast and stunning that language is rendered moot. Axel Willner, on his solo debut From Here We Go Sublime, has seemingly taken it upon himself to do just that. His mixture of quickly repetitive glitches, deep house, and lush washes of sound may be far from revolutionary, but his synthesis is virtuosic: The melodies from "Silent" and "Across the Ice" consist solely of numbed vowel sounds; 10-minute epic "The Deal" floats an ethereal Elisabeth Fraser-sounding vocal over the softest, slightest rhythmic variations; and the title track exhales the Flamingos' doo-wop vocals, which hover and disappear like puffs of chilled breath. From Here We Go Sublime was released on the cusp of this past spring, but it sounds even better as winter tightens its grip. --Eric Harvey

08: Battles
You know the costume parties where everyone gets lazy or cops out-- bad sweaters, sunglasses, funny hats-- and then someone shows up in a full-on gorilla suit? That would be Battles, the unlikely instrumental supergroup featuring four serious musicians from far-flung backgrounds who congealed into one elastic, impishly inhuman groove machine on this year's Mirrored. Displaying humor and charm without words, yet still feeling authorless and monolithic, the album calls attention only to its machinations: The most endurance-testing riffs, the most tweaked vocals, the tallest crash cymbals. Other artists preened, strutted, crooned, and sauntered to the top in 2007, but from their jaw-dropping half-man/half-laptop/all-amazing compositions down to their design sense, no one showed up to the party as prepared as Battles. --Jason Crock

07: Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Spoon's sixth album serves as a reaffirmation of some of the group's greatest gifts: concision, efficiency, and an indomitable knack for doing more with less. It's not that Britt Daniel has less to say: Even the most deceptively spare songs (like the atmospheric hiccup "The Ghost of You Lingers") pack so many ideas into their brief spans that they don't just bear close listening but grow in impact with each successive one. The group's pairing of melody and ruthless economy injects idiosyncratic pop songs like "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" with such wonderfully weird and inventive craft that reveling in their ingenuity and tapping your toes become inextricably linked activities, making the disc the perfect mind/body split: blowing the former while moving the latter. --Joshua Klein

06: Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam
Whimsy is a trait best served in small doses, and no question Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam is steeped in it. But what tops the group's kaleidoscopic swirl of surreal strangeness is its sense of sonic wonder, relishing the unlimited potential of colliding sounds in the sampler age. Strawberry Jam shapes runaway ideas into something greater than the sum of their mystery parts. A perfect companion to AC member Panda Bear's Person Pitch, the record finds Avey Tare taking the reins and shaping chaotic songs like "Peacebone", "For Reverend Green", and "Chores" into twisted pop gems. The only missing piece of the puzzle is a sold-out crowd singing and dancing along to each blurry, burbling, deliriously blissed-out song like they're not half as bizarre as they really are. --Joshua Klein

05: Of Montreal
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Whereas most people seek professional counseling or self-help gurus, Kevin Barnes remedied his relationship and depression woes by pulling his head out of the psych-pop clouds and making the best album of his life. This therapeutic LP also holds a paradoxical distinction as Barnes' most challenging and most widely received work to date. Sure, there's this Georgie Fruit alter-ego running amok, ripping off Ziggy Stardust, interchangeably wishing sex and violence upon women, and frightening off many long-time Of Montreal die-hards. But behind all the glam and soul theatrics, Barnes just wants to talk love and sadness. Despite wearing his heart on a rhinestone sleeve, he humbly begs for chemical stability, religious epiphany, and any other means of dragging himself out of the dumps. Amazingly, amidst the emotional havoc, Barnes' melodic clarity remains as sharp as ever, making Hissing Fauna a perfect storm of catharsis and craftsmanship. --Adam Moerder

04: Radiohead
In Rainbows
The fact that OK Computer-era holdover "Nude" finally ended up on In Rainbows is both ironic and fitting. The chorus is soggy even by Radiohead standards: "Don't get any big ideas/ They're not gonna happen." Over the last decade, Radiohead have come up with so many grand schemes, and nearly all of them came to pass. In 2000, they released an album that subverted and warped everything that made them famous-- somehow making them even more famous. This year, they decided to let fans decide how much they wanted to pay for their album-- and, if reports are to be believed, ended up collecting more money from the release than they could've earned from a major-label deal. Seems like Radiohead have a knack for these big ideas. Then again, the music on the new album consists of much smaller notions and subtle pleasures.
In Rainbows is classic Radiohead, but it's hardly a retread. The paradoxes don't end there; it's easy-going but tense, comfortable and anxious, fatalistic and hopeful. During the album's most cathartic release, on "All I Need", Thom Yorke wails, "It's all right/ It's all wrong," while stuck in some blissful limbo. The big ideas, whether momentous or ethereal, are still in strong supply, and yes, they're still happening. --Ryan Dombal

03: M.I.A.
Kala's music mirrors its politics: A seething economy of sampling, borrowing, and sharp deals. Continent-crossing pop is still M.I.A.'s M.O., but her second album adds time travel-- reaching back to childhood Bollywood hits on the rapturous "Jimmy" and rave memories on "XR2", then forward to a world of cheap AKs, insurrection, and "selfish little roamers." M.I.A. believes the children are our future, and though the bush gang on "Mango Pickle Down River" are cuter, the ones singing on "Paper Planes" are fixing to kill.
That song's Clash sample mixes melancholy into the beats, but most of Kala builds on Arular's thrill-power. "If you're dead from the waist down it's easy staying down", she raps on "World Town", so constant joyful motion is the answer-- a new noise, dance, slogan, joke, or hook every half minute. This M.I.A. is poppier, noisier, riskier, and more significant than before. Even if she's only half-right about the world, then you and I are probably fucked, but our slide into chaos could have no more remarkable soundtrack. --Tom Ewing

02: LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver
You play some rock, you do some drugs, you hit the clubs, you make some beats, you're young. Eventually you get older and your back hurts if you're out too late and you get a real job, start doing "unplugged" sets, and sell off your collection except for the good Bowie records. Or: You're James Murphy, who realized that growing (the fuck) up could make his rock deeper and his dance music bolder, and that actually there's no reason for them not to be the same thing. Of course, the second LCD album is informed by the records Murphy devoured as a kid, from Steve Reich to Yello, but it's also fresh enough to raise chills: angry, elegiac, hilarious, totally idiomatic, sequenced as well as any LP this decade, and given both mass and momentum by his perspective and experience. I cannot wait to hear the records he's making when he's 55. --Douglas Wolk

01: Panda Bear
Person Pitch
[Paw Tracks]
When it came out this spring, Person Pitch seemed like a soundtrack to the thaw. Coming two-and-a-half years after Young Prayer, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox)'s spare and quietly devastating predecessor, the new album brought with it the vague expectation of that first warm breeze. Summer hit, and the record delivered on its initial promise: Lennox has said that he wanted to capture in sound the feeling of sunlight in Lisbon, and someday, when we're all old and senile, we may erroneously recall visiting Portugal in 2007. The music's oranges and reds and golds were perfect for the fall, and now that the days are short and the ground icy, Person Pitch sounds like something we'll be curling up with in hibernation. It remains a fixture.
Compared to our No. 1 album last year, the Knife's Silent Shout, Person Pitch is less likely to be a social experience. This is a headphones record. Still, despite its inward focus, Person Pitch doesn't feel closed-off. Sometimes when I'm listening, I imagine what it might have been like to make it. I picture Lennox at his computer borrowing sounds and samples from odd places and shaping them into something personal and true. It seems like something to aspire to. With its bright harmonies, loops that veer from lulling to ecstatic, and reverb that lends each sound a hazy twinkle, Person Pitch feels friendly and conversational, if beautifully streaked with psychedelic disorientation. But mostly, it just feels overwhelmingly positive and unfailingly generous. --Mark Richardson

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