The Best Music Of 2007

I had a lot of time to listen to music this year, and with the help of NPR’s wonderful All Songs Considered podcast and certain websites, I managed to keep up with what was going on in pop music in 2007, even in France (where the majority of pop music is English-language anyway). Here’s an opportunity to spread the joy—my ten favorite albums of the year.

This list represents the music that appealed to me most and stayed in constant play on my iPod and stereo while I cooked, exercised, or just shuffled around the apartment. This is the soundtrack of my French year.

Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird

No record got more spin than this one. Andrew Bird manages to be progressive without losing his humanism, staying bound within a soft-rock/singer-songwriter classification, but stretching it as far as it can go. Bird expands his rock trio by looping pizzicato violin riffs and ghostly whistles over his rock guitar, and never lets things get stale. Melodies build and shift and the action stops and starts and flows in and out of itself. It helps, too, that Bird is a smart, funny lyricist, and his pleasant, if unremarkable, voice can be at the forefront while melding perfectly with the instrumentation and harmonies. Beautiful stuff.

Back To Black by Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson made the best-sounding album of the year with this, a modern classic soul record that can hold up against the best of the old stuff. The credit falls equally to each player. Winehouse has a great, smoky voice and terrific songwriting skills; her funny, modern soul plays like a blog entry (You made me miss the Slick Rick gig / … / Can’t believe you played me out like that), but the arrangements and Winehouse’s seasoned, bottomless voice make it timeless.

Good as she is, it’s Ronson that makes the record great. Everything sounds phenomenal, from the on-target horns to the prominent drum kit. Listen to Winehouse’s good-if-not-great stuff on her debut Frank and the second disc of the Back To Black Deluxe Edition (both released in the U.S. last month) to hear what a good producer can do for a capable artist.

Neon Bible by Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s Funeral is my favorite record of the last decade, and the band put on the best concert I’ve ever attended (good enough that having David Bowie play on the encore wasn’t even the highest point). There were high expectations for their next album. That sort of anticipation can kill an artwork for me, and I admit it took a few weeks for me to warm up to this record.

It’s a more ambitious album than the previous one, which was powered entirely by youthful gusto and tearful passion for life, love, and all that. Neon Bible never reaches those same heights, maybe because it’s now aiming for them. It’s as though the band, having discovered its own talent on Funeral, now wants to use its powers for good. While never as sanctimonious as U2, it’s still a little overblown. I miss the raggedness.

Still, I can’t deny the band’s urgency and power. Even if it’s not Funeral, it’s better than nearly everything else.

The Reminder by Feist

Leslie Feist makes rich, sensual, and meaningful pop music that also manages to be catchy and contagiously danceable, as evidenced by her lovely music videos. Few other records had singles as solid as “1 2 3 4”, “My Moon My Man”, or “I Feel It All”, songs that can appeal to a mass audience even as they remain close and personal. The album’s first track, “So Sorry”, cut through my own life so neatly I had to welcome its devastation.

I love unapologetic pop made by strong women (a group that includes Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, and Jenny Lewis). Their voices are vital in a world crowded by men and bland princesses. Feist easily moves into that company with this record, the year’s coolest, most sophisticated pop album.

Once by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová

Even if I hadn’t seen the film this music comes from, I’d love each of the songs on this record for their quiet intensity and soulful longing, music composed by the lonely for the lonely, who are the only people who really understand love songs.

Glen Hansard has a powerful, affecting voice that plays nicely over the acoustic guitar, piano, and Markéta Irglová’s soft harmonies. It sounds heartbroken, poor, and Irish, and the reason the movie worked so well is because we believe it. This album hits right at the romantic heart of you, whether that heart’s been recently broken or never used.

And special note must go to the song “Gold” by the group Interference, which wins the Astral Weeks Award for best Irish romantic violin song of the year.

The Next Five

Challengers by The New Pornographers
In Rainbows by Radiohead
Under The Black Light by Rilo Kiley
Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Kala by M.I.A.

Honorable Mention

Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys
The Flying Club Cup and Lon Gisland by Beirut
Black-Out by Britney Spears
Untrue by Burial
Some Loud Thunder by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Super Taranta! by Gogol Bordello
Sound Of Silver and 45:33 by LCD Soundsystem
Alright, Still by Lily Allen
West by Lucinda Williams
The Stage Names by Okkervil River
Boxer by The National


Coleen said…
glad to see you are so into writing now that you have pushed my dedication have m.i.a.?? im dying for it...great words for amy, couldnt have said it better myself
Good stuff, Reilly. Been listening to In Rainbows & Back to Black a lot these days....

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