When it comes down to it, 2007 so far has been kind of strange. A lot of bands that I was anticipating new albums from seemed to have released stale efforts. New bands and some classic artists of the glory days of alternative have stepped up to the plate to bring the goods of musicology to the table. One thing still gets me is the fact that a lot of artists I love have released stuff and, well, frankly I just don’t know if I will ever get to listening to it. So far, I’ve realized a lot of the albums I thought were new from this year are actually late releases from last year. Regardless of the weak efforts, the lackluster start to what I thought would be a year ripe with good tunes, here is my best of 2007 so far.
10. The Sharp Things- A Moveable Feast- A valiant recording, this hodge-podge of baroque rock and straight up pop is definitely an indie rock fans dream. Overall a well structured album, The New York based collective writes great songs that will be some of the best tracks offered this year. The album features two short tracks from Franz Nicolay of the Hold Steady playing accordion. It’s mild mannered and laid back indie rock that doesn’t ever get too pretentious.
Standout Tracks- Don’t Hold Hope, Through With Love, Don’t You Leave Me This Way
9. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start- Worst Band Name Ever- The boys from South Jersey who like to write nerdy math rock with silly lyrics have released another stellar disc. Following up their Girls Names EP and Internet EP, Worst Band Name Ever is a 10-song romp of just a little under a half an hour of music. With lyrics like “If you think making out on a pool table is hard, then try dating girls with no car”, you know these guys enjoy the sillier side of what their music typically sounds like. Steve Poponi’s blissful vocals soar over the ultra nerdy time signatures of jaunty guitars and drum beats. A short, sweet disc, Up Up Down Down deserves some props.
Standout Tracks- Gas Station Hair, I’ll Thank You Later, Boise
8. Fountains of Wayne- Traffic and Weather- Not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for Fountains of Wayne. When it comes to pop music, FOW writes decent songs. Catchy riffs and lyrics with funny stories, Traffic and Weather is another good addition to the bands catalogue of pop rock. A band that never really wants to be taken seriously, but often times gets hated on for being goofy, takes another turn at silly, but ultimately relatable stories basted in catchy rock grooves.
Standout Tracks- Yolanda Hayes, This Better Be Good, Someone to Love
7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Baby 81- After a stint in folky, Dylanesque songs, BRMC is back to what they did before, strapping back on their electric guitars and writing great classic rock songs. Borderline shoe gazing rock songs and the raspy vocal performances reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain add some of the best rock and roll tunes the band has put out. 2005’s Howl was great and all, but it’s not to see the band back to their old tricks.
Standout Tracks- 666 Conducer, Cold Wind, Weapon of Choice
6. An American Chinese- Panic Pilgrim EP- Is it bad for me to claim that my cousin’s bands EP is one of this years best musical excursions? I’d say no. Just like many other indie rock bands like Tapes N Tapes or The Coral., An American Chinese writes catchy tunes with Beatlesque melodies and jaunty structures. Sadly, only four songs (plus a bonus alternate version of the standout track “No No Like That”), it’s still a good taste of what’s to come (which is a full length album sometime in the near future.) Definitely check out the band’s myspace page to get a glimpse of one of South Jersey’s finest new acts.
Standout Tracks- No No Like That, Jersey Claw
5. Wilco- Sky Blue Sky- Tweedy cleaned-up is not necessarily the best thing for Wilco as they lost some of their edge. However, the no bones about it honesty his songs have turned into has lead to a lighter side of Wilco that is welcomed. Never will fans of Wilco be satisfied after getting a masterpiece such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The songs on Sky Blue Sky are so ripe with honest lyrics and clean guitar riffs that it’s hard to see why some fans are disappointed. Songs like “Impossible Germany” still have the sprawling jams that any song off of A Ghost is Born could offer, and yet minus all the spacey distortion, it sounds even better then some of those songs. Wilco offers up yet another slice of Americana that any music fan should enjoy.
Standout Tracks- Impossible Germany, Side With the Seeds, Shake It Off
4. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible- The sophomoric effort from the Canadian wonder group is nothing out of the ordinary. With grandiose arrangements including a giant pipe organ and other baroque instruments, Arcade Fire continues to soldier on with their pomp and circumstance blend of indie rock. What is lagging a little bit in this album is the sense of urgency that their first record had. A little bit darker of a tone then Funeral, Neon Bible is a definite good follow up showing that although a little bloated at times, the songwriting is still solid, catchy and fun to listen to.
Standout Tracks- Intervention, Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations, Keep the Car Running
3. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away- Finally arriving, the third effort from the New Mexican based Shins is definitely a good one. Although it has some lagging moments, when this album shines, it truly shines. The album of dreamy pop songs based upon lead singer James Mercer’s rampant insomnia is standard Shins fair. Coming off the heals of their radical success thanks to Zach Braff launching them into infinity with his film Garden State, it’s nice to hear that the songs don’t try to pander to anyone but follows a comfortable progression for one of today’s finest pop rock bands. Although The Shins don’t offer anything groundbreaking or new here, they still offer.
Standout Tracks- Sea Legs, Australia, Split Needles
2. Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond- The triumphant return of Dinosaur Jr. is one of the most exciting rock records of the decade. Ten years since J Masics last recorded under this fossil of a band and 20 years since its original line-up last recorded, Beyond packs a heavy nostalgic punch. From start to finish, Masics, Barlow and Murph do what they do best—create an atmosphere of chaos and catchy riffs. The guitar soloing on this album is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The trio shows that rock and roll has a chance to survive the tests of time. There isn’t any filler on this disc and every song soldier’s on at a furious pace.
Standout Tracks- Pick Me Up, Crumble, This is All I Came To Do
1. The Earlies- The Enemy Chorus- Psychedelic rock is making its comeback. Thanks to the likes of the Flaming Lips and now The Earlies, the psychedelic sound of the late 60’s is back, but with a twist of sophistication. The Enemy Chorus has some of the best arrangements from a pop record in a long while. With a great woodwind and brass section piercing through the swirling synthesizers and marching drums, the diversity of sound this album brings to the plate will leave you refreshed. Following up their acclaimed These Were the Earlies disc from 2004 took a lot of time, but the long wait was well worth it. Unlike a lot of bands as of late, the word Sophmore Slump could never come into the picture here. With Beach Boys harmonies, intricate percussion sections and diversity, The Enemy Chorus is by far the standout record thus far.
Standout Tracks- Foundation and Earth, The Ground We Walk On, Burn the Liars, When the Wind Blows
By Paul Tsikitas