The ubiquitous top ten - end of the year - favorite records lists.
We've got them, just like the other guys. Ours may or may not be
better. Check it out and see what you might have missed this year!
You might agree with our writers, you might disagree. Aren't opinions
Embo Blake - Music Writer/singing
My favorite records of 2007
1. Dwight Yoakam - Dwight Sings Buck
Seriously folks, this is a no-brainer. It might as well be called
Dwight Is Buck
but it is a really brilliant tribute to the Bakersfield
sound and the man who created it, from the man who helped to keep
it alive. Now if Pete Anderson would record Pete Plays Don,
we'd have a great thing going.
2. The Perishers - Victorious
Whether or not you've heard the past offerings from this band, do
yourself a favor and at least listen to "Never Bloom Again".
This record is possibly life-changing, and easy to listen to, like
the best work from Snow Patrol.
3. Ian Ball - Who Goes There
I suppose in the absence of a new Gomez record, I'll settle
for a solo record from Ian
I really miss Ben's voice
and Tom's unique additions, but this is a solid record of some
pretty fine songs. Not as musically diverse as the Go', but real good
4. Lucinda Black Bear - Capo My Heart And Other Bear Songs
C. Gibbs is a fantastic songwriter and singer
new project takes things into a much lower and finer register than
his previous solo album. I dig this darkness and hope that it continues
unabated for a long, long time.
5. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
This is a weird pairing, and almost doesn't work for much of the record
but the three or four tracks that shine, shine bright enough to eclipse
almost every other record this year. An instant classic it would seem,
and I'd have to agree.
6. Mission UK - God Is A Bullet
Wayne Hussey and Co. return with the best Mission record since
Masque. The interim records have been a bit half-powerful, but this
is truly a return to form with some dervish guitar-lines and powerful
vocals from the arch-duke of goth
still got some goth, too,
probably due to the participation of some old friends, including original
member Simon Hinkler. Now, what's Andrew got?
7. Porter Wagoner - Wagonmaster
This collection of songs is solid and really shows that Wagoner held
onto his gruff and rumbly voice right until the end. He passed away
last fall and I hope we will not soon forget the man's musical legacy,
including this new record which is haunting in a similar way to Johnny
Cash's last record.
8. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
No matter how hard I tried to leave this off my top records list,
it works its way back in. I'm not a tremendous fan of the direction
Sam has taken his music, but it still beats the tar out of
just about every other indie folk/rock thing going these days. Heartfelt
and powerful, but not in the quiet way I prefer.
9. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
J. Mascis returns with the best record since the inimitable
Whatever's Cool With Me. He's resurrected most of the original band,
and it shows. These guys are once more not subtle at all, but noisy
and melodic and beautiful all at once.
10. The Sadies - New Seasons
The Sadies rock. I mean, you've heard them, right? Go get their new
record if you haven't yet. It's packed full of fun and love
all to the tune of some of the finest hootenanny-inducing psychedelic
alt. country the world has ever seen. Seriously, go buy it.
The best shoegaze that I can recall in 2007
1. The BrotherKite - Moonlight Race EP
While it took a long time for The BrotherKite to get around to releasing
their last couple CDs, they've been well worth the wait. On the
Moonlight Race EP the band moves a bit away from the Beach
Boys-ish vocals and re-embrace their noisy wall of guitar beginnings,
sounding once more more like Slowdive or Ride. The exception
is the amazing alternate (acoustic) version of "Hopeless And
2. Adam Franklin - Bolts Of Melody
Ad is not really making pure 'gazer music anymore, but this album
can't be included anywhere else. The father of groove'gaze hits hard
with his new set of songs
and recalls the past glories easily
now, where's that promised tour?
3. Cat-A-Tac - Past Lies And Former Lives
Denver hasn't known music this great or beautiful since The Czars
Pure traditional shoegaze with a hint of its own personality makes
for some very pleasurable listening. Clairecords needs to sign them
quickly before Robin Guthrie finds out.
4. A Shoreline Dream - Coastal EP
Another Denver band that makes good with a bit of 'gazey stuff happening.
Powerful drumming and droning guitars make for the perfect backdrop
to the buried vocals and ambience-enriched sound. Really nice teaser
for what I hope is a great next record.
5. The Stevenson Ranch Davidians - Psalms, Hymns, &
Old school dreampop that will make your mind wander and wonder with
its nice old school sound
of course, it falls a little closer
to the Spiritualized side of things, so all you noise rockers
sit aside for this dance.
6. Soft - Gone Faded
This band came from nowhere as far as I can tell
sound like a gentler My Bloody Valentine, maybe sprinkled
with some early Slowdive. Great guitar sounds and solid drumming
make for a great record and this is classic stuff.
Best songs of 2007
The Perishers "Never Bloom Again"
I'm telling you once more - listen to this song. It is simply amazing,
and simple enough to be understood by anyone.
Snow Patrol "Signal Fire"
If you haven't heard this track from the Spiderman 3 soundtrack,
you are missing out. But to really enjoy it, check out the video on
YouTube. It's so great.
Lastly, everyone needs to see Amazing
Journey: The Story Of The Who DVD. I
just can't stop watching it. Among the great treasures scattered throughout
the DVD is footage of The High Numbers performing
that and the Keith Moon footage
makes being in front of the TV well worth it.
Gareth Bowles - Music Writer/abundant
Another great year for music from artists new
and old. The only downside was trying to listen to everything I wanted
to hear - but sleep is overrated anyway...
Shack - The Corner of Miles and Gil
A new album from Liverpool's Head brothers would be a major
event in any year, but Corner makes my top spot by also being
the best Shack record yet. A deliciously swirling, heady brew of wistful
ballads, psychedelic guitars and impenetrable Scouse accents - worth
every penny of the import price.
Augie March - Moo You Bloody Choir
Another one initially only available on import, from Australia
this time (but there's now a US version on Jive / Zoomba). Augie March
have a healthy following and a major label deal back home, but are
well under the radar over here; a real shame, given that their complex
and intricate dream pop should make fans of Jeff Buckley or
Rufus Wainwright feel right at home.
Wire - Read & Burn 03
OK, kids, here's a band you might actually have heard of. Legendary
art-punk pioneers continue their 30 year career with a fine EP that's
a taster of a full length record to come in 2008. If the songs here
are anything to go by, the new album will be an updated and improved
154 in the same way that 2002's Send reinvented Pink
Astrid Williamson - Day Of The Lone Wolf
Third and best album for the ex Goya Dress front woman,
and first with a US release. A truly gorgeous album of sophisticated,
melodic and distinctly adult-themed tunes.
Grinderman - Grinderman
Nick Cave and a few stray Bad Seeds cut one of the
surprise albums of the year - a set of grinding and downright dirty
tunes that hark back to The Birthday Party in a much more direct
way than Cave's recent albums. There's a new Bad Seeds album due next
year; let's hope they didn't get quite all of the Grinderman grime
out of their systems before they finished it.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
BRMC went back to the noisy, shoegaze influenced electric music
of their first two albums after taking a left turn into acoustic roots
with 2005's Howl. Baby 81 got a lot of disappointed
reviews with the general feeling that the band hadn't advanced, but
I say to heck with it if the formula is this good to start with. Put
this one on and blast down your local highway with the windows open
- within the speed limit, of course ...
The Clientele - God Save the Clientele
When you get home from blasting BRMC, sit down and mellow out
with this wonderful, dreamy collection of tunes that will dig its
way into your subconscious and refuse to let go.
Crowded House - Time on Earth
Another in the long line of surprise reunions in recent years;
New Zealand's masters of intelligent yet commercial pop came back
with an album that fits right into their catalogue as if they'd never
Fields - Everything Last Winter
Like Augie March, I was turned onto these English masters of folk-tinged
noise pop by the ever reliable Big Takeover magazine. This is the
band's first full length following last year's 7 from the Village
EP; the standout, MBV-esque "Song For The Fields"
still holds up as a future shoegaze classic, but the rest of the songs
hold their ground too.
Linda Thompson - Versatile Heart
A rare jewel from one of the true legends of British folk music.
Ex-husband Richard also released a fine album this year, but
for me Versatile Heart, with Linda's fine songwriting and alternately
warm or heartbreaking vocals, is the one to have.
Spiritualized - Acoustic Mainlines
This one is a bit of a cheat as it's not an actual recording (although
you can find quite a few unofficial MP3s out there on the Web), but
Jason Pierce's live reinventions of his Spiritualized and Spacemen
3 recordings were a highlight of the year. Acoustic guitar, keyboards,
strings and a gospel choir replaced the electric maelstrom of the
originals to reveal the true beauty of the melodies and heartbreaking
directness of the lyrics.
David DeVoe - Music Editor/faultless
1. Zookeeper - Becoming All Things
Chris Simpson returns with a full length that fulfills the
promise of the self-titled EP from last year. Like The Band
and The Gloria Record all rolled into one crazy collective.
2. Luka Bloom - Tribe
Luka Bloom continues to impress with some fine songwriting and the
continuing evolution of his musical sound that incorporates more
and more world music. Awesome.
3. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests Of
Though I agree it is a slow burner of a record, it has come to be
Ritter's finest album yet. The mythology and literacy of this young
man never fail to astound me. Awesome.
4. Son Volt - The Search
While not taking the track that I was hoping for after the incredible
Gob Iron record, Jay Farrar turns out another set of rocking
songs that move into new sonic territory
Memphis soul included.
5. Sister Vanilla - Little Pop Rock
The Jesus And Mary Chain with the Reid sister
what could be better? Almost like a po-mo Brady Bunch... but really,
really good. Awesome.
6. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
The only thing that comes close to The Jesus And Mary Chain is BRMC
and their new album is a fine juxtaposition of the amazing folkish
sound of Howl with the original ferocity of their debut.
7. Glen Hansard - Once original soundtrack
Glen Hansard is my second favorite Irishman
but possibly the
most powerful songwriter of my generation
and now maybe he
won't be so incredibly wrongly overlooked. Awesome.
8. The Cowboy Junkies - At The End Of Paths Taken
While not as defining as almost every other Junkies' record, this
is a great collection of songs that fall a bit on the more self-reflective
beautiful songs about the day to day. I don't know how
Michael continues to write such great songs, but he does.
9. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Tweedy finally gets his head screwed back on right-ways and
forgets about being John Lennon for a set of amazing folky,
alt. country-ish songs with a band that finally sounds like a band
again. Possibly the best thing the band has recorded since Summerteeth.
10. Dean & Britta - Back Numbers
Not quite the glory of early Luna, but beautiful and highly
melodic nonetheless. We are all getting older and Wareham
ages more gracefully than I'd have ever imagined possible. Awesome.
Susan Frances - Music Writer/word-tinker
1. Shelly Bhushan - Picking Daisies
Shelly Bhushan is a budding young singer-songwriter who began calling
New York City her home in 2000. Her first full length album Picking
Daisies is perfect with vocal melodies that display gorgeous summits
and penetrating lows and music that will keep you tapping your feet
and enjoying the sonic escapes.
2. Mrnorth - Desire & Fear
Mrnorth is a modern rock quartet from Boston, Massachusetts whose
debut album Desire & Fear has roaring guitar cuts and a
thrilling bass and drum coordination that bares similarities to 30
Seconds To Mars and Theory Of A Deadman. They incorporate
orchestral elements and classic piano sweeps into the mix which enhance
the melodic rock brew brilliantly.
3. Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly Angry Mob
This famous Brit-pop quartet returned this year with their sophomore
release Yours Truly Angry Mob showing the band's charismatic
harmonies chained to dance-club hooks and catchy synth-pop loops latched
to squeezing guitar effects with Brit-pop genetics. It's a fun album
without making a repetition of their debut album Employment.
4. Nurses - Hangin' Nothin' But Our Hands Down
Nurses is an art-pop quartet who fuses poppy theatrics with classic
rock, gypsy-punk and orchestral tones on their album Hangin' Nothin'
But Our Hands Down. Their chorus line rhythmic kicks work in conjunction
with the orchestral dynamics and synth-rock skits to make for some
exuberant sonic bursts. It's stylish, cabaret-ish, and ear-poppingly
5. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Lily Allen's debut album Alright, Still put Jamaican-reggae
and jazz-ska back as a contender in the pop/rock dominion. Her cockney
accent mixed in with hip swaying, calypso dance beats and pulsating
synths pull you off your feet and onto the dance floor. The songs
have a fluid funkiness with infectious jangly percussions and vocals
that move to the beat.
6. Great Northern - Trading Twilight For Daylight
This ambient pop/neo folk quartet from California put out a debut
album that is filled with elegantly sequenced harmonies and dreamy
soundscapes that take you away to a serene state alight with cushiony
tones and ethereal atmospherics. This is another album that you can
take with any place and always enjoy it.
7. Kate Havnevik - Melankton
This British beauty has both a classic and contemporary synth-pop
ambient fare. Her spellbinding vocals have an entrancing feminine
lure and the celestial swirls are aurally pleasing. The music transcends
time and music genres with a dance-pop vibrancy and melodic crescendos
galore. Kate Havnevik successfully delivered on this musical journey.
8. The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning Of And All Things
Regarding Ms. Leading
The Dear Hunter is the project of singer and multi-instrumentalist
Casey Crescenzo. With The Dear Hunter, Crescenzo proves his
stripes as not only a talented songwriter, composer, arranger, and
producer but also a creditable force in the prog-rock echelon. His
second studio album Act II: The Meaning Of And All Things Regarding
Ms. Leading is a cornucopia of chamber-pop elements with hard
rock, jazz, and country intonations. It is an ambitious project that
really shows Crescenzo's passion for writing compositions that use
his talents and allow him to investigate them deeper.
9. Cedarwell - Gamboge
Cedarwell is a folk rock/alternative country duo from Wisconsin who
produced a spill canvas of breezy melodies and easy riding rhythms
perfect for those long drives into the great blue yonder, where the
only sound you want to hear are your innermost thoughts and enthralling
music to keep you company. It's good ol' fashion country and fringes
of modern folk-rock welded into one.
10. ALO - Roses & Clover
ALO is a soul-rock/Baroque folk quartet from Santa Barbara, California
whose 5th studio album Roses & Clover is nostalgic SoCal
pop and contemporary adult rock with a catchy feel good ride. Their
rhythmic patterns and contemporary guitar rock palette is comparable
to Smash Mouth. The album's pleasing esthetics are engaging
for a worldly audience and sound like a modern day Bruce Hornsby.
Rachel Fredrickson - Music Writer/superhero
This year there was such a wealth of amazing
music released that choosing only 10 albums was practically impossible.
I toiled for hours, to bring you my list of top 10 for 2007 (in no
particular order, because they'd all be number 1 for me):
1. Chiodos - Bone Palace Ballet
Taking over the music scene with incredibly short shorts and incredible
2. Anberlin - Cities
Third album's a charm. Anberlin finally found their rhythm and it's
undeniably catchy. Perhaps a little more serious and harder than the
others, yet still amazing.
3. Sick Puppies - Dressed Up As Life
Hate the name, love the band. Between a chick bassist, insanely deep
themes and angry hardcore music, this band has more than enough to
4. Madina Lake - From Them, Through Us, To You
Average age is older than practically every new band in their genre.
But with age comes knowledge. Knowledge of how to make some excellent
music composed of clever hooks and drama-filled choruses.
5. Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Rock veterans you could say. Now on their 6th studio album, they've
seemed to get their style down solid. With musicianship that grows
in each album, their latest one has some of the most complex guitar
I've ever heard.
6. Radiohead - In Rainbows
What can you really say about Radiohead? Nothing can top Radiohead,
except more Radiohead. They're brilliant in every sense of the word.
If you really listen to comments on the new album, they always refer
to previous works. And that's just how Radiohead is.
7. Thrice - The Alchemy Index I & II: Fire & Water
There's a story behind this one and it involves two other albums yet
to be released. III & IV: Earth & Air. However, the
first two give us a glimpse into what Thrice is doing with their music.
Water floats you away to another place, more melodic and almost
enchanting than the normal sound. Then Fire snatches you back
to a reality that's a little harsher.
8. Linkin Park - Minutes To Midnight
Besides about two
.maybe three songs; this is not the typical
Linkin Park that everyone has come to know and love. Though Minutes
To Midnight could almost be called beautiful, we haven't lost
our "In The End" friends, but we've got some new stuff to
get used to.
9. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
Trent Reznor's mind is a scary place. And he was definitely
taking a chance when he wrote a record criticizing the government.
Nonetheless, this is the kind of music you have to listen to more
than once to really appreciate. And once you do, you're hooked. Rock
took a psychedelic turn with this one.
10. The Used - Lies For The Liars
Again, third album's a charm. Or rather freakin' awesome cd! Lies
For The Liars is easily my favorite album from The Used. Their
emo morphed into all out crazy alternative rock. Between the minds
of Quinn and Bert there's a parallel universe of music
that is unlike any other. From there, came this album.
Gus the talking mute
The best albums I heard in 2007.
Chesterfield Kings - Psychedelic Sunrise
The Kings are the only band to emerge from the 80's garage revival
cutout bin, issuing a release about every four years. They've shown
their musical superiority in the genre, but Little Steven's
surprisingly clean production pushed the sound to unexpected brilliance.
This is the Sgt. Pepper of garage rock.
Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
The jangled, angled mathcore algorithms present on Calculating
Infinity join the occasional forays into actual singing Miss
Machine introduced. Vocal rage shears away at the complicated
rhythms enough to reveal a tuneful skeleton, which disappears back
into chaos. But most jarring is the space-rock "Mouth Of Ghosts"
and the falsettoed "Black Bubblegum."
The Guts - Sometimes You Can't Win
33 songs' worth of Screaching Weasel-styled sugar-free pop-punk
inhabit sock-hops, broken hearts and murdered mates. The vocals are
half Green Day, half Dead Milkmen. "Mystery Dance"
is the greatest dance song since The Fall's "Deadbeat
Descendant." Throw in a couple covers, Stone Pony's "Different
Drum" and Rolling Stones' "Out of Time."
Mick Harvey - Two of Diamonds
His first solo efforts traded Bad Seeds' homicidal tendencies
for a fixation on booze. Now Harvey distances himself from both demons
with a subtler Scott Walker darkness. The originals are as
fine as he writes for Nick Cave, lovingly crafted covers of
Triffids, Emmylou Harris and Crime And The City Solution.
Richard Hawley - Lady's Bridge
The former Pulp/Longpigs guitarist has a taste for pop's
golden age of croon. Unlike the Velour Fog - Michael Buble,
Hawley errs on the side of Perry Como. Singing smooth as his
Les Paul licks, his flawless arrangements flow fresh from yesteryear's
recipes. Not an iota of irony here, just a timeless legacy.
The Horrors - Strange House
The U.K. neo-goths take a page from The Birthday Party. Not
just Nick Cave's frantic, avante punk pioneers, but Harold Pinter's
disturbed, claustrophobic psychodrama. Confidently neurotic, they
emit an irresistible threat, with no attempt to mask their ill intent.
Nightmarish theatrics combine equal parts Bauhaus, Cramps
and Clockwork Orange.
The Defectors - Bruised and Satisfied
Addictive to the point of madness, the immediate reaction to the B-movie
creepfest is an appreciative swear. The booming kick-snare combo and
thrilling bass sneak under the skin to blister in a juicy, nasty,
bursting chorus. The twisted growling sounds eerily authentic. Theremin
and organ round out the bloodlust matinee.
Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills
The crisp, spry arrangements on bitter Cure meets James
pop tunes are so infectious they make silly lyrics "The rumours
said it was a serial killer/ but they got hit by a caterpillar"
acceptable. Adam Olenius's lisp is endearing; Bebban Stenborg
could pass for Hope Sandoval. Nothing feels less than pure
The Terminals - Forget About Never
The dangerous level of fuzz and distortion The Terminals deliver hasn't
been reached since The Monks 1966 Black Monk Time. It's
like The BelRays on bennies, amplified through an elephant's
butt. The effort required to unearth the authentic 60's soul and Paleolithic
garage pays off with unshakable devotion and cultish reverence.
Tiny Masters of Today - Bang Bang Boom Cake
Forgetting that these atonal siblings have a combined age of 25, and
that former and current hipsters are offering them rides and candy,
the raw tuneage is the real draw. Ear-perking bits of Elastica
and The Avengers almost make up for the disappointing return
of The Stooges. Next up, voice lessons.
L. Keane - Music Writer/indelible
In no particular order, my best of 2007:
Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
Dan Wilson - Free Life
The Fratellis - Costello Music
Chris And Thomas - Land Of Sea
Eskimo Joe - Black Fingernails Red Wine
Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch
Ewan Wadharmi - Music Writer/debutante
In reverse alphabetical order by second track
of their previous release.
Stabilisers - Wanna Do The Wild Plastic Brane Love Thing?
This latest weapon in Wicked Cool's world takeover campaign involves
B-movies and 60's garage ala The Kinks and The Who fused
with '77 punk, to wit, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers,
Adicts - not a far stretch.
The Cave Singers - Invitation Songs
Herman Jolly wrestling Neil Young through a Cohen
Angels Of Light - We Are Him
Michael Gira writes better songs than 99.5% of the population.
Still he finds ways to improve and amaze.
The Stooges - The Weirdness
Not as good as the classic catalogue, but easily better than no Stooges
album at all.
Type O Negative - Dead Again
Rumors of Pete Steele's death (and girth) have been mostly
exaggerated. All influences are exploited, punk, goth, Journey.
Yeah, Pete's actually got an icing-on-the-cake sense of humor.
The Adored - A New Language
Elements of The Clash, Adam Ant, Madness, and
even The Bangles sneak into the batter, that bakes up strong
sing-alongs - irritating throwaway "New Language." But the
lyrics are strong throughout, even when the music gets more Vapors
The Lights - Diamonds and Dirt
Like the first time you were blown away by Wire, or confounded
by Mark E. Smith's lost-with-a-purpose ranting. The Lights
are onto something substantial and know it well. Spastic 60s and '70s
garage with accelerated pituitary glands.
Pietasters - All Day
Instead of waiting out the next resurgence, the Pietasters use the
off-ska time to create a spot-on 60's soul portrait. Why not, they've
got the horns sitting about, and lots of mouths to feed.
Dead City Shakers - Ship Of Beggars
Rockabilly presented in a hardcore format which somehow makes perfect
sense in a Meteors meet Misfits sort of way. Singer
dude's ferocious growl is like he swallowed three broken bud bottles,
a jigger of sand and half of Slayer. Be prepared for songs
on killing other folks, killing your ownself, depression and mayhem.
Los Campesinos! - Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP
A gang of Welsh persons blending the clever humor of Carter The
Unstoppable Sex Machine with the scientific minded intelligence
of They Might Be Giants = party in study hall.
Dan Warren - Music Writer/explorer
1. Pelle Carlberg - In A Nutshell
When I reviewed this album earlier this year, I wrote that Carlberg
was the frontrunner to head my 2007 year-end list. Since then, no
one has challenged the Swedish singer-songwriter, and former Edson
frontman, for top honors. In A Nutshell is disarmingly sincere,
rich with ingenious pop melodies, expert musicianship, and vocals
that are at times fragile, at times buoyant, often tongue-in-cheek,
and always genuine. Carlberg also has a gift for clever, often self-effacing,
lyrics - like his music, his words are direct and unaffected. Add
to all of this some of the best song titles I've ever seen ("Clever
Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls"
is the most notable, and also the record's most irresistible pop song)
and you have a brilliant record that has garnered far less attention
than it deserves.
2. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
Few contemporary bands are as revered as The Shins, which meant that
few records in 2007 were released to expectations as daunting as those
that met the band's third release, Wincing The Night Away.
And while songwriter/frontman James Mercer and his bandmates
may not have matched their first two records - particularly the phenomenal
Chutes Too Narrow, released in 2003 - they crafted a record
that puts all of their strengths on brilliant display. Mercer is a
peerless songwriter, so the record centers on his intuitive, unorthodox
melodies, crystal-clear tenor, and evocative lyrics. The album succeeds
because it fleshes out and builds on the band's trademark approach.
It may not be the visionary album many fans were hoping for, but Wincing
is fascinating proof that The Shins remain irreplaceable.
3. Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild (Music For The Motion Picture)
Eddie Vedder contributed this concise set of folk-rock songs as
the soundtrack to Sean Penn's 2007 film Into The Wild.
It's a quiet, poignant record, but those who've explored Pearl
Jam's back catalog know that Vedder is as capable of performing
restrained songs like these as he is full-scale rock and roll. The
record is focused and engaging, and is actually more satisfying than
some of Pearl Jam's studio records. Best of all, the CD is available
through iTunes with bonus tracks that are better than the album itself
- particularly a masterful update of Phil Ochs' "Here's
To The State Of Mississippi," reworked lyrically by Vedder and
actor/director Tim Robbins into an impassioned attack on the
current political and religious leaders they feel are subverting the
ideals of American society.
4. Patti Smith - Twelve
Punk-rock legend Patti Smith achieves something that can trip
up even the most accomplished musicians: recording a covers album
that spans a list of some of music's most legendary artists, and making
it sound like a fully-realized - in this case, truly captivating -
record. Smith may be 60, but her trademark alto is still rich, earthy,
and resonant. The record also works because of its ambition. It's
hard to imagine a more intimidating list of artists to cover: Jimi
Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Paul
Simon, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Nirvana
are all represented (she doesn't confine herself to rock icons, though,
as the inclusion of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants
To Rule The World" illustrates). She takes them all on with confidence,
backing her vocals with tasteful, minimalist arrangements that let
the songs and the singer make the record great.
5. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Few artists are as versatile as Ben Harper, whose substantial
body of work finds him integrating rock, blues, folk, gospel, reggae,
rhythm and blues, and funk - among other genres - into a musical aesthetic
that somehow manages to sound effortless and organic. As a vocalist,
he always projects a disarming sincerity. Lifeline, Harper's
latest record with his dynamic backing band The Innocent Criminals,
is great for all of those reasons, but it's also intentionally simple
- Harper and the band recorded the album in one week. Ultimately,
what matters is that the songs themselves are uniformly strong, and
the record is gripping from start to finish. There's nothing trailblazing
here, but by scaling back ambitions Harper and his band may have ended
up with something better.
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