Here’s the top of the list — everything but numero uno. It’s getting its own writeup because…well, because I said so. Jesus, this was a great year for music. If any of these records had been released in the past few years, they would have been top 3 at a minimum. On we go…
8. Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala [Secretly Canadian]
Some artists are worth listening to because they write especially catchy songs, and some artists are worth listening to because they write like poets or novelists, full of lush lyrical details that create time and place. Lekman definitely falls into the latter category, but he often makes one hell of a case for the former as well. His baroque pop has a distinctly 1960s feel to it, and like many of the films created during that time, his songs have that “arty” feel to them, but they’re also inviting and honest and make you laugh when you think about life. That kind of music is worth your time.
Jens Lekman: “A Postcard to Nina”
Follow the jump for the rest of the list…
7. Sean Price: Jesus Price Supastar [Duck Down Records]
Sean Price scares me. Like, really, really scares me. Lots of rappers act like they’re hard and many of them probably are, but The Brokest Rapper You Know has that nothing-to-lose quality that makes him seem absolutely terrifying. It also makes him rap his ass off every moment his mouth is open, and he’s by turns fierce, brilliant and hilarious. I mean, this dude stops a song two lines in to threaten motherfuckers, and it works. Slap that on some top-notch boom-bap production and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Sean Price: “King Kong”
6. Little Brother: Getback [ABB]
I already wrote a novella about this group, so I’ll spare you here, but this is a career highlight for a group that had already achieved quite a bit. The production is soulful across the board, and both Big Pooh and Phonte manage to craft thoughtful rhymes without sacrificing creative flows. There aren’t a lot of emcees willing to just do their thing, rhyming about shit most rappers would never rap about, but we’re lucky there are a few. And seriously, these beats are FIRE.
Little Brother: “Can’t Win For Losing”
5. Pharoahe Monch: Desire [SRC]
Hi, I’m Pharoahe Monch. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m kind of awesome. No big deal. Yeah, my last album came out before the millennium and it was a classic. I ran into a bunch of label bullshit and it took me eight years to get this one put together and out on the streets. Doesn’t matter. My amazing rhyme schemes and unbelievable wordplay are probably the best you’ll ever hear. I’m just going to go ahead and cover Public Enemy and then make a song like I’m Elvis on this album and pull both ideas off. Plus I’m emotionally intelligent and I use hip-hop to inspire. Whatever. No big deal.
Pharoahe Monch: “Desire”
4. Okkervil River: The Stage Names [Jagjaguwar]
Will Sheff has to be the most literate songwriter in the world. This record is compelling evidence of that fact, filled with songs that inhabit varied characters and moods, and even when he’s not writing a narrative (like on this track — the concept of which is fantastic in and of itself), the way he makes the English language his bitch gives me a huge boner. The band bangs out riffs and melodies that carry an odd familiarity, pulling you in and lulling you into dropping your guard so Sheff can pummel you with heartbreaker after heartbreaker.
Okkervil River: “Plus Ones”
3. Burial: Untrue [Hyperdub]
Electronic music generally runs the risk of being dehumanizing and emotionless, but dubstep poster boy Burial has never once entered that territory during his short and storied career. He bends sounds and litters his songs with stunning details that convey a loneliness few writers could ever hope to match. The melancholy in the strings and the panic in the manipulated vocals are quite disturbing for a record where a handful of songs feature the sound of guns being cocked and shells being dropped. Frantic yet plaintive, it teeters on the edge like the kid sitting in back of the class who’ll either become a poet laureate or gun down his classmates before he graduates. Chicken/egg discussion: I have mental problems; this is my bedtime record of choice.
Burial: “Ghost Hardware”
2. The National: Boxer [Beggars Banquet]
Weary yet elegant, The National’s fourth LP is a record for and about those who have taken their shot and missed. But rather than dwelling on defeat, the album looks toward the forever afterward where we pick up the pieces. Tragedy is referenced largely as a credential throughout, an unspoken boast laden with the understanding that every failure reveals a truth – and he who dies with the most might just win. There are dull pangs of longing resting behind every echoing piano note and every droning guitar, but throbbing in between every stammered drum beat lies acceptance and hope that the next step will be the one that counts.
(I wrote that little blurb for Prefix’s Best Of feature. Please excuse the nonblogginess/pretentiousness.)
The National: “Brainy”
If I hadn’t been confused and angry for a great deal of 2007, Boxer would have been an easy choice for #1. It’s so delicate and full of life it’s overwhelming.
But I spent a lot of 2007 punch-drunk and pissed, so my favors wandered toward a like mind. As soon as I write it up, you’ll get an introduction to a record tailor-made for frustrated idealists tired of watching and itching for a way to take action, even if it’s just screaming into a pillow while shaking a fist. Delicate it’s not, but it’s the most memorable record I heard all year. Coming soon…