The seven most important albums of ’07
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The subjective terms best and worst get tossed around a lot at the close of each year; critics, pundits and fans crawl out of the woodwork, trumpeting their most heralded works of the season. With any work of art, though, these top picks can never be more than insights into a particular critic’s mind ” “best” and “worst” can’t be quantified, regardless of the critical consensus. It’s especially rough with music, which depends so much on a person’s individual personalities and taste. So in lieu of selecting the best albums of 2007, we’re going to highlight the most important music of 2007.
Whether you like Paul Anka or Slayer, these are the records that changed the game in 2007, and the ones that we’ll be talking about in the years to come.
Math-rock (one of the worst descriptors for a genre of music) often gets a bad rap for focusing on technical virtuosity and tricky time signatures instead of writing, um, actual songs. Battles smashed that notion to pieces with “Mirrored,” a warped masterpiece of clever, hyper-technical and utterly catchy rock tracks. On “Mirrored,” Ian Williams, Dave Konopka and Tyondai Braxton juggle and trade guitars, keyboards and laptops like some unholy musical combo of man and machine, while Braxton loops and drenches his vocals in effects to make them sound like demented, wordless nursery rhymes. Drummer John Stanier employs metronomic rhythms, rock-solid fills and nearly danceable tempos in equal measure, and remains the engine driving the whole outfit. The band creates a musical place where the electronic and organic meet, and it sounds wholly original. On “Mirrored,” Battles sound like the biggest band in the world circa 2107.
With their peerless instincts and largely great songs, Radiohead would likely make this list any year that they release an album, but once again they lapped the entire music field by redefining how music will be released in the coming years. Free from label ties, Radiohead released their latest album online and on their own terms: They elected to allow fans to decide how much to pay for their album. While plenty of fans downloaded the album for free, scores paid what they felt was a just price, and still others held out for a lavish, $80 boxed set just released this December. Radiohead has likely altered the way albums will be released in the future, paving the way for artists to take both more control and responsibility for their work. It helps that “In Rainbows” showcases a particularly strong set of songs that feature a perhaps more relaxed Radiohead still operating at the peak of their musical powers.
Pairing one of rock’s hedonistic kings of old with a refined country and bluegrass songbird might seem foolish indeed, but this collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss proved to be one of the most inspired and unexpected releases of the year. The pair explore old blues, rockabilly, country and roots rock like old lovers, aided by the haunting production of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” impresario T Bone Burnett. Led Zeppelin may return to tour soon, but Plant has already shown he can still break ground with a new muse ” especially one as prodigiously talented as Krauss.
Don’t give me that look ” I don’t particularly want to give credence to the rise of teenybopper music, either, but when it brings concert venues and the behemoth Ticketmaster to their knees, some attention must be paid. It was the fourth highest-selling album of the year, but the nation at large took notice when parents across the country started paying thousands of dollars to get into Hannah Montana (real name: Miley Cyrus, daughter of Billy Ray) shows that sold out seconds after going on sale. The concert sparked a federal case between Ticketmaster and a software company that allegedly allowed ticket brokers to buy all the tickets before fans could; the ruling could change the way concert tickets are bought and sold in the future, especially when it concerns major musical events (I’m looking at you, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin). The tween music market has always been a presence that rises in cycles, but Hannah Montana will always be remembered as the moment when it went aboveground to storm music culture at large.
A rare combination of critics’ darling and fan favorite, Kanye West has been pushing the envelope since his debut, and his third full-length cements his rep as the premier mainstream hip-hop innovator of the new century. No other artist blends classic hip-hop grandstanding with self examination the way West can, and even as he brags about the bling and the cars, he wonders aloud whether it’s worth it and what it all means. He wraps it all in ambitious and experimental production that suggests a perfectionist who never stops trying to best himself. Twenty years from now, people will talk about West the same way we talk now about Public Enemy or N.W.A.
The sappy Beatle gets credit for continuing to release relevant music and aging nicely into his wearier, but still sunny voice. “Memory Almost Full” is one of Paul McCartney’s strongest song sets of recent years, as he seems to give in to the indulgences of his Wings period. But the album is especially notable for premiering on Starbucks’ new Hear Music label. Its massive success at Starbucks stores ensures that they’ll be hawking much more than coffee for years to come.
Burial’s unique form of haunting, lonely electronic music (often called “London dub-step”) conveys a sense of walking city streets alone on a rain-slicked night. Loaded with dark atmosphere and forlorn melodies, it presents a new frontier for electronic music as an organic, human experience. But perhaps most interesting is that we know so little about the anonymous artist Burial at all. In a time when image, ego and fame play so much into how we view music, it’s refreshing to see an artist truly let the music speak for itself.