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PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Slipped Discs 2007

PopMatters’ annual tradition of offering up its Slipped Discs picks continues with the biggest installment to date. These are the albums our writers just loved, but missed our enormous top 60 albums list late last year. Some of these choices are idiosyncratic but wonderful, while others perhaps should have made that big list, but there’s only so much room after all. In any event, dig in and enjoy these nearly 50 selections of great music from 2007, some celebrated and many overlooked.

Artist: Aqueduct
Album: Or Give Me Death
Label: Barsuk
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/aqueduct-orgivemedeath.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-02-20
UK Release Date: 2007-02-20

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Since Aqueduct’s moderate breakout with 2005’s I Sold Gold, main man David Terry’s compositional skills have broadened considerably. That’s not the lone key to making good music, but he uses his songcrafting well, mixing the easily likable chord progressions of Steely Dan with the nervous indie rock energy of Built to Spill. On Or Give Me Death, the result are warm breezes that shift to chills, as dark clouds pass across the sun… and then clear away again. Yes, the mood of Aqueduct’s songs are often uncertain, but the hooks are plenty confident, and Or Give Me Death is catchy from start to finish. The production is full of fine flourishes, and Terry’s lyrics are just skewed enough to make this album worth listening to many times over. With Aqueduct, we have a 2000s indie band that actually gets better with age. Michael Keefe

Streaming: Full album

Aqueduct – Living a Lie

Aqueduct: Or Give Me Death

Artist: Arbouretum
Album: Rites of Uncovering
Label: Thrill Jockey
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/arbouretum-ritesofuncovering.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-01-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Rough-hewn and mysterious, full of massive guitar freakouts and outsized drum beats, as well as whispered folky laments, this is Arbouretum’s second disc, but the first to reach a wider audience. The band, led by David Heumann, the ex-Anomoan drummer and collaborator with Bonnie Prince Billy, borrows the heft and grandeur from classic rock heroes like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Yet there’s nothing stale or historical about these slow-evolving songs. Every guitar solo feels like it is wandering in the wilderness, every call and response seems like a heart-felt plea for enlightenment. Notes unwind slowly, meditatively, as if some sort of truth might be uncovered simply by considering them. If you haven’t heard Rites of Uncovering, and most people haven’t, you missed the shaggiest, most psychotropic guitar rock record of 2007. An unacknowledged classic. Jennifer Kelly

Multiple songs: MySpaceArbouretum: Rites of Uncovering

Artist: Art Brut
Album: It’s a Bit Complicated
Label: Downtown
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/artbrut-itsabitcomplicated.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-25

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Some people feel the same way on the subject of music about music that they do about writing about writing: that it’s self-centered, self-indulgent, and self-important. Thankfully for Eddie Argos, those are the foundations of Art Brut, and inherent in what makes the arch irony of the band’s songs work. Argos delivered a breakthrough debut on Bang Bang Rock & Roll in which the deadpan delivery of his spoken-not-sung, art-student-Ian Dury rhymes never stood a chance of masking the smirk. But rather than being insufferably self-centered, Art Brut’s hook is songs using that casual, tell-it-like-it-is delivery to give emotions extra barbs. And so the band’s natural irony goes meta in It’s a Bit Complicated, reflecting on how music impacts everyday life, setting up recursive circles of thought without ever beating you over the head. Ultimately, though, Argos’s Everyman characters are so easy to understand and relate to that songs about mixtapes seem honest rather than indulgent, and those of relationships between two colliding bodies coming together and falling apart never seem to wallow. It’s all resignation and reflection on this disc, but there’s so much more than surfaces at play that even the simplicity of the stories is charming. Patrick Schabe

Multiple songs: MySpace

Art Brut – Direct Hit

Art Brut: It’s a Bit Complicated

Artist: Black Moth Super Rainbow
Album: Dandelion Gum
Label: Graveface
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/blackmothsuperrainbow-dandeliongum.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

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It’s easy to understand why people might have been befuddled by Dandelion Gum, a concept album about wood dwelling witches cooking up candy for wandering strangers. Anonymity was something Black Moth Super Rainbow thrived on, hiding their gurgling pyschedelia behind pseudonyms, masks, and psychedelic artwork. The Pittsburgh-based five-piece didn’t just fly under the radar, they spat the radar back at us through an oscillator and robotic, vocodered vocals. Yet, despite the swathes of electronic detachment, Dandelion Gum sounded humane, born of the countryside, birthed in a secluded cabin with analog instruments by people with pseudonyms such as Tobacco, Father Hummingbird and The Seven Fields of Aphelion. Despite their psychedelic tendencies, the album was coated in a melancholic hue that proposed them as corduroy rather than tie-dye. Dandelion Gum was electronic music masked with a forlorn, introspective edge that should have seen them soar above those elusive radars and onto our record players. Kevin Pearson

Multiple songs: MySpace

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Sun Lips

Black Moth Super Rainbow: Dandelion Gum

Artist: Bloodlights
Album: Bloodlights
Label: Mateingerm
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/bloodlights.jpg
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: Available as import
Germany release date: 2007-11-16

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The fine tradition of Scandinavian hard rock continued in 2007 with this debut offering from a Norwegian super group of sorts. Former members of Amulet, NPB, and Gluecifer came together on this one to lay out slick, punkish riffs and hooks aplenty. In the middle of all the catchy, window-rattling rhythms are lyrics that dance between bitter cynicism and refreshing self-awareness, tossed off with ease by dubiously named singer/guitarist Captain Poon. Poon’s frustration with phonies, shysters, and curb crawlers is apparent and especially palpable on highlight tracks “Where the Stars Don’t Shine”, “Bullshit on Your Mind”, and the hilariously titled “Bald and Outrageous”. If anyone was keeping the spirit of ‘70s rock gods such as Thin Lizzy and T. Rex alive last year without sounding like some stupid nostalgia act, it was Bloodlights. Long live the Scandihooligans. James Greene

Multiple songs: MySpace

Bloodlights – Bloodlights

Bloodlights: Bloodlights

Artist: Burial
Album: Untrue
Label: Hyperdub
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/burial.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-11-06

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In a year when dubstep matured into a multifaceted beast, this was a record that reached into the nights of the world’s strongest city and laid bare its deep and haunted pulse. Burial’s identity is a mystery but his unsequenced sound is inimitable, a sensuous yet chilling blend of the inexorable and the inescapable pressures of city life that, in the skeletal swing of its woodblock hydraulics, ethereally broken vocals, basslines like maternal abysses and static-rain-drenched midnight soul, enshrine the spirits of bygone rave and jungle. A shattered immensity of an album in which Burial has cast love’s absence like an angelic imprint in cold snow, Untrue embodies a breathtaking purity of aim and execution, timelessly captured for those lonely in the dark. The only record of 2007 to make me cry; if 2008 bears an album as great, it shall be a good year. Stefan Braidwood

Like his music, anonymity is an integral element behind the one-man project Burial, driven by an unknown somebody who refuses to reveal his identity. And so much has already been made of Untrue, his second album, and its various interpretations. Devastating is a word that has been variously thrown around describing it; it shamelessly champions murky, crackling electronica and freely toys with snippets of words like ‘love’, ‘care’ and ‘lied’. In truth, however, it’s more intimate and comforting, forming a protective, encompassing bubble out of nought but 40 minutes and a single computer. Untrue probes through the despair of a lost soul, grapples with the meaninglessness of day-to-day existence, and bustles with the afterglow of urban life, all summed up perfectly by its crabby human caricature on the front cover nursing a coffee mug. A withdrawn, unassuming record, you’ll find it inexplicably latching on, attaching itself to you. Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpaceBurial: Untrue

Artist: Café Tacuba
Album: Sino
Label: Universal Latino
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cafe_tacuba_-_sino.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Café Tacuba doesn’t spin off into the wild tangents they could on this album, but they don’t settle into one groove either. Instead they run through the different forms of classic rock and punk’s heritage, chasing arena synths with underground bar snarls. Sino contains as many lovely sounds (thanks to the beautiful melodies and intricate arrangements) as any rock record this year, but singer Ruben Albarrán provides grit worthy of the oldest baseball writer. He shares duties, though, and the mix of vocalists flows well with the mix of styles. Throughout the changing disc, whether bouncing on Latin beats or lilting through open-air pop, the band maintains a cohesive overarching sound. It might not be the band’s most ambitious work, but it’s extremely listenable, whether you take that to mean “fun background” or “repeatedly rewarding to critical ears”. It’s pop art minus the pretension performed by great musicians, and it’s a formula-less formula that can’t fail. Justin Cober-Lake

Multiple songs: MySpace

Café Tacuba – Volver a Comenzar

Café Tacuba: Sino

Artist: The Chemical Brothers
Album: We Are the Night
Label: Astralwerks
Label: Virgin
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/chemicalbrothersthe-wearethenight.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-07-17
UK Release Date: 2007-07-02

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It’s easy enough to dismiss any act that’s been around for a decade and a half. There are lots of groups like that, for whom the blush of youth has faded, but the mantle of elder statesmanship is still slightly premature. The Chemical Brothers have entered their metaphorical middle-age with the kind of album that belies its status as their sixth — how the time flies! Surely, this kind of sure-footed, eagerly adaptive record is the work of some fresh-faced kids, not a pair of globe-trotting “Superstar DJs”. It’s been long enough that half of the new electronic acts coming up through the ranks are listing the Chems among their influences, but the pair show no sign of being overtaken by history. This is strong, muscular dance music, and most importantly, it sounds hungry. Admittedly, their last couple albums haven’t aged as well, but We Are the Night is the work of a group ready and eager to prove their relevance. It works like a charm: there still isn’t anyone out there with the ability to make songs that sound quite like these. It may be true that they will never again scale the unimpeachable heights of their first few albums, but honestly, as long as they keep producing tracks as good as “Saturate” and “The Pills Won’t Help You Now”, does it really matter? Tim O’Neil

Multiple songs: MySpace

The Chemical Brothers – Do It Again

The Chemical Brothers: We Are the Night

Artist: The Cinematic Orchestra
Album: Ma Fleur
Label: Ninja Tune
Label: Domino
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cinematicorchestrathe-mafleur.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-06-05
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

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After a hiatus of five years and a move from London to Paris, Jason Swinscoe’s outfit returned with the most subtle and sophisticated album of their career. Largely eschewing the jazz-licks, beats and samples that comprised their earlier work, this was a decidedly down-tempo record that revealed its charms slowly after repeated listens. Dominated by strings, keyboards and, unusually for them vocals. Lyrically the album dealt with themes of aging and mortality set against a procession of lushly orchestrated emotional backgrounds. Unafraid of silences there were moments when Swinscoe allowed proceedings to almost fall to a hush, before suddenly ushering in an exhilarating swell of wordless voices together with a rush of dense, soaring strings. Canadian newcomer Patrick Watson augmented the collective on several songs with his hauntingly androgynous vocals. The result was one of 2007’s most surprising, not to mention moving, recordings. The US release was shorter and also marred by poor track sequencing so try and get hold of the UK version if possible. John Dover

Multiple songs: MySpace

Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home [Live at the Barbican]

The Cinematic Orchestra: Ma Fleur

Artist: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Album: Some Loud Thunder
Label: Wichita
Label: V2
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/clapyourhandssayyeah-someloudthunder.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-01-30
UK Release Date: 2007-01-29

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Indie rock too affected for ya? Spent on twee? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had an antidote. Dense and shambolic, their wrongly dismissed Some Loud Thunder was among 2007’s weirdest rebuttals to the above gripes. Its production work often hinted at preciousness but would then pummel it in shaggy storms of fuzz and rattle. A spirited clamor, befitting of Alec Ounsworth’s garbled, David Byrne-channeling voice, occasionally came out the other end. Yet patience with the album’s left turns revealed its colorful and alluring brand of pop — the nervous swell of “Yankee Go Home”, the jangling parade march of “Underwater (You and Me)”, and, at the top, “Satan Said Dance”, which posited the Lord of the Flies as a dictatorial emcee, seeking only gyrations from his damned company. Easily the year’s most clever floor burner, courtesy of pale indie rockers. Barry Lenser

Multiple songs: MySpaceClap Your Hands Say Yeah: Some Loud Thunder

Artist: Deerhoof
Album: Friend Opportunity
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/deerhoof-friendopportunity.jpg
US Release Date: 2006-01-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Super-weird, semi-prog rock is often too cerebral to be visceral, too complex to be groovy, or too dense to be soulful. This record, the best from the San Francisco three-piece, overcomes the limitations of the genre (such as it is) and succeeds at making its batshit mini-symphonies rock like mad. Exuberantly expressive instrumental work and hugely satisfying dynamic flourishes define the album from start to finish. It is this close to being a party album. And though each track has sections that will keep many listeners at arm’s-length, these inevitably segue into classic, guitar-driven sections that are undeniably attractive. Throughout, Japanese-American bassist and front-woman Satomi Matsuzaki’s delightfully twee delivery plays perfect counterpoint to the raw, rocking underbelly of most of the tracks; as sweet and tender as she comes across, there are shadows preying underneath her every melody. Exciting, disturbing, and yet darkly humourous, Friend Opportunity is unstoppable. Stuart Henderson

MP3: +81

MP3: The Perfect Me

Deerhoof – The Perfect Me

Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity

Artist: DJ Hidden
Album: The Later After
Label: Ad Noiseam
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/dj_hidden_-_the_later_after.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-07-16
UK Release Date: 2007-04-09

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Noël Wessels of The Netherlands has consistently produced dark and nasty jungle singles and EPs under the DJ Hidden moniker since the turn of the millennium. Over that time, his craft has perfected itself into the hardest high BPM electronic music you can get without becoming breakcore. As such, fans were not surprised when his long-awaited debut long-player blew 2007 wide open. So epic, intense, and industrial while being amazingly minimal, The Later After is the drum and bass album to end all drum and bass albums. His stuttering basslines, anvil percussion, and mutant synths may be logically beyond notation, yet they move together as liquid, flowing in and out of each other imperceptibly from beginning to end. It’s the most fully realized album to hit junglists since Goldie’s Timeless. Filmore Mescalito Holmes

Multiple songs: MySpace

DJ Hidden – The Ignorance

DJ Hidden: The Later After

Artist: The Fall
Album: Reformation Post T.L.C
Label: Narnack
Label: Slogan
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/fallthe-reformationposttlc.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-03-27
UK Release Date: 2007-02-12

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The god-awful wreck delivering the lines is Mark E. Smith, the last necessary genius of punk rock circa 1977. In fact, gazing upon him in the “Reformation!” video, with his clumsy hand signals and his bunny and his toothless gape, you see exactly where punk as a vital resource still dwells (cf. his first appearance in Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll just last year). What, did you think punk rock was supposed to get handsomer and more elegant as time passed? Parade your vacant Lydon’s and corpse Strummer’s and oldies-act Shelly’s and vampire Vanian’s across the ears and they all sound like a sad joke. MES looks a sad dissipated Chuzzlewit, but he doesn’t sound like it. He still sounds 2007 which still takes me aback as I play the record for the bazillionth time this year. “This is what it’ll sound like / This is what it sound like!” Repetition, incantation, a Merle Haggard cover, even a stand-up comedy routine. Also there is an explanation for his entire career: “Systematic abuse, it is the truth.” I should also mention that the closest analogue for this groovy record is a little something called Sex Machine by James Brown. Just like James in 1970, Mark E. Smith’s band abandoned him acrimoniously mid-tour in 2006, and he was forced to hire some local kids (largely culled from the California band Darker My Love) to replace them. Mark Desrosiers

The Fall – Scenario [Live in New York]

The Fall: Reformation Post T.L.C

Artist: Fall Out Boy
Album: Infinity on High
Label: Island
Label: Fueled by Ramen
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/falloutboy-infinityonhigh.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-02-05

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Fall Out Boy’s breakthrough From Under the Cork Tree was the latest pop-punk album with great singles and suspect filler. Sure, the band had successfully turned emo into cock rock for passive aggressive people on tracks like “Sugar We’re Going Down”, but not many expected them to have a career arc any different from New Found Glory. And no one anticipated the meta-pop of Infinity on High. Not even The Raspberries and The Cure, arguably the greatest singles bands of all time, released an album with the diverse sounds and killer pop instincts as this. From the string-laden pop-punk of “Thnks fr th Mmrs” to the spartan piano arrangement of “Golden”, the band visits Leonard Cohen torch songs, Babyface-produced gloss-pop, and even a little melodic subtlety. This album is as much about being an asshole in 2007 as Surfin’ Safari was about being Californian in 1962. Robert Short

Multiple songs: MySpace

Fall Out Boy – Me & You

Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High

Artist: Federation
Album: It’s Whateva
Label: Reprise
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/federation-itswhateva.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-02
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Whereas, say, Ghostface Killah has no problem aiming his product at every glib pointy-headed hepcat in Williamsburg, the Federation open this record with a very exclusive announcement: “This album is intended for those who ride with their doors open, blow purple, wear oversize sunglasses — excuse me, stunner shades — gold teeth, dreadlocks, go dumb, and scream, ‘like what’.” A “Keep Out” announcement from a hyphy subculture which was already in backlash mode. But who cares? This strange, wondrous record was obviously designed to be a masterwork: eighty minutes of whips, energy drinks, college girls, and flow in a multitude of styles, including noise (“Black Roses”), snap (“Scraper to a Benz”), and gospel (“Fly Away”). In other words, a genre record without any identifiable genre (other than the subculture it’s celebrating). Mark Desrosiers

Federation – Happy I Met You (featuring Snoop Dogg)

Federation: It’s Whateva

Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Album: Traffic and Weather
Label: Virgin
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/fountainsofwayne-trafficandweather.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-04-03
UK Release Date: 2007-04-02

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Even after the success of “Stacey’s Mom” in 2003, maybe it was inevitable that the public would miss the continued charm of power-poppers Fountains of Wayne. Traffic and Weather delivered 14 character-driven short stories cloaked in ingeniously catchy melodies — with little in common with the Fergalicious radio hits of 2007. But it’s a shame and a shock that the public did not embrace these quirky tales: the unrequited crush a narrator in a DMV line has on “Yolanda Hayes”; the true love near-miss of “Someone to Love”, the local anchor-folk romance of “Traffic and Weather”; and the ill-fated interstate yearning of “I-95”. These songs are arguably the pop music equivalent of recent movie hits like Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, Superbad, and Juno. Incisive characters and troubling/touching scenes attach to great hooks, harmonies, and guitars, making Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood the Judd Apatow and Steve Carell of contemporary pop. Will Layman

Multiple songs: MySpace

Fountains of Wayne – Someone to Love

Fountains of Wayne: Traffic and Weather

Artist: Future of the Left
Album: Curses
Label: Too Pure
Label: Beggars
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/future_of_the_left_-_curses.jpg
US Release Date: 2008-01-29
UK Release Date: 2007-09-24

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Songs that provoke and piss-take, voices that taunt and tatter, guitar tones that sound like quicksand gargling with salt water: Picking up where the defunct Mclusky left off, Future of the Left delivered one of the year’s most delightful platters of aggressive irreverence. The Welsh trio — Mclusky’s Andrew Falkous and Jack Egglestone with Jarcrew’s Kelson Mathias — takes aim at social niceties and moderation with an ambush of sonic trash and barbed humor that smacks like a sardonic wrecking ball. “Plague of Onces” and “My Gymnastic Past” set off herky-jerky rhythms amid punk ransacking, while “Real Men Hunt in Packs” coolly hisses at conformity and “Fuck the Countryside Alliance” bites the class divide (“Take a man to his nightmares in a Land Rover!”). This is demolition-rock that turns absurdism into revolution — or perhaps it’s the other way around? Zeth Lundy

Multiple songs: MySpaceFuture of the Left: Curses

Artist: Gogol Bordello
Album: Super Taranta!
Label: Side One Dummy
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/g/gogolbordello-supertaranta.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: 2007-07-09

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Pundits and fans know that there’s no way to capture the fierce, fun insanity of a Gogol Bordello show on disc; it’s an experience. If there were, it would be an instant classic. And perhaps after the deservedly-touted Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike, it seems like a cleaner, almost poppier Super Taranta! is less fresh, even less like the chaos of the band’s live-show legend. But that’s where you’d make your first mistake. Super Taranta! is just as diverse as ever, and if anything the polish results in focus. From the shout-along of “Wonderlust King” to the wry and unspokenly-nostalgic critique of “American Wedding” (seriously, America, what is up with our idea of weddings?), Eugene Hütz still comes across like the younger cousin of Andre Codrescu, because seemingly without conscious effort Gogol Bordello consistently works on two levels. One the one hand the band’s multicultural stew is intelligent, even when it’s partying, and it’s very nature forces us to think outside the box of monoculture. And on the other hand, the music is just balls-out fun, slipping through styles and world geography with ease and entertainment at the fore. Your second mistake would be thinking that Gogol Bordello has made their mark and their best work is behind them. Patrick Schabe

Multiple songs: MySpace

Gogol Bordello – Wonderlust King

Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta!

Artist: Golden Arm Trio
Album: The Tick Tock Club
Label: Shamrock
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/g/goldenarmtrio-theticktockclub.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-06-05
UK Release Date: Unavailable

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One minute, skittering, careening, squalling, and caterwauling, and the next moment suspicious, sinister and sideways-glancing — welcome, listeners, to The Tick-Tock Club. Entering the world created by these 12 horn- and strings-propelled pieces is akin to throwing yourself into a high-drama mystery full of adrenaline and suspense. “Bulldoze: The Super Power Dance” is edgy gangster swing, while “Disco””, sounding nothing like its namesake genre, is hands-down my favorite track of the year: bursting at the seams, utterly captivating, and perfectly executed. Throw whatever filmic terms at this record that you can — cinematic, widescreen, noir cine-jazz — and the record will project them back to you in saturated Technicolor. Mark Adams

Multiple songs: MySpace

Golden Arm Trio – Star Trek Medley

Golden Arm Trio: The Tick Tock Club

Artist: Grand National
Album: A Drink and Quick Decision
Label: Recall
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/drink_and_quick_decision.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-24

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Grand National’s use of ’80s-styled, pulsating synthesizers is addictive ear candy. Equally at home in club haunts as they are strumming guitars in open air, Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence Rudd are emerging as a dependable outfit for shimmering pop melodies and juicy hooks. The songs on A Drink and a Quick Decision are tighter and more focused than those of the album’s predecessor, Kicking the National Habit (2006), a characteristic which wasn’t as noticeable upon its digital release in June. Somehow, the quality of Grand National’s excellent sophomore set improved markedly between June and September, when the album’s physical incarnation debuted (or maybe the pre-release advance I heard had poor fidelity). The mixes were far better and Lawrence Rudd’s trademark vocals were crisper on key tracks like “Animal Sounds” and “Going to Switch the Lights On”. A Drink and a Quick Decision is intoxicating proof that the art of album-making, especially where this notable release is concerned, cannot be absorbed as adequately in the digital world. Christian Wikane

Multiple songs: MySpace

Grand National in New York

Grand National: A Drink and Quick Decision

Slipped Discs 2007 Part 3

Artist: Grinderman
Album: Grinderman
Label: Mute
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/g/grinderman.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-04-10
UK Release Date: 2007-03-05

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From Bad Seeds ringleader to novelist to 21st century rock ‘n’ roll punk rock poet ponderer, Nick Cave — who’s been making brilliant music since 1983 — seems to have only just begun to hit his stride with Grinderman. Cave stands among a short list of frontmen who can blend double-edge literary metaphors and searing existential comedic commentary with blues garage-rock and have the result be one of the year’s most transparent albums that rocks you silly, while plastering a goofy elated grin on your face. The psychedelic organs hum behind that crouching monkey on album’s covers, creating a prophetic peek into the Grinderworld where old age, celebrity worship and sublime self-loathing are the sarcastic punching bag as the guitars blare and fuzz and Cave lays down a murderous meter and on “No Pussy Blues and “Get It On”. Released in March, Grinderman never fell from the top of my list as the year had many worthy contenders. Chris Catania

Multiple songs: MySpace

Grinderman – No Pussy Blues

Grinderman: Grinderman

Artist: Richard Hawley
Album: Lady’s Bridge
Label: Mute
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/h/hawleyrichard-ladysbridge.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-02
UK Release Date: 2007-08-20

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Transforming himself from a respected supporting player to one of the best singer-songwriters today, Richard Hawley is going through a career renaissance that any other 40-year-old musician would kill for. In fact, Hawley’s growth as a songwriter in the years since his 2001 solo debut is simply remarkable, and it’s gotten to the point where all we can do now is marvel at the seemingly effortless way he churns out song after memorable song. Continuing where the gorgeous, ornate retro pop of the Mercury Prize-nominated Coles Corner left off, Lady’s Bridge manages to top it, buoyed by the sweeping, Jack Nitszche flourishes of “Tonight the Streets Are Ours”, the sprightly rockabilly of “Serious”, and the swooning, Scott Walker-style orchestration of “Valentine”. For all the romanticism, with his velvety baritone, Hawley’s real charm lies in being the loveable sourpuss, as tracks like “Roll River Roll”, “Dark Road”, and “Our Darkness” hint at some real darkness lurking underneath the exterior of both Hawley and his muse, the city of Sheffield. Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

Richard Hawley – Tonight the Streets are Ours

Richard Hawley: Lady’s Bridge

Artist: Koop
Album: Koop Islands
Label: Atlantic
Label: Ada
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/k/koop-koopislands.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-01-29

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In short, Koop Islands is the best album of 2007 that you never heard. It’s a shame, too, considering that the Swedish production duo’s latest release is a seriously nifty electro-jazz fusion, firmly rooted in pop song structure, just as suited for a Prohibition speakeasy as it is for your headphones. The revolving door of obscure yet talented guest vocalists is a plus, too, most notably Yukimi Nagano. And really, don’t let the ‘20s swing aspect turn you off. You don’t have to be a retro hepcat to recognize the flawless songcraft of “Come to Me”, “Strange Love”, or “I See a Different You”. And if you can’t dig on that “Zoot Suit Riot”-esque groove of “Forces… Darling”? Well… check for pulse. Zach Schonfeld

Multiple songs: MySpace

Koop – Come to Me

Koop: Koop Islands

Artist: Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers
Album: Swampblood
Label: Yep Roc
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/legendaryshackshakersth-swampblood.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-17

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If Shack*Shakers frontman Colonel J.D. Wilkes is right that “every dirt road leads to the South for you this time”, then you might want to lock your car doors. Swampblood comes across like a Flannery O’Connor fever dream, full of jimblyleg men, vengeful grandmothers, bloody baptism, hangmen, and other strange goings on under the live oak trees. To say that it’s some kind of Southern Gothic freakshow, though, shortchanges Wilkes’ efforts to reconcile the South’s quirkiest dark corners with its heavy religious identity, its hospitality with its attitude of “what we do with our own is our own damn business”. Swampblood falters a bit towards the end, but only because the band opts to explore the jauntier side of its sound. Until then, though, they sound like they have the angry ghost of Slim Harpo trapped in a Mason jar. Hellbilly, Psychobilly, Southern Gothic Rock ‘n’ Roll, whatever you want to call it, the Shack*Shakers raise a ruckus on Swampblood. With a sound that’s half Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp choogle and half rockabilly raveup, Colonel J.D. Wilkes and company produce their most focused, satisfying effort yet. Andrew Gilstrap

Multiple songs: MySpace

Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers Swampblood EPK

Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers: Swampblood

Artist: Eugene McGuinness
Album: The Early Learnings of
Label: Double Six
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/e/eugene_mcguiness.jpg
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-08-06

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A singer-songwriter in the loosest sense of the term; live, Eugene McGuinness strips his songs bare to reveal the underlying, acoustic melody within; but on record he packs them full of instrumentation to render a maelstrom of sonic idiosyncrasies. But the joy in his mini-album of Early Learnings lies as much in his observational lyrical wit as much as his enviably (pre)matured eye for melody in the most unexpected of places. So lead single “Monsters Under the Bed” packs an albums-worth of hooks into a cartoonishly lively narrative of insomniac procrastination, while “Bold Street” is an affectionately derisory ode to his former hometown Liverpool’s high street, perfectly encapsulating the city’s contradictory clash of culture and binge drinking (it’s not often “Shakespearean sonnet” suffers the ignominy of rhyming with “vomit”). An injection of colourful life into the singer-songwriter trade not seen since Patrick Wolf barged his way onto the scene, expect this far more reserved but equally talented 21-year-old to go just as huge as Wolf when his debut full-length drops later this year. Chris Baynes

Multiple songs: MySpace

Eugene McGuinness – Monsters Under the Bed

Eugene McGuinness: The Early Learnings of

Artist: Nellie McKay
Album: Obligatory Villagers
Label: Hungry Mouse
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/mckaynellie-obligatoryvillagers.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Nellie McKay remains a bright, shiny voice in the face of an increasingly cruel world. She takes on a number of serious political topics from the state of contemporary feminism to the war in Iraq, in a gaudy, upbeat fashion. She delivers her acerbic word play with a delicate touch and reaches for the funny bone to clobber her audiences with. McKay’s latest album crams in more musical styles (Broadway, reggae, rap, rock, samba, cabaret, etc) in slightly more than 30 minutes while still providing room for tap dancing and stand up comedy. She also employs a top notch crew of jazz veterans (including octogenarian Bob Dorough of “Schoolhouse Rocks” fame) to keep the music snappy. “Ignorance isn’t a right/It’s a privilege,” McKay croons with a wink. She understands music has to be smart and engage the world to matter. Steve Horowitz

Nellie McKay – Real Life

Nellie McKay: Obligatory Villagers

Artist: Menomena
Album: Friend and Foe
Label: Barsuk
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/menomena-friendandfoe.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-01-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Menomena’s exuberant atmosphere and meticulous arrangements are evident from the album art alone: an endless barrage of intertwining cartoons and doodles, incorporating lyrics from the album. The music itself is reminiscent of the Flaming Lips circa Clouds Taste Metallic — had Ronald Jones been a keyboardist, and filtered through Deeler, the Portland group’s self-invented recording software. (“Deeler keeps the process democratic, which is the only way we can operate,” says member Danny Seim.) Tracks like “Boyscout’n” and “My, My” fit layers of piano, acoustic guitar, organ, and even whistling in a joyfully complex, yet wholly melodic blend. In addition to working fantastically as a whole, though, Friend and Foe is filled with those fabulous moments that make you grin your face off: that deceptively simply build-and-release piano solo in “Wet and Rusting”, for example, or the oddly tribal postlude to “Air Raid”. Don’t pass it up. And by the way — it’s pronounced “Mih-NAH mih-NAH,” not “MEN-o-MEN-uh.” Zach Schonfeld

Multiple songs: MySpace

Menomena – Rotten Hell

Menomena: Friend and Foe

Artist: Thurston Moore
Album: Trees Outside the Academy
Label: Ecstatic Peace
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/trees_outside_the_academy.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-17

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The first thing you notice about Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside the Academy is that even when he begins the album with a violin it sounds like a guitar. But even if the start of “Frozen Gtr” sounds curiously like that of Nirvana’s “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”, the album quickly settles into a more laidback groove, which is where, for the most part, it stays. Moore leads his three-piece on acoustic guitar, and his duet with Christina Carter on the gorgeous “Honest James” makes you wish that he and Kim shared vocals more than they traded them. The art-noise faction of Sonic Youth fans will hold on to songs like “American Coffin” or “Free Noise Among Friends” as their touchstones to the older material. But don’t let them fool you. Trees Outside the Academy brings to the fore what those of us who listen carefully have known all along: there’s something lovely not only in Sonic Youth’s distortion but under it, as well. Kirby Fields

Multiple songs: MySpace

Thurston Moore Solo Album Preview

Thurston Moore: Trees Outside the Academy

Artist: Roisin Murphy
Album: Overpowered
Label: EMI
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/roisin_murphy_-_overpowered.jpg
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15

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While Justice garnered critical effusiveness for their stuttering, stunted rhythms, Roisin Murphy’s soulful second LP dropped, bombastically reinventing the four-to-the-floor anthem, and resurrecting Donna Summer by way of Marlene Dietrich. Honing her experimentalist bent, displayed on her former band, Moloko’s, final two densely obtuse disco records, she has become an accomplished Giorgio Moroder acolyte. If Madonna actually created astride the cutting techno edge rather than simply dulling its blade, she might have made Overpowered, a record where dance music fills imaginary stadiums atop Murphy’s serpentine growl, Bjork couture, and lyrics filled with gorgeous menace and eerie dissections of love, misery and global warming. Terry Sawyer

Multiple songs: MySpace

Roisin Murphy – Overpowered

Roisin Murphy: Overpowered

Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: Year Zero
Label: Interscope
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/n/nineinchnails-yearzero.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-04-17
UK Release Date: 2007-04-16

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The greatest thing about Year Zero is that it is what you make of it. If you simply want it to be an album full of Trent Reznor’s latest foray into whispering, yelling, noise, and angst, then that’s all it is. If you want it to be a full on multimedia experience, it’s that, too, with a marketing scheme that includes a website, phone numbers, and viral videos all pointing to the day when our freedoms are gone and those who would lead us to freedom are forgotten. Reznor also gleefully leaked the album, little by little, allowing those so inclined to “pay what they want” months before In Rainbows. Best of all, Trent himself sounds revitalized, willing to experiment with things like vocal style, song structure, and even lyrics that look outside himself. Reznor at 40 years old (With Teeth) was a shadow, a near-parody of what he had once been. Reznor at 42 has found the fountain of youth by simply looking somewhere other than his belly button. Mike Schiller

Multiple songs: MySpace

Nine Inch Nails – Survivalism

Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero

Slipped Discs 2007 Part 4

Artist: Patton Oswalt
Album: Werewolves and Lollipops
Label: Sub Pop
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/o/oswaltpatton-werewolvesandlollipops.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

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Oswalt’s hardly the first profanity-prone geek comic with a closet full of Star Wars toys and comic books. But this self-described “bridge troll” may be unique for his mix of defiant pride and rueful shame about it. On this rarest of comedy albums — one that actually stays funny over multiple listens — Oswalt gets up a head of steam for rants about KFC’s “sadness bowls”, confesses his desire to travel back in time to kill pre-Phantom Menace George Lucas with a shovel, compares Bush & Cheney to the Dukes of Hazzard, imagines having a Navy SEAL son who abuses him and his geek friends, stares slackjawed at the legions of conservative retirees who pile into Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows, and reminisces about a college class called “Physics for Poets”. There’s even a lucky heckler who will go down in comedy history, not for his heckle, but for the way it sends Oswalt down a rabbit hole of unrelenting, science fiction-informed abuse. Oswalt’s longtime “day job” was the sidekick role on The King of Queens, but his rightful place might be in Judd Apatow comedies, where the conflicted man-children run free. Andrew Gilstrap

Patton Oswalt on the KFC Famous bowls

Patton Oswalt: Werewolves and Lollipops

Artist: Paramore
Album: Riot
Label: Fueled By Ramen
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/paramore_-_riot.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-06-12

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While emocore continues to inflate itself to ridiculously bombastic degrees, Paramore bucked the trend and kept things simple on their second album, and the end result was one of 2007’s more impressive crossover successes. Led by the powerful voice of 18-year-old firecracker Hayley Williams, the songs on Riot!, are streamlined, slickly produced, tightly performed, and most crucially, wickedly catchy, as punk, emo, and powerpop merge into an unpretentious, winsome package. Of course, the arrangements are nothing we haven’t heard countless times, especially in the last five years, and the lyrics possess all the profundity of a teen’s LiveJournal entry, but that’s where Williams, the band’s ace card, comes in, as she charismatically sells each track, be it the dance-infused “crushcrushcrush”, power ballad “Hallelujah”, or the shoulda-been-a single “That’s What You Get”. Such wide-eyed charm goes a long way, and before we know it, we’re convinced this is one of the best powerpop records since Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

Paramore – crushcrushcrush

Paramore: Riot

Artist: Pepe Deluxe
Album: Spare Time Machine
Label: Catskills
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/pepe_deluxe.jpg
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18

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Most of the defining works from the last 20-odd years have come out of a sullen or rage filled catharsis (Nirvana, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails). As the second term of King Bush Jr. winds down, there sure isn’t a shortage of stuff to get pissed off about. Instead of embracing the darkness that’s so readily available, Finland’s Pepe Deluxé took a higher route, but one no less empowering. Their third album is a thoroughly brilliant achievement, a blissfully happy catharsis in the form of a psychedelic mod throwback time capsule. Spare Time Machine is the single greatest late ’60s album not recorded in the late ’60s, jam packed with upbeat, high tempo ragas, fuzz mangled solos, and cutesy but honestly conveyed lyrics. It’ll be years before the true ramifications of this album will be felt. Filmore Mescalito Holmes

Multiple songs: MySpace

Multiple songs: Last.fm

Pepe Deluxe – Mischief of Cloud 6

Pepe Deluxe: Spare Time Machine

Artist: Sandro Perri
Album: Tiny Mirrors
Label: Constellation
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/perrisandro-tinymirrors.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-09-24

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Sandro Perri followed up his EP Sandro Perri plays Polmo Polpo with this perfect full-length that is incredibly laid back but not at all sloppy. He incorporates non-rock instruments, such as euphonium, trombone, cello, flute and bass clarinet, with great care, making every song fresh, nuanced and surprising. The percussion is equally light and clear. Perri and Ryan Driver play with synth and casio a little, but the album has an overwhelmingly acoustic feel. Unusually for non-commercial-pop, nothing obscures the flow and rhythm of Perri’s playful voice. His cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin” skips lightly but has a slow, sad weightiness less apparent in the breezy original. Throughout, the guitar work is judged to perfection, with gentle strumming, nylon plucking, and a slippery pedal-steel recalling forgotten quieter moments from the Layla album. Tiny Mirrors hits a sweet spot between the inclusive folk of the Copper Family and the languid funkiness of Shuggie Otis. D.M. Edwards

Multiple songs: MySpace

Sandro Perri – The Eye [part 1]

Sandro Perri: Tiny Mirrors

Artist: Phosphorescent
Album: Pride
Label: Dead Oceans
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/phosphorescent-pride.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-23
UK Release Date: 2007-10-22

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On Pride, Matthew Houck injects his spare songs with thick layers of vocals and richer instrumentation, making it his biggest sounding record to date. But, for all the album’s size and the choir help behind Houck’s cracked singing, he sounds as alone as ever. He uses that solitary nature to sift specks of the beautiful out of the terrifying, the dangerously reminiscent, and the lonesome. On songs like “Wolves” — which is the best piece of melancholy to be heard this year — Houck’s big compositions rise up and surround him as he struggles to find hope in the darkest of places. In a day and age so hollowed out by fear and isolation, it is a sad, solid comfort for Houck to have provided us with this album, a user’s guide to the hidden beauties in this mess of a world. If 2006 found you all too pleased to Get Lonely with the Mountain Goats, then maybe, now, you should find yourself some Pride. Matt Fiander

MP3: A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise

Multiple songs: MySpace

Phosphorescent – Wolves (Live on Positively Fourth Street)

Phosphorescent: Pride

Artist: Rob Crow
Album: Living Well
Label: Temporary Residence, Ltd.
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/crowrob-livingwell.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-01-23
UK Release Date: Unavailable

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Rob Crow, in an act of remarkable restraint, released only two albums this year, down from his usual billion or so. One of them was with Pinback, his standby indie-stalwart act, and though the disc (Autum of the Seraphs) was very good, it wasn’t the hands-down masterpiece that 2004’s Summer in Abaddon was. Yet right at the beginning of year, Crow also released a solo album that quietly outshined the disc of his more well-known act. Recorded by himself at home with his new child, Crow’s defiantly minimal guitar tones somehow became more fleshed out and accessible: never before had he written something as joyous as “No Sun”, so single-ready as “I Hate You, Rob Crow” (which, incidentally, was picked as a single), or so absolutely gorgeous as “Up”. Going pop without ever pandering, Crow has managed to find his heart in his home, and though such a revelation is great for him, it’s even better for his listeners. Absolutely top-notch. Evan Sawdey

MP3: I Hate You, Rob Crow

Rob Crow – Up

Rob Crow: Living Well

Artist: Rush
Album: Snakes & Arrows
Label: Atlantic
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rush-snakesarrows.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-05-01
UK Release Date: 2007-04-30

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Sure, they remain an incredibly consistent live draw, but the cold, hard fact was that when it came to actual studio albums, Rush had been on autopilot for a good 14 years, at least. However, in the wake of the back-to-basics fun of 2004’s covers EP Feedback, and under the guidance the guidance of ace producer Nick Raskulinecz, the venerable Canadian power trio managed to put out one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. Not only does the band sound reinvigorated on their 18th album, but they’re downright ferocious at times, as on the bruising opener “Far Cry”, which deftly channels Rush’s different incarnations (the throttling precision of the ’70s, the melodicism of the ’80s, the groove of the ’90s). Geddy Lee turns in his best vocal performance in ages and Neil Peart brilliantly anchors a pair of excellent instrumentals, but Alex Lifeson steals the show with his layered, expressive guitar work, best heard on “Armor and Sword” and “Spindrift”. Almost 34 years in, it’s yet another career milestone. Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

Rush – Far Cry

Rush: Snakes & Arrows

Artist: Elliott Smith
Album: New Moon
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/smithelliott-newmoon.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-05-08
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

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The release of New Moon brings us two discs of Elliott Smith tracks recorded from 1994-1997. Sometimes the tragic circumstances of Smith’s death seem to overshadow the limitless bounds of his talent, but these 24 tracks reinforce the fact that Smith’s popularity and increasingly large following are very much deserved. New Moon is more than just a set of posthumously packaged demos or second-takes. Most of these songs were recorded during the same sessions which produced Either/Or and his self-titled album, and with most of these tracks it is hard to imagine how Smith chose to not include them on those studio albums. Everything from the luscious chorus of “Go By” to the fierce, embittered climax of “High Times” shows that Smith was a special sort of musician we rarely see today. His goal was never fame or fortune, and yet his growing influence on musicians and listeners alike is more powerful than he ever understood. The world through Smith’s eyes was generally a tragic one, but this tragic world is made a little bit more beautiful through the rich body of music he left behind for us. This collection is now expanded with New Moon, a testament to the fact that the quiet genius of Smith’s music simply cannot be praised enough. Elizabeth Newton

Multiple songs: MySpaceElliott Smith: New Moon

Artist: Britney Spears
Album: Blackout
Label: Zomba
Label: Jive
Contributors: Danja, Pharrell Williams, Bloodshy and Avant, Keri Hilson, T-Pain
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/spearsbritney-blackout.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-30
UK Release Date: 2007-10-29

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After the latest round of bad news (something about a lengthy stand-off, hospitalization, and Dr. Phil), my hope that Britney will soon begin in earnest to turn things around is admittedly starting to fade. I refuse to be flip, but realistically speaking, if she never comes back from this, at least her last album was an exceptional one. My fingers are still crossed for her, but at this point, poor Brit clearly needs more than a well-meaning think piece or even a well-received record to motivate her to make lifestyle changes. Somehow, in the studio, she’s better than ever — singing in and around and over and on top of top-flight Avant & Bloodshy and Danja compositions; we’ll always have BlackoutJosh Timmermann

Multiple songs: MySpace

Video: Gimme More

Video: Piece of MeBritney Spears: Blackout

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Magic
Label: Columbia
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/springsteenbruce-magic.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-02
UK Release Date: 2007-10-01

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The most aptly-titled album of the year, Magic shows why groups like the Arcade Fire, the Killers, the National, and the Hold Steady love Springsteen: the guy gets it. He really fucking gets it. Nobody has ever turned everyday life into opera like the Boss. He makes you feel good to be you — and that ain’t easy. Sure, Springsteen addresses the same old themes, but those themes are your life. A starry-eyed dreamer sees redemption in the body of a bartender, a lost wanderer seeks the American mythos, and a friend mourns the loss of a lifelong buddy. All the while the E Street Band sparkles in the background like autumn stars. The kicker, though, comes in “Long Walk Home”, when Springsteen laments how far America has strayed from its values: “It’s gonna be a long walk home / Hey, pretty darling, don’t wait up for me…” Who else could convey the tragedy and despair of America’s Bush-era fall in two simple lines? Michael Franco

Multiple songs: MySpace

Bruce Springsteen – Long Walk Home

Bruce Springsteen: Magic

Slipped Discs 2007 Part 5

Artist: Stars of the Lid
Album: And Their Refinement of the Decline
Label: Kranky
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/starsofthelid-andtheirrefinementofthedecline.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-04-03
UK Release Date: 2007-04-02

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Releasing a double album can be a risky proposition for any band. Releasing two in a row nearly unthinkable. And yet, for Stars of the Lid the progression from 2001’s sprawling, dreamlike The Tired Sounds of… to 2007’s even more ambitious …And Their Refinement of the Decline seems completely natural. Though both albums of creeping strings and precise drone textures unfold slowly over about two hours each, the decision never comes off as self-indulgent. These works don’t just benefit from long-form presentation, they demand it. While …And Their Refinement continues its predecessor’s studies in careful repetition and subtle variation, here the variations frequently take on greater scope and carry a stronger sense of progression, and the sound palette has broadened to make excellent use of mournful muted horns and strains of distant choir. If they hadn’t done it before (and arguably Stars of the Lid have been on this path for much of their decade and a half of existence), with this work they have fully shaken themselves free of any limitations suggested by “minimal drone”: …And Their Refinement is both warmly engaging on its own terms and perhaps best viewed not as some extreme form of post-rock but simply as notable 21st century classical minimalism. Nate Dorr

MP3: Apreludes (in C Sharp Major)Stars of the Lid: And Their Refinement of the Decline

Artist: Will Stratton
Album: What the Night Said
Label: Stunning Models on Display
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/strattonwill-whatthenightsaid.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-07-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

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As a pop music armchair quarterback, it’s easy to sit back and watch young, emerging artists get buried under critical death-knell words like “derivative” and “rehash”, often because their influences and contemporaries simply eat too much of their surrounding commercial spotlight. Yet every once in awhile, some bright-eyed go-getter breaks out of the gate and offers a new spin on the same tired old formula, dropping an album filled with music so gorgeous that it almost hurts to listen. Will Stratton’s What the Night Said is one of those albums. Though it would be easy for Stratton to tie his own noose out Nick Drake guitar strums and a Sufjan-level of preciousness, he somehow manages to sidestep such obvious comparisons with 12 songs that are as quiet as they are confident. “Night Will Come” is a burst of sunshine from a lo-fi basement, “I’d Hate to Leave You” could soundtrack a thousand Garden State knockoffs without ever feeling too homogenized, and “Katydid” stands as one of the most flat-out beautiful opening tracks in recent memory. Barely touching the legal drinking age, Stratton shows wisdom that’s far beyond his years and never once he try to rub such idealism in your face. What the Night Said is not only one of 2007’s best kept secrets: it’s one of the most honest records you’ll ever hear in your life. Evan Sawdey

Multiple songs: MySpace

Will Stratton – Who Will

Will Stratton: What the Night Said

Artist: Tender Forever
Album: Wider
Label: K
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/tenderforever-wider.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-12-04
UK Release Date: 2007-12-10

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Wider, the latest album from Tender Forever (a.k.a. musical polymath Melanie Valera), is not groundbreaking by being exceptionally crafted or by tilling the ground of new subject matter. No, the album features somewhat puerile instrumentation and chronicles various stages in the rise and fall of a relationship. However, what Valera has achieved is the claiming of yet one final square of the musical landscape for indie pop. Where 2007 saw Ed Banger and Co. plant the indie pop flag in electro and the boys and girls at Italians Do It Better claimed Italo-disco, Valera has single-handedly annexed soul and R&B. While equipped with a fairly standard, although gorgeous, indie songstress vocals over organs and fat synths, Valera sings about the physicality of relationships, “mak[ing] love almost every day”, and love on a transcendental, spiritual stage. Do not be surprised for 2008 to feature a cast of imitators with ironic slow jams, completely missing Valera’s wonderful balance of sexuality and sincerity. Erik Hinton

Streaming: Full album

Tender Forever – How Many

Tender Forever: Wider

Artist: Various Artists
Album: I’m Not There
Subtitle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Label: Columbia
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/various-imnotthere.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-10-30
UK Release Date: 2007-10-29

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Film soundtracks, unless performed by a single musician or band, are rarely fair game for end-of-year “best of” lists. This is because, after all, even at their best they are really just commercially-released mix tapes. But, this extraordinary collection of Bob Dylan covers from the off-kilter biopic of the same name is worthy of our consideration. More a tribute record than a soundtrack, I’m Not There offers a long list of Dylan numbers (some obscure, some deeply familiar) as re-imagined by an unparalleled collection of mostly indie rockers. As a sprawling experiment in rockers playing dress-up, it’s impressive (and appropriately spotty). But the glorious moments when it works — Calexico backing Willie Nelson on “Señor”, Cat Power vamping through “Memphis Blues Again”, Jack Johnson (heretofore my nemesis) owning “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”, and Jeff Tweedy winking through “Simple Twist of Fate” (dude! he’s singing the alternate non-album lyrics!) — are like porno for Dylan-fanatics. The two house bands (one a supergroup combining members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, Television, and Medeski/Martin/Wood, and the other, the incandescent Calexico) are irresistible. And, let’s face it, if all this record offered was the first non-bootleg release of Dylan and the Band’s resplendently ambiguous version of “I’m Not There”, long a Dylan-fan’s midnight obsession, it’d still be worth your money. Stuart Henderson

Clip from I’m Not There

Various Artists: I’m Not There

Artist: Various Artists
Album: Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes from Tuva
Label: Dust-To-Digital
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/various-melodiituvithroatsongsandfolktunesfromtuva.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-11-20
UK Release Date: 2007-11-19

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This collection of Tuvan throat-singers had its first release in Russia half a century ago, long before the Vincent Kenises of the world came along preaching the virtues of distortion, and the album has the innocent fidelity of a new gingham tablecloth. The serene treatment wouldn’t do anything for the Congolese street musicians Kenis picks, but it suits throat-singing perfectly. There’s a halo of calm around each note. Simplicity gives the singers’ personalities space to breathe. Oorjak Hunashtaar-ool is down-to-earth, while Kara-sal Ak-ool with his bowed igil has a velvety appetite for melodrama. There have been other throat-singing compilations but none I’ve heard that have had this same combination of dignity and understatement. It counterpoints the more extroverted charisma of an Albert Kuvezin, it’s folk music to his rock — a core place like a white zen pebble. Deanne SoleVarious Artists: Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes from Tuva

Artist: The White Stripes
Album: Icky Thump
Label: Warner Bros
Label: WEA
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/whitestripesthe-ickythump.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18

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Color me flabbergasted. For the life of me, I cannot understand how one of the best releases of 2007 doesn’t even make PopMatters’ “Top-60” grouping. I’m referring to the back-to-primal-nature Icky Thump, arguably the White Stripes’ best release in their career. Yes, there are odd twists and turns (a death-metal mariachi trumpet on a cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest”, bagpipes on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn”), but for heavens sake, Jack White went back to playing a snarling, loud, pertinent guitar. Meg pounds the skins like she’s drumming for her life. Hell, this CD had two huge hits…one of which is on the PopMatters Top 50 Singles list (that would be “You Don’t Know What Love Is {You Just Do As You’re Told}” at #25, the other is “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”). “Rag and Bone” is a John Lee Hooker-Z.Z. Top mashup, simple, yet catchy. Oh, sorry — forgot: the White Stripes are a band that has popularity and is now on a major label. They’re just too damn commercial for a lot of critics. Screw it, just buy the damn CD and groove. Lou Friedman

Multiple songs: MySpace

The White Stripes – Icky Thump

The White Stripes: Icky Thump

Artist: Wooden Shjips
Album: Wooden Shjips
Label: Holy Mountain
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/woodenshjips-woodenshjips.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-17

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They may be named after that old hippie anthem of their San Francisco neighborhood, but Wooden Shjips are certainly more Can than Crosby, Stills and Nash, as their brilliant Holy Mountain debut signifies. But that certainly doesn’t mean the essence of their city’s Haight-Ashbury ethos is eschewed from their utterly unique hybrid of the Grateful Dead’s Warlocks-era freak-out grooves and Krautrock’s hypnotic, rhythmic drone. As a matter of fact, not since Jefferson Airplane took their last bath at Baxter’s has there been a No Cal group more celebratory of the Summer of Love’s acid test mania as Ripley Johnson and co. illicit, even though their steez is definitely more in allegiance with San Fran’s legendary anarchist collective The Diggers than the Merry Pranksters. In a MySpace universe full of wanna-be Rokys who think they’re Timothy Leary because they read an issue of Arthur, Wooden Shjips’ massive eponymous debut provides the true measuring stick separating the Owsley Sunshine from that brown stuff bugging everybody out at Woodstock. Ron Hart

Multiple songs: MySpace

Wooden Shjips – Dance, California

Wooden Shjips: Wooden Shjips

Artist: The World/Inferno Friendship Society
Album: Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s Twentieth Century
Label: Chunksaah
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/worldinfernofriendshipsocietythe-addictedtobadideaspeterlorrestwentiethcentury.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-10

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Concept albums — much less well-executed concept albums — are few and far between. It’s hard to imagine what World/Inferno Friendship Society was thinking when they decided to create their own miniature rock operetta based on the life and times of noted ’30s and ’40s character actor, Peter Lorre. As much a blend of every emotion in the human condition as it is a musical pastiche of punk, swing, ska, classical, and even klezmer,Addicted to Bad Ideas has World/Inferno dusting off nearly forgotten Hollywood lore and telling the actor’s story through song. Tracing Lorre’s Jewish/Hungarian roots, self-imposed exile from WWII-torn Europe, his multiple marriages, and second wind of Stateside success; World/Inferno weaves a surprisingly poignant and human portrait, allowing a career supporting actor to take center stage to tell his story. The superlative musicianship of the nine-piece World/Inferno combined with a full orchestra brings every aspect of this disc to breathtaking life, chock full of swinging punk surprises in addition to deftly clever lyricism loaded with both humor, history, and pathos. Lana Cooper

Multiple songs: MySpace

The World/Inferno Friendship Society – With a Good Criminal Heart (Live at Spiegeltent)

The World/Inferno Friendship Society: Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s Twentieth Century

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: 8 Diagrams
Label: Loud
Label: SRC
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/wutangclan-8diagrams.jpg
US Release Date: 2007-12-11
UK Release Date: 2007-12-10

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In the last month of 2007, when best-of-the year lists were already flowing like water, the Wu-Tang Clan released their fifth album. Initial reviews and intra-Clan bickering had it tagged as a failure, but — surprise — it’s the RZA’s masterpiece. Seemingly freed up by his film-scoring gigs, he layered the album with atmosphere and surprises, creating a strange, spiritual sci-fi/Western/martial arts ghost story, with ODB as the ghost. And a central part of the magic of course comes from the increasingly diverse rhyming styles of the other Clan members, still some of the best MCs in hip-hop, with Raekwon, Method Man and Masta Killa especially on fire. News of the Wu-Tang Clan’s fall has been greatly exaggerated. 8 Diagrams is one of their strongest albums, and one of the most adventurous albums of the year. Dave Heaton

Multiple songs: MySpaceWu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams