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The Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, PopMatters picks the best 60 albums of 2007.

Artist: Gui Boratto Album: Chromophobia Label: Kompakt Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/borattogui-chromophobia.jpg US Release Date: 2007-03-13 UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 60

Chromophobia balances an ornamental relationship between the large and the small. Even alongside sterling efforts from DeepChord Presents: Echospace, Stephan Bodzin, The Field, and others -- each album boasting its own hypnotic aesthetic -- Gui Boratto's tech house and pop retained a memorable spot in 2007's most intriguing electronic music. Chromophobia is marked with diversity that spans plains in mere moments, with lush trance webs and mildly speckled introductions. In one segment worth sharing, Boratto uses dramatically Cure-inspired synths in "Xilo" to follow bleeps and midtempo crackles in "Acrostico", just before a cinema-sized charger called "Beautiful Life" bursts from an almost-hesitant liftoff. "Beautiful Life's" climactic surges come off otherworldly and gluttonous when played next to the miniature chimes-and-clicks symphony in opener "Scene", but like Chromophobia's palette of sounds, its scale is expansive and vast. Dominic Umile

Gui Boratto - Beautiful Life

Gui Boratto: Chromophobia

Artist: Eluvium Album: Copia Label: Temporary Residence Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/e/eluvium-copia.jpg US Release Date: 2007-02-20 UK Release Date: 2007-03-19

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List number: 59

As Eluvium, Matthew Cooper is creating the most striking instrumental ambient music of our time. Still, "ambient" seems the wrong word. It conjures up notions of static or barely moving mood-pieces casting a subtle shade on the listener's surroundings. A transfixing mood is definitely present throughout Copia, but there's movement, too. There's an emotional heft to the compositions that makes them almost pop songs, with melody playing as large a role as atmosphere. Copia stands out in Eluvium's discography for his abandonment of guitar in favor of mainly organ and piano. It stands out among other music made today for how simply it presents a complete universe of sound. This is music that stops time still while sparking motion within listeners' hearts and brains. Dave Heaton

MP3: Prelude for Time Feelers

Multiple songs: MySpaceEluvium: Copia

Artist: Beirut Album: The Flying Club Cup Label: Ba Da Bing Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/beirut-theflyingclubcup.jpg US Release Date: 2007-10-09 UK Release Date: 2007-10-08

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List number: 58

If Beirut's debut album, 2006's Gulag Orkestar, was Zach Condon's carefully etched postcard from the Eastern Bloc, then The Flying Club Cup finds him calling collect from a Parisian café -- pinot in hand and pursed lips at the ready. Since its inception as an outlet for Condon's musical musings to a fully fledged 'band' with actual members, Beirut has always bore exotic gifts. On The Flying Club Cup they've moved from painting Balkan music with a baroque brush to Gaelic folk and Jacques Brel balladry. The ukulele and horns are still present, but here we find them augmented by wheezing accordions and Owen Pallet's vibrant violin. Condon's elongated vocal style adds a rich, romantic overtone to the eclectic affair, which is timeless in its musical pursuit. The Flying Club Cup is the sound of someone finding their feet but deciding not to plant them in one place. Kevin Pearson

Beirut - Elephant Gun

Beirut: The Flying Club Cup

Artist: Iron & Wine Album: The Shepherd's Dog Label: Sub Pop Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/i/ironwine-theshepherdsdog.jpg US Release Date: 2007-09-25 UK Release Date: 2007-09-24

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List number: 57

The pleasure of early Iron & Wine releases tended to lie in the hushed intimacy of Sam Beam's songs. The arrangements were so minimal and the delivery so muted and feather-light that you couldn't help feeling that they were being played just for you in your own living room (preferably in front of a blazing fire). Something's happened since 2004's excellent Our Endless Numbered Days, with Beam collaborating with Calexico and trying out some different sounds and textures. The Shepherd's Dog reflects this new, full-band incarnation of Iron & Wine and it's an adventurous extension of the Beam sound. This is the best Iron & Wine album yet because the warm, delicacy of old is still present even when the band is in strange new territory, whipping up a reggae jam or country stomp. Sam Beam is still playing in your living room -- he's just brought some friends along. David Pullar

MP3: Innocent Bones

MP3: Boy With a Coin

Iron & Wine - The Devil Never Sleeps

Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog

Artist: Blu & Exile Album: Below the Heavens Label: Sound in Color Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/blu__exile.jpg US Release Date: 2007-08-28

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List number: 56

In the past, duos like Eric B. and Rakim and Pete Rock and CL Smooth have shown that chemistry cannot be forced and that an organic album can only be made when the men behind them take their ideas to a higher level. Blu and Exile hold that same type of musical and mental synchronization, and although they are far from legends in the hip-hop game, their first full-length collaboration Below the Heavens shows that the two have the potential to reach that status. Each artist contributes their own superbly honed skills to the album's 14 tracks, with Blu rapping as if he can only speak in complex rhymes and Exile dropping beats that glide along with crunchy soul samples and crisp drums. Unlike many underground rappers who are trying to break, Blu does not aggrandize himself or focus his rhymes on bling and cars. He is merely an average guy with adept lyrical skill, drawing only from his life and focusing on his depression, faltering romances and life of poverty. Blu is real, just like his listeners, and fantasy has no place on the record. But like every great hip-hop duo, an emcee needs an equally forceful producer, and Exile provides a splendidly lush soul soundscape. These two are so in sync with one another that if they can hold it together longer than other classic rap duos have and deliver more albums of this quality, then they will surely leave their mark on hip-hop. Steven J. Horowitz

Blu & Exile - Soul Amazing

Blu & Exile: Below the Heavens

Artist: New Young Pony Club Album: Fantastic Playroom Label: Modular Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/n/newyoungponyclub-fantasticplayroom.jpg US Release Date: 2007-08-28 UK Release Date: 2007-07-07

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List number: 55

On first exposure, it may seem odd that such a highly anticipated album was met with such a low-key response from the collective critical community. The reason for this probably has a lot more to do with the circumstances surrounding Fantastic Playroom's release than the actual album itself. A few of the band's singles had already been floating around the ether for the better part of a year before their debut actually dropped -- by the time it did, bloggers and fashionistas who had already grown tired of "Ice Cream" had moved on to whatever Hot New Thing. All's the more shame, considering that "Ice Cream", for all its charm, is the worst track on the album. New Young Pony Club have defied one-hit-wonder expectations by crafting a classic freshman album that not only makes good on every erg of pre-release hype, but manages to overshoot even the wildest predictions of the band's boosters. Although they've been lumped in with a few other terrible bands in the ghastly "nu-rave" microgenre, Fantastic Playroom owes less to Altern-8 or the Shamen than the Talking Heads, specifically circa More Songs About Buildings and Food. The only thing is, singer Tahita Bulmer might just be better, and is definitely sexier than David Byrne. There's nothing faux about the authentic funk on display here. Just about perfect in every way. Tim O'Neil

MP3: The Bomb

New Young Pony Club - Get Lucky

New Young Pony Club: Fantastic Playroom

Artist: St. Vincent Album: Marry Me Label: Beggars Banquet Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/stvincent-marryme.jpg US Release Date: 2007-07-10 UK Release Date: 2007-09-03

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List number: 54

St. Vincent - Marry Me 46906 For most people, playing guitar for Sufjan Stevens or the Polyphonic Spree would be the highlight of an entire career. For Annie Clark (who we know as St. Vincent and who's done both), it was just the prelude to her own remarkable solo debut. And thank god for that. Marry Me is one of those rare records that offers something new and imaginative with every track. Musically, Clark is as comfortable delicately placing a horn in the midst of a jazz-inspired torch song as she is building a distorted, choir-fuelled, indie-rock crescendo. And lyrically, she's just as hard to pin down. Marry Me echoes the whole anxious mess of our 21st century lives (from our war on terror to our fear of commitment), and since it's delivered with such sad whimsy, you're never quite sure whether you're supposed to break down and cry or just plain laugh at the glorious absurdity of it all. Either way, it's a beautiful thing to listen to. Adam Bunch

St. Vincent - Your Lips Are Red

St. Vincent: Marry Me

Artist: Ryan Adams Album: Easy Tiger Label: Lost Highway Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/adamsryan-easytiger.jpg US Release Date: 2007-06-26 UK Release Date: 2007-06-25

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List number: 53

It's easy to over-praise Easy Tiger simply because of diminished expectations. After all, Ryan Adams released three wildly uneven full-length albums in 2005, along with a never-ending stream of hip-hop/hard-rock EPs on his website. Just when the world was ready to give up on him, Adams unleashed Easy Tiger, easily his best and most unified album since his classic solo debut, Heartbreaker. Yet where that album was steeped in metaphor, here Adams goes straight for the gut. His top-notch backing band, The Cardinals, have finally gelled with their leader, and together they can make country-rock excursions like "Tears of Gold" and the gorgeous "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old" seem absolutely effortless. Hell, even the obligatory rock number ("Halloweenhead") sounds totally comfortable within Tiger's bed of melancholy guitar pluckings. It's a hell of a contrast: on Adams' 2003/2004 mope-rock excursions Love Is Hell, Adams used two whole EPs to try and be deliberately cathartic. Here, all he needs to sing is the yearning line "You and I together / But only one of us in love" to get the same effect. In short: welcome back Ryan. We missed you. Evan Sawdey

MP3: Everybody Knows

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals - Two

Ryan Adams: Easy Tiger

Artist: Liars Album: Liars Label: Mute Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/liars-liars.jpg US Release Date: 2007-08-28 UK Release Date: 2007-08-20

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List number: 52

Thematically, garage rock has typically dealt with the alleviation of boredom or the unleashing of desire through various outlets: self-destruction, self-mutilation, sex, driving. Contrarily, art-rock has typically dealt with the bottling up of those same desires. Why these two have never crossed paths is a question that critics have not asked enough, but that Liars are all too willing to answer for us. When Angus Andrews -- the seven-foot, leering frontman of Liars -- pleads, "there's someone for me", it's far from romantic. After seven tracks of brutal assaults, from the three chord nail-driver of "Plaster Casts of Everything" to the Troggs stomp of "Freak Out", there's no way to read it as anything but sick pleasures. With Liars, this trio finally takes their fascination with witchcraft and dark fantasies and directs it inward, taking the psychosis and bizarre imagery of art-rock and post-punk and matching it to the most visceral and varied rock and roll in eons. Tal Rosenberg

Liars - Houseclouds

Liars: Liars

Artist: The Pipettes Album: We Are the Pipettes Label: Memphis Industries Label: Interscope Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/pipettesthe-wearethepipettes.jpg US Release Date: 2007-10-02 UK Release Date: 2006-07-17

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List number: 51

Girl groups just wanna have fun. The polka-dotted pop of The Pipettes debut album offers the pleasures of a good time with the promise of more to come. The three lasses know their way around a dance floor and the boys next door. The trios' songs are full of melodic hooks, sweet doo wop harmonies, and catchy lyrics delivered with gum-snapping assurance and a sassy attitude. These three women might evoke the past glories of the Shangri-Las and Ronnettes, but The Pipettes' musical concerns belong to the 21st century. They don't cry for no one and are nobody's baby. They don't stay at home and wait for the phone to ring. They are out there mixing it up and having a ball. The Pipettes humorously boast of their talents, passions, and insecurities in an infectious manner that makes you want to be their best friend if you can't be their boyfriend. Steve Horowitz

The Pipettes - Because It's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling)

The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes

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