Dec 28, 2007

2007 Year in Review V: The Albums (part 2)
And we continue with albums 80-61 of my favorite 100 from 2007...

80. Dungen - Tio Bitar (Kemado)
These psych reviving Swedes drop their second U.S. album, picking up where the excellent Ta Det Lungt left off and further expanding their sound.
Recommended tracks: "Familj", "Mon Amour"

79. Sloan - Never Hear the End of It (Yep Roc)
Canada's greatest power-pop exports keep on evading their long, long overdue American success on this sprawling, 30-track burst of energy.
Recommended tracks: "Everybody Wants You", "Ana Lucia"

78. Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence)
These Texans prove with this album that post-rock is not yet dead, cranking out six more climaxing epics.
Recommended tracks: "The Birth and Death of the Day", "It's Natural To Be Afraid"

77. Jay-Z - American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)
Jigga bounces back strongly from the misfire of his first post "retirement" album with this loose concept album inspired by the Denzel Washington film. But it doesn't matter what sparked him, I'm just glad to have Hov back.
Recommended tracks: "Roc Boys (And the Winner is...)", "Hello Brooklyn 2.0"

76. Om - Pilgrimage (Southern Lord)
A bit more subdued effort from these ex Sleep boys, but all the more beautiful for it.
Recommended tracks: "Pilgrimage", "Bhimas' Theme"

75. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)
Sam Beam continues his winning ways on his latest release, I'm really digging the full band sound he has been chasing as of late.
Recommended tracks: "Resurrection Fern", "Flightless Bird, American Mouth"

74. Robert Pollard - Standard Gargoyle Decisions (Merge)
This is the (slightly) more experimental of Pollard's two 2007 releases under his own name, chock-full of his signature hooks and classic rock nods.
Recommended tracks: "Hero Blows the Revolution", "Spider Eyes"

73. The Hidden Hand - The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote (Southern Lord)
Swampy, stompy, Southern-gothic doom metal from the legendary Wino and his latest band.
Recommended tracks: "Spiritually Bereft", "Dark Horizons"

72. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
Miss Jones' voice alone makes this worth hearing, but its the swing and oomph of her backing band that makes it fun.
Recommended tracks: "100 Days, 100 Nights", "Let Them Knock"

71. Handsome Furs - Plague Park (Sub Pop)
Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) pairs with Alexei Perry for nine tracks of sparse and wiry indie rock.
Recommended tracks: "Snakes on the Ladder", "Sing! Captain"

70. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger (Lost Highway)
Ryan must have found himself a trustworthy editor, as this is one his most tight and concise albums yet - much more consistent than his recent patchy outings even if the highs aren't quite as high.
Recommended tracks: "Halloweenhead", "Two Hearts"

69. Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free)
Difficult to classify experimental indie rock that roams from sugary pop to atmospheric noodling to propulsive drumming, fans of recent Animal Collective should enjoy this.
Recommended tracks: "2080", "Wait for the Summer"

68. The Ponys - Turn the Lights Out (Matador)
Chicago's Ponys rediscover the fire that made their debut so unforgettable, plowing through twelve tracks of garage rock goodness that sometimes recalls Sonic Youth.
Recommended tracks: "1209 Seminary", "Poser Psychotic"

67. Bonde do Role - With Lasers (Domino)
Breakout Brazilian stars crank out one of the most fun albums of 2007, combining Brazilian rhythms, hip-hop, and even pop metal into something truly original.
Recommended tracks: "Office Boy", "Solta O Frango"

66. Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow)
If a peyote-doused Pavement left out to dry in the Western sun sounds good to you, you'll love this album.
Recommended tracks: "Devil's a Go-Go", "Murder Babe"

65. Robert Pollard - Coast To Coast Carpet of Love (Merge)
More pop-oriented and accessible than Standard Gargoyle Decisions, this is Pollard's best album since disbanding the Guided by Voices brand.
Recommended tracks: "Miles Under the Skin", "Our Gaze"

64. !!! - Myth Takes (Warp)
This album was quite a surprise for me, these indie funkers proved that there's a lot of gas left in the band. A shame about Out Hud though.
Recommended tracks: "Must Be the Moon", "Heart of Hearts"

63. Powerhouse Sound - Oslo/Chicago: Breaks (Atavistic)
Some fantastic jazz sessions from an excellent band that features the always intriguing Ken Vandermark, well worth a spin.
Recommended tracks: "Acid Scratch (for Lee Perry)", "New Dirt/King to Crown Pt. 2"

62. Machine Head - The Blackening (Roadrunner)
I had pretty much written these guys off once they turned into nu-metal also-rans, but this album proves they are not a band to be forgotten. Very brutal stuff here.
Recommended tracks: "Clenching the Fists of Dissent", "Wolves"

61. Ghost - In Stormy Nights (Drag City)
I was a newcomer to these Japanese experimental rockers with the last album, but this one places me squarely in the fan camp - very impressive.
Recommended tracks: "Hemicyclic Anthelion", "Gareki No Toshi"

Dec 27, 2007

2007 Year in Review V: The Albums (part 1)
After a short break for the holidays, I'm back and ready to reveal my favorite 100 albums of the year. To be honest, I also needed a little extra time to reconfigure my list after a couple late year surprises made me sit up and take notice (most significantly, I'm looking at you Lupe...). I think this year I heard more albums than ever before, it was surprisingly difficult to narrow it down to my top 100. But, as flooded as I was with good to great albums, there were very few that completely knocked my socks off and threw me for a loop. There were a few fun surprises though and a lot of music that I think I will be returning to quite often over the next several years. I'll start with albums 100-81 and update with more in the days to follow.

100. Blonde Redhead - 23 (4AD)
Blonde Redhead continues their evolution from Sonic Youth noiseniks to lush, lovely shoegazers.
Recommended tracks: "23", "Spring and By Summer Fall"

99. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works (Relapse)
These schizo-metal crazies toss even more curveballs into their sonic stew, including some (gasp!) pop gems.
Recommended tracks: "Black Bubblegum", "Dead As History"

98. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Def Jux)
Underground uber-producer gets back on the other side of the mic, rocking 13 tracks of twisted, sci-fi paranoia.
Recommended tracks: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')", "Flyentology"

97. Shooter Jennings - The Wolf (Universal South)
Waylon's kid comes back with his third and best album yet, polishing up his tales of love and loss without losing those rough edges that keep him well off Nashville's radar.
Recommended tracks: "Tangled Up Roses", "Slow Train"

96. King Khan & The Shrines - What Is?! (Hazelwood/Revolver)
The crazy prolific King Khan strikes back with his Shrines, giving you more of that classic garage rock that you've been aching for.
Recommended tracks: "Welfare Bread", "In Your Grave"

95. The White Stripes - Icky Thump (Warner Bros)
I think this seals it - Jack and Meg are simply incapable of releasing a bad album. This may not be as immediately likable as some of their earlier outings, but still very good.
Recommended tracks: "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues", "Conquest"

94. Akron/Family - Love is Simple (Young God)
A lot of Akron fans may hate me for saying it, but these guys are my favorite hippie jam band going right now.
Recommended tracks: "Ed is a Portal", "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms"

93. Babyshambles - Shotter's Nation (Astralwerks)
While the rolling Pete Doherty trainwreck sideshow continues to roll on, the man somehow manages to release music that validates his fame.
Recommended tracks: "French Dog Blues", "Carry On Up the Morning"

92. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum)
This criminally overlooked Chicago multi-instrumentalist churns out another in his ongoing series of fantastic albums.
Recommended tracks: "Fiery Crash", "Dark Matter"

91. Circus Devils - Sgt. Disco (Ipecac)
The first of several releases from one Robert Pollard that will appear, this finds one of his weirder side-projects releasing its most cohesive work yet.
Recommended tracks: "In Madonna's Gazebo", "Summer is Set"

90. Minsk - The Ritual Fires of Abandonment (Relapse)
A delirious album's worth of psychedelic-doom metal from this Chicago band, one of the heaviest trips of the year.
Recommended tracks: "Mescaline Sunrise", "The Orphans of Piety"

89. Prinzhorn Dance School - Prinzhorn Dance School (Astralwerks)
Obvious Mark E. Smith influence aside, these Brits are a refreshing addition to the usually dance-heavy DFA roster.
Recommended tracks: "You Are the Space Invader", "Do You Know Your Butcher"

88. Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters (Southern Lord)
Easily the most haunting, spookiest album I've heard all year - dark and dense ambient black metal that sounds as if it were literally recorded in the depths of a haunted forest.
Recommended tracks: "Dia Artio", "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Stones"

87. Feist - The Reminder (Cherry Tree)
Even though we're all sick of "1, 2, 3, 4" by now (thanks Apple!), this is still a great album by a woman finally gathering all the acclaim she deserves.
Recommended tracks: "My Moon, My Man", "How My Heart Behaves"

86. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
One of the most exciting and consistent indie rock bands today drops another stellar record. But maybe not quite as good as others may tell you.
Recommended tracks: "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", "The Underdog"

85. Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II (Reprise)
Good ol' Neil drops another near classic, this time resurrecting the idea for an unreleased 1977 album and filling it with gems from the past several decades.
Recommended tracks: "Ordinary People", "Spirit Road"

84. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Living with the Living (Touch & Go)
The hard-rocking and hard-touring Ted Leo takes a break from the road to give us one of the most lively protest records of the year.
Recommended tracks: "La Costa Brava", "The Sons of Cain"

83. Thurston Moore - Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
Sonic Youth's resident noise-expert drops his first solo effort in over a decade. The surprising? It's chock full of graceful acoustic guitars. The expected? It's chock full of excellent guitar playing, and its awesome.
Recommended tracks: "The Shape is in a Trance", "Silver>Blue"

82. Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future (Geffen)
Don't buy into whatever nu-rave malarkey the British press is trying to sell you on, this is just plain old good music that borrows equally from rock and dance.
Recommended tracks: "Golden Skans", "Atlantis to Interzone"

81. UGK - Underground Kingz (Jive)
The underground legends finally get some mainstream love for this sprawling opus, unfortunately we lose Pimp C just a few short months later. R.I.P.
Recommended tracks: "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)", "Quit Hatin' the South"

Dec 19, 2007

2007 Year in Review IV: The Singles
As we near the end of via//chicago's 2007 wrap-up, its time for the first of the two big categories - the best singles of the year. As usual there were a couple of stellar mainstream standouts that will forever be linked to this year (numbers 1, 3, 5, and 9) and some fantastic tunes overlooked by the masses (numbers 2, 7, and 10). Let's take a look back on the year in singles...

1. "Stronger" - Kanye West
This was an easy and obvious choice for my favorite song of the year. Anyone sampling my favorite Daft Punk song would win points, but only 'Ye could make something completely fresh and exciting out of it. But its not just the killer hook that makes this song so fantastic, West's flow is on fire for the whole thing. His oversized ego served the braggadocio in this song perfectly.

2. "You! Me! Dancing!" - Los Campesinos!
As mentioned in yesterday's EP rundown, this is an absolutely fantastic single from a very, very promising young Welsh band. The anticipatory intro builds to a fever pitch before exploding in youthful energy all over the place. The male/female vocals almost topple over into too cutesy territory, but that killer chorus makes everything alright.

3. "Umbrella" - Rihanna f. Jay-Z
An inescapable song earlier this year, but for good reason. A great verse from Jigga that doesn't overstay its welcome, Rihanna's best vocal performance to date, and that awesome "ella ella ey ey ey" hook. In the wrong hands it would have been the most grating song ever, only she could have pulled this off so charmingly.

4. "Phantom Limb" - The Shins
It seems like a lot of people have forgotten about this album already, as seems to happen with lots of January releases. That's a shame because it stands up well with the rest of this fantastic band's catalog, especially this slice of Beach Boys-inspired pop heaven.

5. "Girlfriend" - Avril Lavigne
Quite possibly the most polarizing song of the year, but I fully believe that this is a perfect example of simplicity being the best approach. Between the cheerleader chanting chorus and the bratty snarl of the verses, this is the best argument yet for the continued existence of Avril singles. And "she's like, so whatever" - brilliant.

6. "Atlas" - Battles
Hands down the best math-rock single of the year! Tyondai Braxton's creepy Smurf-on-acid vocals combine with one of the most engaging and insistent beats on any single track I've heard all year to make for a truly unforgettable experience. Watch the video and dig John Stanier reaching waaaaaaay up there to hit that cymbal. Awesome.

7. "All My Friends" - LCD Soundsystem
A heartbreaking treatise on growing up and letting go of the glory days set to a fantastic New Order bassline and the greatest one-note piano line I've heard in years. It takes a couple listens for the power of the song to completely envelop you, but once the magic of lines like "and if I'm sewn into submission / I can still come home to this" hit you like a punch in the gut - this song owns you.

8. "Thrash Unreal" - Against Me!
I'd written off Against Me as another band in the endless Hot Topic mall-punk assembly line, but all it took was this sharp hook digging under my skin to make me a believer. The juxtaposition of the bubbly "ba-ba-ba-ba" melody and the lyrics about addiction make for a jarring, but wholly compelling pop tune.

9. "D.A.N.C.E." - Justine
A fantastic French duo, the kiddie chorus, a fantastic video, and lyrical nods to classic Michael Jackson made this one of the easiest to love singles of the year. Did I mention how great the video is?

10. "Fireworks" - Animal Collective
A lot of people tell me they just don't "get" Animal Collective when I try to push this song on them, but I think they may be trying way too hard to look for something that isn't there. For me this is all about the visceral experience, kicking back and let the sound wash over you. Maybe not the most accessible single on the list, but it deserves to be given a chance.

11. "Four Winds" - Bright Eyes
12. "And She Would Darken the Memory" - The Twilight Sad
13. "Must Be the Moon" - !!!
14. "I Still Remember" - Bloc Party
15. "Wrong Galaxy/Triumph" - Shit Robot
16. "Rocket" - Working for a Nuclear Free City
17. "Tonight I Have to Leave It" - Shout Out Louds
18. "See You at the Lights" - 1990s
19. "Teenagers" - My Chemical Romance
20. "Gunpowder & Lead" - Miranda Lambert

21. “Thnks fr th Mmrs” – Fall Out Boy
22. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” – Of Montreal
23. “Good Life” – Kanye West f. T-Pain
24. “Throw Some D’s” – Rich Boy f. Polow Da Don
25. “Can You Feel It?” – Apples In Stereo
26. “Tonto” – Battles
27. “1, 2, 3, 4” – Feist
28. “Hello Brooklyn 2.0” – Jay-Z f. Lil Wayne
29. “I’m A Flirt (Remix)” – R. Kelly f. T.I. & T-Pain
30. “O Katrina!” – Black Lips

31. “What Goes Around…/…Comes Around” – Justin Timberlake
32. “Beautiful Life” – Gui Boratto
33. “Roc Boys (And the Winner is…)” – Jay-Z
34. “Ruby” – Kaiser Chiefs
35. “To the East” - Electrelane
36. “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” – Bright Eyes
37. “Melody Day” - Caribou
38. “Tears Dry On Their Own” – Amy Winehouse
39. “Golden Skans” – Klaxons
40. “Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” – The Noisettes

41. “Read My Mind” – The Killers
42. “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” – UGK f. Outkast
43. “Foundations” – Kate Nash
44. “2080” – Yeasayer
45. “Off the Hook” – CSS
46. “Jimmy” – M.I.A.
47. “The Prayer” – Bloc Party
48. “Someone Great” – LCD Soundsystem
49. “Ankle Injuries” – Fujiya & Miyagi
50. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – Kanye West

51. “I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always Trying To Get You Off (Me & You)” – Fall Out Boy
52. “Make Em Mad” – B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz
53. “Straight Lines” – Silverchair
54. “Dashboard” – Modest Mouse
55. “Our Velocity” – Maximo Park
56. “Get Buck” – Young Buck
57. “Boy with a Coin” – Iron & Wine
58. “The Game” – Common
59. “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” – Okkervil River
60. “Keep the Car Running” – The Arcade Fire

61. “Peacebone” – Animal Collective
62. “Hang Me Up To Dry” – Cold War Kids
63. “Jesus Christ” – Brand New
64. “Is There a Ghost” – Band of Horses
65. “Office Boy” – Bonde do Role
66. “Misery Business” – Paramore
67. “Piece of Me” – Britney Spears
68. “Drivin’ Me Wild” – Common f. Lily Allen
69. “The Heinrich Maneuver” – Interpol
70. “Direct Hit” – Art Brut

71. “Giddy Stratospheres” – The Long Blondes
72. “The Magic Position” – Patrick Wolf
73. “Same Jeans” – The View
74. “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)” – The White Stripes
75. “With Love” – Hilary Duff
76. “Big Casino” – Jimmy Eat World
77. “What’s a Girl To Do?” – Bat For Lashes
78. “Two of Us” – Supermayer
79. “Earth Intruders” – Bjork
80. “Go Getta” – Young Jeezy f. R. Kelly

81. “Flux (JFK Remix)” – Bloc Party
82. “Absolutely No Decorum” – The Ark
83. “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down” – Oasis
84. “Shut Up and Drive” - Rihanna
85. “Cold Hands” – Black Lips
86. “I’m A Fool Wit It” – Twisted Black
87. “Baby Girl, I’m A Blur” – Say Anything
88. Myriad Harbor” – The New Pornographers
89. “Flathead” – The Fratellis
90. “Icky Thump” – The White Stripes

91. “In the Belly of a Shark” – Gallows
92. “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” – Richard Hawley
93. “Men’s Needs” – The Cribs
94. “You are the Space Invader” – Prinzhorn Dance School
95. “The Deception” – iLiKETRAiNS
96. “Coffee” – Aesop Rock f. John Darnielle
97. “She is the New Thing” – The Horrors
98. “Dry the River” – Maylene and the Sons of Disaster
99. “Someone To Love” – Fountains of Wayne
100. “Fancy Footwork” – Chromeo

Dec 18, 2007

2007 Year in Review III: The EP's
The power of an EP should never be underestimated. When done properly, an EP can pack a lot of punch in a small package - introducing us to new artists or hinting at new directions for the old ones. I've always been a huge fan of the EP and I'm glad more and more bands are taking advantage of the format by trying new and interesting things, not just dumping leftovers onto them. Here's a quick list of some of my favorites from the past year.

1. Los Campesinos! - Sticking Fingers Into Sockets (Arts & Crafts)
Undoubtedly one of my favorite new bands bursting onto the scene in 2007, this six-piece from Wales knew exactly how to best introduce themselves to the world. Toss in one of the most joyous singles of the year ("You! Me! Dancing!"), another nearly as fantastic ("We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives"), a Pavement cover ("Frontwards"), and a whole lot of youthful exuberance - and voila! you have one of the most promising debuts I've heard in years. I can't wait for the full-length next year.

2. Deerhunter - Fluorescent Grey EP (Kranky)
This can pretty much be considered the addendum to the excellent Cryptograms album, which is great - even more of a wonderful thing. Four more songs worth of swirling, disorienting ambient punk. Bradford Cox may be a magnet for controversy, but the dude is a talented songwriter.

3. Robert Pollard - Silverfish Trivia EP (Prom is Coming)
Of his thirty-four (or whatever) releases during the past year, this seems to be the least favorite of his longtime fans. I don't get it though, this is pretty good stuff. Fewer obvious hooks, but I think it stands up well as a cohesive whole. I dig this side of Pollard's songwriting genius.

4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Is Is (Interscope)
This is mostly re-recorded versions of material originally written between their first two studio albums, but at the same time seems to perfectly demonstrate the continuing growth of this band's songwriting chops. "Down Boy" and "Rockers To Swallow" are obvious highlights, but there really isn't a bad tune in the bunch.

5. Jesu - Lifeline EP (Hydra Head)
Two albums and a handful of EPs into his post-Godflesh solo career, and Justin Broadrick has yet to hit a bum note in any of them. This definitely doesn't represent the heaviest work of his career, but I think the ethereal nature of these songs suits the Jesu imprint very well. A lot of fans have given him shit for the female vocals on "Storm Comin' On", but I find it a welcome change of pace.

6. Black Kids - Wizard of Ahhhs EP (self-released)
The best argument for the continued existence of MySpace I was able to find in 2007. This Jacksonville band offered this EP for free on their page and the indie web presence was quick to heap praise all over them. Thing is, all of it is totally deserved. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" is everything lacking from too much indie rock this year - energetic, fun, and endearing. I can't wait to hear what else these kids have in the pipeline, let's just hope the early hype doesn't bury them before they get a fair chance to shine.

7. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Follow the Lights (Lost Highway)
Buried amidst all the backlash and critical hatred towards Ryan's more (ahem) colorful antics, is the fact that this dude can still churn out a killer tune when needed. The three new tracks are alone worth the price of admission here, but the true stars are his surprising cover of Alice In Chains' "Down in a Hole" and the Cardinals reworking of Adams' own "This Is It".

8. Dead Child - Dead Child EP (Cold Sweat)
In which David Pajo of Slint and Tortoise fame decides to have a go at Priest meets Sabbath style retro-metal, bringing along a handful of Louisville indie stalwarts for the head-banging ride. Ultimately inconsequential, but good fist-pumping fun.

9. Sigur Ros - Hvarf/Heim (XL)
Released as a companion piece to the documentary DVD Heima, this double EP finds the Icelandic wonders giving fans one disc of unreleased gems and another of acoustic variations of various songs from their back catalog. Not as thrilling as any of the band's long players, but the raw and loose feeling of these recordings is a refreshing change of pace.

10. Bright Eyes - Four Winds EP (Saddle Creek)
A teaser of sorts from earlier this year, this provided us with a peek at one of Cassadaga's brightest stars, as well as a handful of B-sides from that same album. As usual with Mr. Oberst, the B-sides are nothing to sneeze at - especially "Tourist Trap". Great stuff.

Dec 17, 2007

2007 Year in Review II: The Various and Sundry
This is the catch-all category that covers live albums, label compilations, soundtracks, reissues - basically whatever doesn't fit under the category of single, album, or EP. Below are what I consider to be the twenty finest of such from the past year. Click on the links to buy them for yourself.

1. Daft Punk - Alive 2007 (Virgin)
Was there really any doubt? A nearly perfect document of the most amazing live experience of the year. I'll never be able to completely recapture the feeling of watching the robotic duo rhythmically enslave us all from their perch in the pyramid, but this comes damn close.

2. Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise)
A truly remarkable live document of Neil at the height of his first classic era. Essential for any diehard fan, but also a pretty decent introduction for the newbie (if only to understand what made the rest of us the diehards).

3. Sly and the Family Stone - The Collection (box set) (Sony)
A beautifully packaged box that contains the first seven classic albums from these R&B/funk superstars. Mandatory listening for anyone with even the most passing interest in music that makes you shake your ass off.

4. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (collector's edition) (Rhino)
These boys' albums were due for a solid remastering job and they finally received it. Their first, and arguably best, album benefited greatly. The live bonus disc may be a slight disappointment to longtime fans already hoarding their releases, but you just cannot argue with how great the album sounds.

5. Elliott Smith - New Moon (Kill Rock Stars)
A posthumous double disc set that finally pushed me off the fence and into full-fledged fandom. I figured shit, if this guy has outtakes this good, I really need to check out the rest of his stuff. Fantastic stuff all around.

6. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (deluxe edition) (Geffen)
This choice may be colored slightly by getting to watch them perform this album live back in July, but I really can't argue with a fantastic package containing one of my all-time favorite albums.

7. Various Artists - The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze, and Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium (Rhino)
The title pretty much sums it up, a fantastic four-disc summation of some of the greatest music the Brits gave us throughout the '90s. The obvious culprits are here (My Bloody Valentine, Oasis, Pulp, Blur), but its the lesser known bands (Cast, Swervedriver, The Wonder Stuff, The Trash Can Sinatras) that make this such a joy to listen to.

8. Joy Division - Closer (collector's edition) (Rhino)
It was a good year for Joy Division and a great year for us fans, getting all these reissues and new live tracks to get lost in.

9. Various Artists - Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration (Stax)
If you already know what Stax is, you already know how incredible these songs are. If you don't, you need to order this thing immediately. Isaac Hayes, Booker T, Otis Redding - need I mention more?

10. Boris w/ Merzbow - Rock Dream (Southern Lord)
Another incredible package design from Southern Lord, this time capturing a live collaboration from some of Japan's most innovative and forward thinking musicians working today.

11. Various Artists - I'm Not There (soundtrack) (Sony)
12. Alkaline Trio - Remains (Vagrant)
13. The Killers - Sawdust (Rarities and B-Sides 2003-2007) (Island)
14. Various Artists - Death Proof (soundtrack) (Maverick)
15. Opeth - The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville UK)
16. Various Artists - Ed Rec Vol. 2 (Ed Banger)
17. Superdrag - Changin' Tires on the Road to Ruin (Arena Rock)
18. J Dilla - Ruff Draft (reissue) (Stones Throw)
19. Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same (reissue) (Rhino)
20. Jaylib - Champion Sound (deluxe edition) (Stones Throw)

Dec 16, 2007

2007 Year in Review I: The Introduction

We reach the end of another year and the time has come once again to reflect upon the wonderful music the last twelve months has provided me. 2007 was not, as I've heard others suggest, a particularly weak year for music - you just needed to dig a little deeper and look to some unexpected sources to find the truly captivating and engaging stuff. Radiohead and Kanye West aside, it was a year when a lot of the biggest names failed to bring their 'A' game and instead handed us less than stellar material. The Wu-Tang Clan dropped one of the more flaccid records of the latter half of their career and T.I., despite releasing the outstanding King a year ago, churned out a half-assed concept album that was simply a chore to sit through. The Smashing Pumpkins, one of my personal favorites, completely dropped the ball with their long-awaited "reunion" album - falling well short of the already low expectations. And while they certainly weren't bad albums in any sense of the word, the latest from stalwarts like M.I.A., Rilo Kiley, The National, and Spoon all fell a little bit short of my high hopes after stupendous previous releases. Hell, even Neon Bible was a little bit of a letdown, but that was probably due more to my insanely high expectations than anything else.

But let us not dwell too long on the bad, because there was plenty of great stuff that graced my ears throughout the year. I continued to dig deeper into metal throughout the year and was rewarded with great to flat-out amazing albums from the likes of Pig Destroyer, Baroness, High On Fire, Between the Buried and Me, Jesu, and Earthless - to name but a few. And while there weren't a ton of five-star classic albums this year, rap vets like Jay-Z and UGK (R.I.P. Pimp C) dropped unexpectedly solid singles and albums during 2007. But the greatest joys, for me anyway, were those left-field albums that came out of nowhere to blow me away. Deerhunter, Battles, Chromatics, Working for a Nuclear Free City, and The Twilight Sad are all new names that made a big impact with me. Plus there were the latest albums from bands that I'd previously written off for one reason another, particularly Elephant 6 alumni like Of Montreal and Apples in Stereo.

Albums aside, it was also a pretty good year for the singles game as well. As far as I'm concerned Kanye West and his Daft Punk sampling ways ruled over all comers this year but Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, and The Shins all put up a good fight with fantastic songs. Los Campesinos!, a band to watch out for once their debut album drops in early '08, also gave us the fantastic "You! Me! Dancing!" - an ecstatic piece of pop that was stuck in my head throughout the fall of this year. "All My Friends" was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the year, while Against Me's "Thrash Unreal" gave us one of the year's most undeniable hooks from an unlikely subject matter. This all without even getting into the three or four minute bursts of joy given to us by Justice, Bright Eyes, Bloc Party, and the 1990's.

So check back over the next couple of days for my lists of the best albums, singles, EPs, and compilations/reissues of the year that was 2007. As always, feel free to leave a comment or two to express your agreement or indignation at my choices.

Nov 4, 2007

"Don't walk away in silence...."

I've been waiting to see Anton Corbijn's take on the life of Ian Curtis ever since I heard about the project a couple years ago. Not only has Joy Division been one of my favorite bands for quite some time now, I've always also been a huge fan of both Corbijn's iconic photography and his music videos (especially "Heart Shaped Box", "Personal Jesus", and "Hero of the Day"). In my mind, it was a match made in heaven. After weeks of frantically searching for some local release date information, I finally got to check it out at the Music Box theater here in Chicago and I was very impressed. I knew that with Corbijn at the helm that it was going to be a beautiful looking film, but I had my doubts as to how well the rest of it would flow. Turns out I needn't have worried, it was a superb film. The cult legend that has built up around Curtis and Joy Division over the last twenty or so years meant that it would have been easy for this film to slip into rote idol worship, ignoring the humanity of the central character. But I feel like Corbijn did an excellent job of portraying Curtis as a living, breathing human instead of some larger than life icon that floats like some ghostly specter over his music. He certainly wasn't a perfect guy, his treatment of his wife Deborah was shameful at best, and Corbijn didn't shy away from any of that. I don't know that I understand Curtis any better after having seen Control, I'm not sure that anyone ever has or will, but I certainly appreciated the glimpse into the life of such a hugely mythologized figure. And the decision to have the cast recreate the music was an excellent one, it gave the concert sequences an intensity that would have been lacking had they simply mimed the Joy Division originals. I highly recommend checking this film out if you have the chance, Joy Division fan or no.

In other news, I was disheartened to learn this past week that one of my favorite online music magazines unexpectedly closed down for good as of the first of the month. Stylus had long been one of my daily stops for music reviews and articles, featuring some of the better music writing found on the net. It will most definitely be missed, but check out the site's archives while they are still available.

Oct 31, 2007

Recent Release Round-Up

I hope you are all having a delightfully spooky Halloween. Mine was spent in a state of relative normalcy, no trick or treating for me tonight, just some great pizza and a nice glass of wine. I didn't really have any particular topic in mind for today's post, so I thought it might be a good time to look back on some of the recent releases of the past few week.

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II (Reprise)
I've been a long time fan of this great Canadian, so I was really looking forward to checking this one out. This misleadingly titled disc is a sequel of sorts to one of Neil's many, many notorious "lost" albums; featuring ten tracks of recently re-recorded songs written at various points over the last twenty years or so. The album's centerpiece, and definite highpoint, is the eighteen minute "Ordinary People" - a rousing epic about the real people that make the world go round. Surprisingly it never overstays its welcome, mostly thanks to the rousing workout by the Blue Note Horns. There a couple clunkers (as seems to be the case with any recent Young release), but the Crazy Horse stomp and swagger of "Spirit Road" and "Dirty Old Man" make this well worth checking out.

check out: "Spirit Road"

Avenged Sevenfold - Avenged Sevenfold (Warner Bros.)
There really isn't any gentle way to say this, but this album completely sucks. I (rather stupidly) had high expectations for this one after really enjoying the exciting City of Evil, but I was not prepared for this big of a turkey. I suppose I should have been prepared by the underwhelming, right-wing ranting "Critical Acclaim", but I was hoping it wouldn't be representative of the rest of the disc. I'm not sure what these guys were thinking, but their reach most definitely exceeded their grasp this time around. Gone is most of the punk swagger and metal workouts of the last album, in favor of bloated "epics" that try way too hard to be Use Your Illusion rejects. Quite possibly one of the biggest letdowns of the year.

check out: "Almost Easy"

Shooter Jennings - The Wolf (Universal)
Holy shit was this unexpected. I didn't even realize Shooter had another album coming out until the day of its release, so this took me completely by surprise in more ways than one. I've long been a fan of Waylon's kid, but this is most definitely his strongest release yet. His cover of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life", the album's first single, is an inspired choice - as is his team-up with the Oak Ridge Boys on "Slow Train". I feel like Shooter's always had a little trouble balancing his many moods (country outlaw, traditional country crooner, rock rebel) resulting in patchy albums when taken as a whole, but The Wolf strikes the perfect balance of all three. Definitely worth checking out, even if you might not be a typical country fan.

check out: "Walk of Life"

Oct 18, 2007

"I like Kid Rock..."

There, I've said it. I do. I like Kid Rock, always have. Well, since 1998 anyway. I wouldn't call myself a rabid fan, but I have followed all his albums since the multi-platinum breakthrough and I've even seen him in concert. He was good, very entertaining in an old school, big, loud, and dumb RAWK show kind of way. It wasn't the early singles off Devil Without A Cause that hooked me, nah... I really wasn't feeling "I Am the Bullgod" or "Bawitdaba". But holy trailer park savior, did "Only God Knows Why" hit me in the right kind of way. Sappy drama, pseudo sweeping grandeur, and over sentimentality combined in the right kind of way to sock me right in the gut. I could never really explain why I liked it so much, still really can't, but it's a great fucking song. That little break towards the end, where his voice switches from smooth balladeer to impassioned victim as he belts out "you get what you put in / and people get what they deserve", that's a great moment in pop history right there. That was enough to get me to buy the album, and I really dug his attitude of, "fuck you, this is the music I love, and I'll do exactly what I want". He gained momentum thanks to the rise of rap-rock, but it was his talents as a genuinely great songwriter that helped him sell 12 million copies of that record.

The follow-up, 2001's Cocky, wasn't nearly as successful ("only" 5 mil this time around) but I think its the much better album. Rock let his love of Southern Rock shine through, veering from Skynyrd namechecks and samples to back-porch ballads that worked surprisingly well. I loved the new turn he was making, my favorite songs ended up being the sappy "Lonely Road of Faith" and "Midnight Train to Memphis", not to mention the hugely successful duet with Sheryl Crow, "Picture". It was a fun, shameless album. Unfortunately it was also marked the point where Rock started to lose the plot.

Thanks to "Picture", he'd been co-opted by mainstream country, going so far as to re-record that song with the slightly more country Allison Moorer. From that point on he was all over VH1 and CMT, rocking out with a wide variety of country superstars and classic rockers. It got to the point where he was the default "edgy" guy for slightly past their prime rockers to drag out when they needed to get back in touch with the "kids". His next album, 2003's self-titled effort, found him milking his new reputation for all it was worth - alternating between the country courtin' ballads and the southern rockers. He even tapped Hank Williams Jr. and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top for guest spots. There were a few decent songs ("Jackson, Mississippi" and "Son of Detroit" come immediately to mind) but it was fairly obvious that Kid wasn't doing these songs because he loved them - he was just trying to keep his new audience. I mean, how much more blatant can you get than doing another sappy duet with Sheryl Crow? It had a few moments, but overall I thought it was a minor disappointment.

Which brings us to his latest release, the horrifically titled Rock N Roll Jesus. And I think its safe to say that not only has he completely lost direction, he can't even find the room that contains the fucking map. As much as I didn't want it to, this album completely sucks. Kid isn't even trying anymore, he's just reheating stale leftovers. "So Hott" is a misguided attempt at resurrecting his hard rockin' rap lovin' persona, but it feels completely phoned in. Meanwhile he tries to recapture the glory of "Only God Knows Why" and "Lonely Road of Faith" with the Bob Seger inspired "Roll On", except that he forgot the part about writing a good song. The lyrics are just horrible and naming songs like he's Prince all of the sudden ("When U Love Someone", "Don't Tell Me U Love Me") just makes it all sound even more stupid. It says something when the most enjoyable song on the whole disc is a bonus track live recoding of a cut from the last album ("Jackson, Mississippi"). Beyond that, I'd keep maybe two songs. Probably the sweet in spite of itself "All Summer Long" and the David Allan Coe assisted redneck rocker "Half Your Age", that's about it.

I didn't want to write a scathing review of his new album, I really wanted to be able to talk about how he put out another surprisingly strong one. I just can't though, this thing is awful. Just so awful, apparently, that the American people bought enough copies to make it Rock's first ever number one album. I guess that shows what I know.

Oct 10, 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows

I decided that tonight would be a good time to try a little something new here at via//chicago... liveblogging, sort of anyway. I'm going to spend the next forty-five or so minutes listening to the hugely anticipated new album by Radiohead and blogging my thoughts as I go along. I won't be constantly updating it though, so it won't be exactly like a liveblog. But hopefully it will retain that free-form sort of feel as you read it. But enough of that, let's just get right down to it....

1. "15 Step"
Nice little shuffling Radiokraut beat to start this thing off, almost a reggaeton feel to the beat. Thom's vocals seem to be completely contradicting the beat, but wait... here comes some melody. I really like this guitar line snaking through the song, counteracts the rigid beat. Sounds like a really cool amalgamation of the more pop side of Radiohead and the more avant side. Oooh, cool little sample snippets right there... was that children cheering? Beat is becoming a little more insistent and frenzied, swallowing that organ(?) drone. Great start to the album.

2. "Bodysnatchers"
Dirty, grungy guitar and Thom's vocals right up front in the mix. Another rather harried and frenzied track, Thom slowly slides down to the background before piping back up with some tortured wails. Lyrics are a little hard to make out through this middle portion. I like that little breakdown! This must be the guitar-heavy type of thing that some old school fans have been waiting for, but its no retread... thats for sure. The intensity towards the end of the track is really nice, before the quick fade.

3. "Nude"
A classic of sorts that has been floating around the band for years, this will be interesting to hear how a final recorded version sounds. Starts off with some ethereal moaning before some really low-end bass kicks in. Thom's vocals are pushed even further to the forefront here. There's almost a sexy sort of soul to Thom's vocals here, really sort of sultry sound to this dirge-like ballad. This is really unlike anything Radiohead has done in a long, long time. Its atmospheric like "Pyramid Song", but there exists a much more human soul this time around. Really a fantastic vocal performance by Thom this time around. Back to the ethereal moaning. The drums and bass really give this a jazzy kind of vibe.

4. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
Quick count off and away we go... drums set the motorik tempo early on, propelling Thom's lyrics and the side-winding guitar line. "I'd be crazy not to fall / fall when you leap", Thom is singing (I think). Lots of great guitar and vocal performances all over this album so far. "I get eaten by the worms and weird fishes", Thom's paranoia certainly hasn't gone away. This will be a great record to really delve into the lyrics on. Drums continue pushing us on, past the schools of weird fishes that are pulsing and fading around our ears. This feels like a rapid descent into a dark ocean, with a vague sense of all the wonders just around you that you can't see.

5. "All I Need"
Whoa, this is almost a hip-hop beat right here. You know, a hip-hop beat in some alternate universe peopled by Jonny Greenwoods and Thom Yorkes.... but still! Thom sings about being a trapped animal and all the things you choose to ignore over squelchy bass hits and that languid hip-hop beat. Bells and flourishes and keys all over the chorus portion. "You are all I need / you're all I need / I'm in the middle of your picture", a Radiohead love song? Some piano kicks in just before the track kicks into overdrive, like a hundred layers of sound washing over my ears right now - piano, cymbal crashes, keys, bass, Thom. And then, its over, just like that.
6. "Faust Arp"
"Wakey wakey / rise and shine", welcomes Thom. Acoustic guitar and Thom's vocals over a stirring string section. Thom's vocals are rapidly delivered, a neat counter to the swelling strings and acoustic guitar. Some more pretty great guitar playing here. Interesting little interlude, I'm really curious to learn all the lyrics to this one over time.

7. "Reckoner"
Multi-layered percussion here, almost a trip-hop sort of feel to things. Another of those snakey guitar lines weaves its way between the beats. Thom's vocals kick in ever so slightly more high-pitched than usual, a little bit of Yorkian falsetto? "You are not to blame", Thom insists. "Dedicated to all you", he also tells us. Beat drops out, leaving just Thom, an acoustic guitar, and some backing ooohs and ahhhs. Another string section swells to life as Thom continues to croon. The beat drops back in as the strings continue. Again here the drums sound a little jazzy, but this isn't a bad thing at all. Suits the song rather well. Long, slow fade on this one.

8. "House of Cards"
Distinct, washed-out fuzz guitar opens this one up with Thom's disembodied wails floating in the distant background somewhere. "I don't wanna be your friend / I just wanna be your lover", not the expected lyrics from a Radiohead song... but Thom pulls them off quite convincingly. It sounds like Thom is encouraging someone to give up the trapping of an average life and allow themselves to be swept off the table. "The infrastructure will collapse", definitely another Thom against the modern world type of song. Almost sounds like a love song to the disillusioned and disenchanted. Thom wants you to embrace something different. Is this sort of a thematic continuation of the ideas explored in "How to Disappear Completely"? Despite the love song sounding lyrics that kick it off, this quickly takes a haunting detour. Maybe this is an ode to the dying human soul in the 21st Century. Then again, Radiohead is never that easy to figure out at first blush.

9. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
A gentle acoustic intro quickly leads to a more insistent beat, leading up to Thom humming his way into our ears. This is also a very rhythmic album, further evidenced here. "They got a Chesire cat grin, blending into one", starts to sound like another Thom paranoia song. But, really, who cares when the music behind him is this damn good? Thom starts to sing very passionately as the song goes on. Another nice example of the balance between Radiohead's pop sensibility and their more avant leaning. Vocally, Thom is all over the place on this album, reminding me a little of his singing on OK Computer. Nice, clean ending to the song.

10. "Videotape"
Lone piano accompanies Thom as he sings about his arrival at the Pearly Gates. Is he singing about reviewing the tape of his life with St. Peter? Interesting turn for this band, but maybe I'm reading the wrong things into these lyrics. Some really cool, minimal rhythmic accompaniment pops up. Another rhythm line pops up to mirror and slightly echo the first, sounding almost like a very short, clipped sample of a train rolling down the tracks. The echo starts to stretch out as the train gathers speed. Then the echo starts to outpace the original drumbeat, leaving it far behind. Some very, very cool percussion and programming work on this one. But really, its this piano that is holding everything together. We are left with just the echoing percussion and piano as we near the end, dropping out to just the piano to finish things off. Terrific way to end the album.

Initial Thoughts:
I am very, very impressed. This is such a focused album, a big improvement on the scattershot approach they took with Hail to the Thief. I'm only one listen in, but I really feel like this is just the strong kind of statement the band needed to make at this point in their career. No giant leaps foward, no misfiring detours, just forty-five minutes or so of great, great music. It reads like the perfect distillation of their career to this point, everything that has gone towards making this band so well-loved seems to be in here. We'll see how this stands up to repeated listens, but as of right now I can see this thing contending strongly for being one of my favorite albums of the year. Kudos Radiohead, you've done it again.

(thanks to Hicks Design for the fan created cover art above)

Oct 9, 2007


Pretty simple... five songs from iTunes shuffle and a few random thoughts on each.

UGK f. Big Daddy Kane & Kool G Rap - "Next Up" (taken from Underground Kingz)
Another strong track on the surprisingly solid comeback album of sorts. This one features a pair of old school rhyme spitters and production by the legendary Marley Marl, keeping the second disc of this lengthy double-album from weighing things down. It's sort of amazing to realize just how fresh these old dudes can sound in new surroundings.

Naledge - "Fuck the World" (taken from Will Rap For Food: The Mixtape)
Decent little track from this Chicago native's mixtape from a few years back. It's unlikely that this college grad will ever blow up like Kanye, but he definitely has a decent enough flow and charisma to boot. Another in the line of Chicago's recent rap talents, check out the Kidz in the Hall mixtape on Rawkus for more hotness.

Broken Social Scene - "Canada Vs. America" (taken from EP To Be You and Me)
Another noisy BSS epic, unfortunately squirreled away on the limited bonus EP that came with copies of the Canadian collective's self-titled second album. Lots of swirling guitars and squirming feedback, just the way I like 'em.

Neil Young - "Ambulance Blues" (taken from On The Beach)
Oh man, one of my most favorite Neil Young tracks ever. Of course, that may not be saying much, because last time I checked my list of "favorite Neil Young tracks ever" had about sixty-seven songs on it. Neil is just that damn good, you know? This is a deliberately paced dirge, full of plaintive harmonica wails and some outstanding bass work. Plus, one of my favorite Neil lines ever... "And there ain't nothin' like a friend, who can tell you you're just pissin' in the wind". A classic song on a classic album from a classic artist.

Billy Corgan - "The CameraEye" (taken from TheFutureEmbrace)
So we go from a classic song from a classic album by one of my favorite artists to a crappy song from a crappy album by another one of my favorite artists. I've tried and tried to pull something out of Corgan's ill-advised electronic-tinged solo album, but its a difficult, thankless task. Depeche Mode did this kind of thing earlier and much, much better.

Oct 8, 2007

"They're standing outside / And they're looking in..."

It's been over two months without an update, I've been pretty pathetic as of late. At least as far as updating this blog is concerned. Outside of that I've been busy as hell at work while trying to plan for a wedding and making the preparations to move into a new house. To say I've had little time for writing about music would be a massive understatement. But of course I've had time to listen to it, that's for sure. And lately I've been spending more time with a band that I was originally going crazy over back in June. There debut album had been growing on me by leaps and bounds, but they're excellent set at Pitchfork Fest cemented it. The Twilight Sad is one of my new favorite bands. I was reminded their greatness thanks to another in the outstanding series of KEXP Live Performance podcasts, which you can check out for yourself right here. I've heard comparisons to Arab Strap, Arcade Fire, and U2 in the past - but I don't think any of those do justice to this band. Check out my favorite two songs for yourself. And dig that Stand By Me referencing song title!

The Twilight Sad - "That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy"
(taken from Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters)
The Twilight Sad - "And She Would Darken the Memory" (taken from Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters)

Aug 7, 2007

Top Ten Performances at Lollapalooza 2007

Another humid weekend of music in Grant Park has come and gone, leaving us only fond memories of gigantic dragonflies and Dennis Rodman. Today I give you my personal favorites from the weekend, in descending order of awesomeness.

01. Pearl Jam (AT+T Stage, August 5th)
It won't quite compare to the legendary 1995 Soldier Field show, but as far I'm concerned this was the second best outdoor mega-Jam show I've ever seen. I knew things were going to be good when Eddie and the boys ripped into "Why Go" to start the show, and from there it only got better. Fireworks exploded over the stage as they tore through an extended "Even Flow". Then they pulled out "Crazy Mary" and a brand new anti-war jam during the two encores. But ending the weekend on the image of Eddie flashing peace signs atop the shoulders of Dennis Rodman was pure what the fuck genius.

02. Daft Punk (AT+T Stage, August 3rd)
Holy. Shit. Those are the only two words I could utter after this insane set assaulted my eyes and ears for an hour and a half. Really it was just two dudes in robot helmets pushing buttons in a pyramid surrounded by flashing lights... but come on, IT WAS TWO DUDES IN ROBOT HELMETS PUSHING BUTTONS IN A PYRAMID SURROUNDED BY FLASHING LIGHTS!!! The mashed-up approach really kept things exciting and the light show was brilliantly mesmerizing. Hell, they even managed to make the weak-ass Human After All songs sound good. If I wasn't going on my 17th year of rabid Pearl Jam fandom, this easily would have ruled the weekend for me.

03. LCD Soundsystem (MySpace Stage, August 3rd)
I've been digging on James Murphy jams for a couple years now, but I had no idea how well they would translate in the open air of Grant Park. Turns out that I didn't need to worry, they sounded fantastic. I've never seen so many white people dancing so awkwardly in my life before, but it was clear that the crowd was digging it. I was expecting them to close with "Daft Punk is Playing at My House", but "Yeah" was a much better choice - it simply killed.
04. The Hold Steady (MySpace Stage, August 4th)
This was my third time seeing these guys and I've still yet to witness a moment that was less than exhilarating. Craig Finn's pure joy and manic energy was catchy like bird flu and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands the entire set.

05. Yeah Yeah Yeahs (AT+T Stage, August 4th)
Karen O is a rock and roll goddess that will seduce you, drain you, kill you, and eat your soul. All in the span of a three minute rock song. The entire band was on fire, but it was Karen who channeled the spirit of icons past and spit them back into the adoring crowd.

06. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (MySpace Stage, August 3rd)
Ted Leo is one of the hardest working musicians going right now, putting himself through a grueling tour schedule that has him bouncing all over the country seemingly without end. But you wouldn't have known that by his energetic set Saturday, he was as fresh and inspired as you could have ever expected him to be.

07. Iggy Pop and the Stooges (Bud Light Stage, August 5th)
To tell the truth, I only managed to catch the last twenty minutes or so of this set, but I think that was all I needed. To see Iggy writhing through the crowd and screaming his head off at age 60 (yeah, 60!) was a thrill. And inviting the crowd onstage to become his impromptu "Lollapalooza dancers" was probably the closest thing this entire festival got to being truly punk fucking rock.

08. Against Me! (Citi Stage, August 3rd)
Speaking of punks, these Floridians proved that the spark of punk rock rebellion hasn't been completely extinguished just yet. They tore through a fiery set and showed the doubters that punk rock is alive and well.

09. Interpol (Bud Light Stage, August 4th)
This was a sparsely attended set, at least compared with the veritable masses gathered at the other end of the park to witness Muse's headlining set (I swear to God, I never knew they had such a sizable Stateside following). Too bad for them, they missed a quality set by this NYC foursome. The set was merely "pretty good" for the first hour, but made a quick turn to "fantastic" as soon as they launched into the songs from their classic debut album.

10. Tapes N Tapes (MySpace Stage, August 4th)
The Minnesota bands were well represented on Saturday, but Tapes N Tapes weren't going to let the Hold Steady steal all the glory for their home state. Their set immediately had the early afternoon crowd moving along to the top moments from last year's The Loon, but it was the new material that really energized things and left fans wanting more.

Other worthy shout-outs: Yo La Tengo, Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club, My Morning Jacket, The Roots, TV on the Radio, The Rapture

Disappointments: M.I.A. (you know things are bad when your hype-woman has more stage presence than you do), Modest Mouse (not really the band's fault, but this was the shittiest sounding set of the weekend), Satellite Party (except the part when they played "Pets"), Silverchair (really I should have expected that one to kinda suck)

Jul 5, 2007

via//chicago best.of.2007@halfway.point

Now that we've reached the halfway point of 2007, this is a good time to reflect back on the best music of the past six months. It's been a fairly interesting first half, with a lot of great music coming from completely unexpected places. Sure, there were some expected via//chicago favorites making strong showings in the early goings, but a lot of what appears on the lists below would never have been predicted. Avril Lavigne with one of my favorite singles of the year? A fresh-faced CMT cutie with another? Even more exciting, however, is the fresh crop of new faces. Of the twenty-seven albums listed below, thirteen of them come from artists I'd never encountered before. Maybe I'd heard of them but never listened intently, or maybe I'd never even heard of them before. Either way, a lot of new sounds rocked my 2007 so far and I'm glad to give them the proper recognition they deserve. To break from the way these lists have been in the past, I've decided to list them alphabetically instead of racking my brain for hours to reach some arbitrary ranking (I'll save that for the end of the year lists, thank you very much!). Without further ado....

Twenty Albums That Rocked January-June of 2007:

Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder (Simian)
To be completely honest, I'd pretty much ignored these guys since the Elephant 6 heyday of the latter half of the nineties - and even then I usually passed them over in favor of Neutral Milk Hotel or Olivia Tremor Control. Little did I know they'd be cranking out one of the most flat-out fun records of 2007. Just try to crank up "7 Stars" or "Can You Feel It?" in the car without smiling.

The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge)
While it may not be the left-field masterpiece that Funeral was, Neon Bible is still very much a thrilling record from one of Canada's most thrilling musical exports of the past five years. This is much more political, world-weary document than anything else the band has done, but that doesn't make it any less cathartic and life-affirming.

Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino)
These Sheffield boys proved that the outstanding debut was no fluke, but anyone paying attention to the numerous B-sides and EP tracks already knew that. Not since the Britpop wars between Oasis and Blur have I been so excited by each and every single release by a British band. "Fluorescent Adolescent" and "Teddy Picker" contain just as much punch and vitality as the best tracks on the last one, while the lovely ballad "505" pushes the Monkeys to glorious new heights.

Battles - Mirrored (Warp)
Who knew math-rock could be so much fun? This experimental supergroup of sorts released the single most engaging albums of the year, creating insanely catchy tunes out of jazz-inspired structures and electronic programming - with a little help from acid-drenched Smurfs and twisted game show themes. One of the few times I can remember when the same band made a strong case for both the years best album and single ("Atlas").

Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City (Vice)
I've heard a lot of talk about how disappointing this album is, enough that I'm starting to wonder if I've got a different version than everyone else. Sure, its not as instantly gratifying as Silent Alarm (via//chicago's album of the year for 2005), but this is far from a disappointment. "I Still Remember" and "SRXT" are just as full of angsty bombast as the best moments of the debut, while other songs perfectly capture the ennui of modern city life.

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)
Round these parts, Conor Oberst can always be counted on to bring the goods, but even I was astounded by how well crafted this album is. Arguably Oberst's best album, this is certainly his most well-rounded. He tones down the more self indulgent tricks in favor of a more steady attack, resulting in moments like the achingly beautiful "If the Brakeman Turns My Way".

Deerhunter - Cryptograms (Kranky)
"Dreamy, psychedelic shoegaze" is what I like to call it and the band describes themselves as "ambient punk", but I don't know if there are any signifiers that can be properly strung together to describe this Atlanta band's sound. This is one of those albums that pushes you away as much as it pulls you in, leaving you a little scared and confused but begging for another go-round.

Earthless - Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky (Tee Pee)
I mentioned this album not too long, but it still hasn't stopped kicking my ass completely. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a song by the likes of Black Sabbath, The Melvins, Boris, or Sunn O))) owes themselves the forty-five minutes of bowel-rattling sludge rock this album provides.

Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (Bella Union)
Post-rock is dead, long live post-rock. EitS continue to breathe new life into a genre that many had left for dead half a decade ago. Their latest goes a long towards proving why they are so well respected, shifting dynamics and tempos in an instant without losing any of the overall power or mood.

Fields - Everything Last Winter (Atlantic)
Some may dismiss this London five-piece as Arcade Fire lite, but they certainly shouldn't be dismissed so easily or lazily. Fields focus their energies on creating moody, rousing rock tinged with shoegaze, folk, and monster guitar riffs that can lodge itself in your head for days on end.

Gui Boratto - Chromophobia (Kompakt)
Proving yet again that Kompakt can do no wrong, this Brazilian DJ's debut full-length is quickly growing into one of my favorite electronic albums of the past couple of years. Ranging from floor packing anthems to after-hours ambient chill, Boratto's crafts the intelligent and refreshing kind of dance music that Americans just don't know how to make anymore - we have to import it instead.

Handsome Furs - Plague Park (Sub Pop)
I also raved about this album recently and it hasn't lost a bit of its charm through the repeated listens since that initial post. Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry play to all their strengths on this project, resulting in nine tracks of minimalist indie rock melancholy.

The Hidden Hand - The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote (Southern Lord)
I'm a big fan of any music that manages to beautiful and heavy at the same time, and the latest from Scott "Wino" Weinrich is certainly no exception. This album transcends easy classification, incorporating elements of classic rock, stoner rock, and doom metal at various times (often all at once).

Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures (Warp)
This is another follow-up that many consider disappointing, but I just don't get it. Pleasures is packed with just as many intelligent pop nuggets as A Certain Trigger, if not more. The first four tracks combine to form one of the best opening salvos of the year. An absolute pleasure to hear every single time I cue it up.

The Noisettes - What's the Time, Mr. Wolf? (UMVD)
This is one of the most promising and refreshing debut albums I've heard in along time, all the more so for me having absolutely no expectations or preconceptions going into this thing. Copping equally from classic pop (think Billie Holiday) and American indie (think Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the Noisettes (especially lead singer Shingai Shoniwa) are one of those exciting young bands that keep us jaded bastards listening to the new kids.

Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
Of Montreal has always kept my attention by throwing a pop gem or two on each of their albums, but I wasn't prepared for one packed with wall-to-wall winners. I'm hesitant to call this a modern pop masterpiece, but that very phrase comes to mind every time I spin it. Some pop songs sound good the first few times before quickly fading to the background, but each and every track on this albums sounds just as good (if not better) with multiple listens.

Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
It's no secret that the guys in Animal Collective are psychedelic geniuses, but I'm still shocked by how jaw-droppingly gorgeous this album is. Brian Wilson harmonies in a tweaked out acid wonderland of joy, for real.

Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb (Relapse)
One of the harshest, most abrasive, terrifying albums of the year and even as I sit here I can't wait to be punished by it all over again. Death metal, grindcore... it doesn't matter what you call these guys, you'll be hard pressed to find another metal album in 2007 as hauntingly abusive as this. It's like twelve Slayers chained together in the deepest circle of hell, burning for eternity.

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
Once you get used to James Graham's Scottish brogue, you'll be sucked into his glorious world of moody atmospherics. They remind me of what Belle and Sebastian might have sounded like if they'd woken up on the wrong side of the bed or what would have happened to the boys in Arab Strap if they'd never have discovered sex.

Voxtrot - Voxtrot (Play Louder)
It may not quite have lived up to the insanely high expectations set by their buzz-worthy string of EPs and singles, but not much else would have either. This is still a promising first full-length for such a young band, showcasing Ramesh Srivastava's way with melody and words. When he intones, "cheer me up... cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck", you'll want to reach through your headphones to give the guy a hug (while secretly hoping he never stops pouring his miserable heart into your waiting ears).

Dungen - Tio Bitar, Machine Head - The Blackening, Field Music - Tones of Town, Powerhouse Sound - Oslo/Chicago: Breaks, Dinosaur Jr - Beyond, King Khan & The Shrines - What Is?!, Bonde do Role - With Lasers

Twenty-five Singles That Rocked January-June of 2007:
(including links to YouTube videos)

"7 Stars" - Apples In Stereo
"Ankle Injuries" - Fujiya & Miyagi
"Atlas" - Battles
"D.A.N.C.E." - Justice
"Four Winds" - Bright Eyes
"Get Buck" - Young Buck
"Girlfriend" - Avril Lavigne
"Golden Skans" - Klaxons
"All My Friends" - LCD Soundsystem
"Gunpowder & Lead" - Miranda Lambert
"Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" - Of Montreal
"Hot Knives/If the Brakeman Turns My Way" - Bright Eyes
"I'm A Flirt (Remix)" - R. Kelly f. T.I. & T-Pain
"Jesus Christ" - Brand New
"Keep the Car Running" - The Arcade Fire
"Make 'Em Mad" - B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz
"Our Velocity" - Maximo Park
"Phantom Limb" - The Shins
"Read My Mind" - The Killers
"Ruby" - Kaiser Chiefs
"Shut Up and Drive" - Rihanna
"Tears Dry On Their Own" - Amy Winehouse
"Teenagers" - My Chemical Romance
"Umbrella" - Rihanna
"What Goes Around... Comes Around" - Justin Timberlake