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