Thanks to all the publicists, labels and bands who read this blog, I listened to more new music this year than any year of my life. I heard (admittedly - not always in their entirety) between 250 and 300 new releases this year. It's a lot of time dedicated to new music, especially when you consider how much time I spend listening to music from the 1960s, 70s and 90s. As usual, I missed (usually by design) a lot of hip-hop, dance, noise, punk and electronic music that came out. Of what I heard, here's what rose to the top:
1) Okkervil River: The Stage Names (Jagjaguwar) – Will Sheff’s a songwriter with something to say. I played this record more than anything else this year. They already do really well, but I’m betting that they’ll be the next indie band to crossover like the Shins and Arcade Fire. And they deserve it.
Download “Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe”
Download Golden Opportunities (for the converted - a free covers album featuring their take on John Phillips, John Cale, Serge Gainsbourg, Jimmy Webb, etc.)
2) Blonde Redhead: 23 (4AD) – Pay attention young bands. Blonde Redhead is a great example of a band that grows and explores new ground with each release. Album seven is lush with electronic backing tracks and Kazu’s voice upfront. Maybe their finest yet.
3) The Besnard Lakes: The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar) – This husband and wife band from Montreal got more spins on my turntable than the Arcade Fire. Bombastic, dramatic and over-the-top in the best possible way.
Download “And You Lied To Me”
4) David Vandervelde: The Moonstation House Band (Secretly Canadian) – Unibrow or not, this guy writes some fantastic rock ‘n’ roll songs. A bit of early T. Rex mixed with a pop sensibility but played hard and fast (especially live). He wrote a lot of this music when he was 19.
Download “Nothin’ No” and “Jacket”
5) Neil Young: Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise) – I contributed way too much money to Neil Young this year (see my Nokia review), but at least he gave us this. This is what a live album should be - great stories and re-imagined versions of classics. The first part of the long awaited Archives releases comes out in February, so I’m sure I’ll be forced to re-buy this. Thanks Neil.
6) Dr. Dog (Park the Van) – Indie snobs dismiss Dr. Dog as “easy guitar melodies and predictable rhythms thrust at us with no discernible amount of self-awarenes.” You should be careful about listening to indie snobs, or you’ll end up buying records like THIS. I prefer to think of Dr. Dog as 1960’s-inpired music that puts a smile on my face.
Download “Worst Trip” and “Ain’t It Strange”
7) Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge) – My expectations for Spoon are so high, that I dismissed this when it came out. In retrospect it’s a damn fine record.
Download “The Underdog”
8) Peter Bjorn & John: Writer’s Block (Almost Gold) – A lot of people had this on their best of 2006 list, but it came out domestically in 2007. While “Young Folks” has gotten so much play it’s become unbearable, it’s still a great album.
9) Radiohead: In Rainbows (Self Released) – The amazing part is that Radiohead actually made a record I wanted to hear (unlike the last few).
10) Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (Merge) – Despite the backlash, they’re still a great band.
The Next Ten (Alphabetical):
Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha [mp3] (Fat Possum) – I had to see him live to get it.
The Broken West: I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On [mp3] (Merge) – They were at the top of my local list.
The Earlies: Enemy Chorus [mp3] (Secretly Canadian) – Overtly political. I wish these guys would tour the States.
Iron & Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog [mp3 and mp3] (Sub Pop) – I prefer stripped down, but I’ll take this too. Seeing the live show helped.
Menomena: Friend and Foe [mp3] (Barsuk) – Experimental but listenable. The best packaging of the year.
The Shins: Wincing the Night Away [mp3] (Sub Pop) – Not their best, but still better than most.
Elliott Smith: New Moon [mp3] (Kill Rock Stars) – Another post-humous release.
Richard Swift: Dressed Up for the Letdown [mp3] (Secretly Canadian) – Tin Pan Alley meets McCartney.
Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) – The VW ads got old fast, but the record’s still a good listen.
Yeasayer: All Hour Symbols [mp3 and mp3] (We Are Free) – I don’t love all the lyrics, but there are some great songs and a lot of really good ideas.