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The Audio Philes Top 20 Albums of 2007 pt. 1: #20-11. by Terence Nuzum
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The Audio Philes Top 20 Albums of 2007 pt. 1: #20-11.
Liars: Liars- The past two Liars outings were steeped in art noise, but on this year's release, they dress up as The Faint but really sound like Faust in disguise. What does that mean? It means that all the art noise we have come to know and love is still intact but it's trying to come off as danceable pop music and succeeding. While the Liars have made better albums, never have they had such a sense of urgency and the charming feel of striving for a more accessible sound like this.
Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass- Many backpackers and underground rap fans may scoff at the mainstream pop ambitions of this album, but none can deny that it's amazing. Aesop Rock on his past albums sounded like a literate Eminem who worships beat writers with a rap style that has been projected through the speed-flapping lips of the micro-machine man (remember him?). But here he slows down a bit and adds the great psychedelic samples of other Def Jux alumni like Cannibal Ox. For the most part the album is a straight-forward underground rap album with the usual apocalyptic electronics, but on the single, "None Shall Pass", Aesop almost gives us the pop song of the year. Expect much greater things to follow.
Baroness: The Red Album- Mastodon may be king of the new prog-metal scene, or math-metal, whichever you prefer, but on their last album they strayed away from that. Meanwhile, Baroness snuck in and filled the space. Arguably better. Though not as polished as Mastodon, Baroness makes up for it with its intricate playing and sense of space. Imagine a heavier version of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma's live side. Without a doubt, metal album of the year.
Arcade Fire: Neon Bible- I must admit, it's disappointing that the follow-up to Arcade Fire's Funeral is number 17 considering they were my album pick of the year in 2004. But that doesn't mean that makes Neon Bible any less spectacular. They have been honing their skills and it shows. They have made an album as ambitious as a Joshua Tree yet as dark and melancholy as a Disintegration. The maturity in playing shows best on tracks like "Black Mirror" where their sweeping choruses and strings now strip down a bit, but sound none the lusher with a huge Phil Spector Wall of Sound to boot. Alienation and sadness have never sounded so pretty and hopeful.
Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist- So it's hard for me to write this being a huge Pumpkins fan and not be biased. But honestly, beyond all that this is one hell of a comeback. When I first heard it I thought the first half of the album was amazing but then the second half mainly petered out. After about a couple months I came to enjoy some of the softer and slower tracks even more than the rockers. But damn do they rock. "Doomsday Clock" is the same kind of fist to the chest that we expect from the Pumpkins, "Bleeding Orchid" is the pseudogoth psychedelia we love and "United States" is the thunderous "XYU" we have been begging for for years from Billy. The slower songs "Neverlost" and "Pomp and Circumstances" are 80's electro pop with that dark romance that made Adore a stellar album and "For God and Country" is a death disco track that has a loud as hell bass line. Corgan has managed to stay true to his roots (the guitar solos on "Tarantula") and yet just slightly tries to test his formula. The 70's rock references from cybermetal guitar shredding, to the Hendrix feedback wails, and Queenesque choruses make this a music nerd's dream. Being one of my favorite bands of all time and one that got me through my adolescent years, I would love to have said that this was the number one album. All of us Pumpkinheads are instead just glad it didn't suck and that it exceeded our expectations.
Dinosaur Jr.: Beyond- While The Pumpkins got more press, it's without a hesitation or doubt that I can say that the reunion of the year was Dinosaur Jr. With original bassist Lou Barlow back on board they chug right out of the station with the opening track "Almost Ready" a fuzz-drenched Neil Young guitar stomper that could sit so comfortably next to "Freak Scene" that we forget 1989 ever happened. The Barlow-penned tune "Lighting Bug" harkens back to their heydays of guitar noise effects and Mascis' "Been There All The Time" has all the urgency and bleeding of desperate youth that made their 80's underground albums classics. Proof that college rock didn't evolve into a commercial form called grunge but instead still thrives.
EL-P: I'll Sleep When You're Dead- Like label mate Aesop Rock, El-P is a Def Jux veretan. But he's more than that, he runs the label. So his hand has been felt on such underground classics as Cannibal Ox's landmark masterpiece The Cold Vein and now he has made claim to greatness on his own. "Smithereens" could have been a basic bland rap track the likes of which 50 Cent pump out in a hack of a day but EL-P isn't of that breed. The production on the album excels and exceeds just about any rap or underground rap album in recent memory. Adding in electro bleeps that recall Authechre and heavy thumping electro drum and bass that would give Bjork's Army Of Me a run for its money "Smithereens is a classic track. But his versatility doesn't end there. "Flyentology" shows that his rapping skills have as much creativity as does the dance punk rhythm that he adds to the track. Why do people listen to mainstream rap and hip-hop again? When creative albums like this are made it becomes even more of a potent question. Proof that rap neither begins or ends on the radio. Like punk, it's with the bands that don't make it. Time will prove this.
The White Stripes: Icky Thump- If you thought they were abandoning guitars after the avant-garde barrelhouse piano rock of their last album, then think again. Icky Thump brings back the rock. The title track sets the pace with loud raucous guitars and Bonham drum thunder. There are a lot of heavy metal tracks circa 1969 here but the Stripes also bring back the Beatle-esque pop numbers that were so great on De Stijl. "You Don't Know What Love Is" is Dylan sneer rock with a candy center which leads into a good old blues number "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" that shows that they have gone back to their old formula. But they also show that they haven't gotten stale when they delve into bagpipe rock with "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" and "St. Andrew". The best track though "A Martyr For My Love For You" proves what they were always best at, the garage rock ballad. A return to form so much that it doesn't even matter that you don't know that the hell an Icky Thump is.
Grinderman: Grinderman- All of us Nick Cave fans have secretly for years now really wanted to see a reunion of his original punk band Birthday Party. Before you start second-guessing what I'm about to say, stop. Because what I'm about to say isn't "with Grinderman we have finally got it" but instead I will say it's about as close as you are going to get. The more mature and aged Nick Cave just can't belt out the ferocity and blood-curdling abandon that that band demanded. Grinderman is a different beast altogether. First off, it marks the first time Cave has played a guitar. The results? Blues played by criminals. Cave sings songs of seduction and despair all in the same breath. Failure and cockiness, fuck yous, and fuck me pleases, all coexisting. "No Pussy Blues" isn't about not having any options to get laid it's about being too old and too out of touch to get past second base. It's angry old man rock and it kicks ass. Why? Because Nick Cave plays guitar like a primate with a club. If only Iggy and the Stooges could still sound this good.
Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?- This album is a virtual kaleidoscope of psychedelic sounds. One minute sounding like Sgt. Peppers, the next mining Glam-era theatrics, to going headlong into throbbing 80's dance-punk. What makes it better than nothing more than a mess is the cohesion of such a mess within a pop song. This is something the Beatles understood, something Syd Barrett understood and now something Kevin Barnes gets. So is the acid frazzled mindset apparently as Barnes explains in interviews that the album is about himself turning into his glam-rock alter ego, Georgie Fruit. The technicolor explosions that live in this album are of zany beauty. It's the madness that Piper At The Gates Of Dawn offered us, yet with the safe harmony of Lucy In The Sky.
Next Week: #10-1 !
"The Audio Philes" is ©2008 by Terence Nuzum. All graphics (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.