The Hudson Best of 2007 List

Judging by the headlines, 2007 was a terrible year for the music business. CD sales were down by close to 20%, and online downloads didn’t come close to making up this deficit. “Superstar” after “superstar” released albums that disappeared long before their last talk-show appearance. Record companies even delayed a number of high profile Christmas releases until 2008 to prepare for the much-anticipated massive layoffs predicted at all of the major labels.
Yet in terms of actual music, 2007 was a fantastic year that was actually reflected in the Billboard charts. Left-field artists such as the Shins, Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, Wilco, and Bright Eyes found themselves in the Top 5, selling substantially more albums than ever before. Veteran artists such as Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Robert Plant, and The Band’s Levon Helm put out material that ranked with their best ever.
In other words, this past year saw a great leveling of the playing field. Indie acts may not find themselves trolling the talk show circuit, but by releasing stellar material they’re outselling the faves of Regis, Tyra, and Jay Leno. Imagine the sales of Wilco and Arcade Fire if they received just a small percentage of the Entertainment Tonight and Extra airtime given to the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Kelly Clarkson. It boggles the mind how the labels continue to blame their failures on illegal downloading. Sorry, but it’s not file sharing that’s killing the industry; it’s the major label star system that’s creating phony artists that the public doesn’t care about that leads people to the DVD and video game sections of department stores.
Here’s some of the stuff that rocked my world these past twelve months:
1. Radiohead, In Rainbows. On September 30, a cryptic message on Radiohead’s website rocked the entire record business. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood announced that their new album was completed, and would be available for download ten days later. Fans could pay whatever they desired for the new album, or pay nothing.
Even though the majority of the people who downloaded the album on October 10 elected to not hand over any cash, the band still made much more money in one day than they would under a standard record contract.
Other artists are now looking at releasing their future albums in a similar manner, and the record industry is reeling. Radiohead is certainly not the first act to self-release their music, but they’re certainly the biggest.
None of this would matter if In Rainbows wasn’t such a great album. While some of the electronica elements of their previous few albums are still present on some of the tracks, In Rainbows marks a return to the melodic-based elements of the The Bends.
(A traditional CD will be released on January 1 for those of us who still want a physical copy of the album.)
2. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. For most of the year, it looked like Arcade Fire was going to run away with the title of “Album of the Year”. This Canadian band is one of those few acts that are impossible to describe. Elements of Springsteen, Bowie, and David Byrne collide with cheesy 80’s new wave and late-90’s alt-country in a big bowl of artistic genius.
3. Bruce Springsteen, Magic. I may be a Springsteen apologist but I’m shocked at the greatness of this album. It’s easily his best release since 1980’s The River, and the credit has to go to Springsteen’s dismissal of the clichés that has marred some of his more recent material. There are no phony vocal accents present; no over-used musical tricks by the E Street Band. The usual influences are still heard, but it’s also clear that Springsteen has been listening to younger artists such as Son Volt and Arcade Fire.
4. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. For the first time since their debut album, Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Wilco refrain from utilizing “tricks” to color the material on Sky Blue Sky. There’s no crescendos of feedback and sound effects; it’s just the band playing some of Tweedy’s best ever tunes.
5. John Doe, A Year in the Wilderness. The former leader of X has quietly released a number of stellar albums since the band’s dissolution almost twenty years ago (although they continue to reunite for occasional tours). This album comes the closest to X’s rootsy latter years, primarily due to the harmonies of Jill Sobule, Kathleen Edwards, and Aimee Mann.
6. White Stripes, Icky Thump. Last year’s Get Behind Me Satan may have been a disappointment, but Icky Thump finds Jack and Meg White returning to the high standards of their previous releases. Bagpipes, flamenco horns, and a Patti Page cover may seem like unlikely additions to the pair’s musical blueprints, but they mix in well with Jack’s distortion-laden guitar and Meg’s simple yet effective drums.
7. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Spoon albums always take awhile to process. Like almost all of their previous albums, I initially deemed this as a disappointment when it was released this past summer. Yet every mix disc created over the subsequent months featured a track or two that quickly became my new favorite song, and my Ipod’s “four star” playlist ended up with almost half of the album. Yeah, this album’s a “grower”.
8. The Broken West, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On. To put it simply, if you like the Kinks, Big Star, Spoon, Wilco, and/or power pop in general, you’ll love this debut album by this band.
9. The National, Boxer. Cincinnati-turned-Brooklyn residents The National have been recording for close to a decade, and their moody, folk-ish brand of rock has quietly become beloved by the Paste and Pitchfork crowd. Yes, it’s “brainy’, but in this case it’s a compliment.
10. Bright Eyes, Cassadaga. On their sixth album, Conor Oberst and pals (including M. Ward and Gillian Welch) tone down the politics and experimentation for their most straightforward release to date. Oberst continues to grow as a songwriter; he most certainly is not the latest “New Dylan” but he is easily the most intriguing character to come out of the Midwest in quite some time.
11. Steve Earle, Washington Square Serenade. Earle’s latest tells the story of a man who fell in love, got married (for the sixth or seventh time), relocated to New York City, and…discovered Pro Tools. He may be the most unlikely artist to ever work with the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys), but the programmed beats and loops never get in the way of Earle’s masterful songwriting.
12. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin. If you’re disappointed that My Morning Jacket failed to release a new album this past year, check out the sophomore release by Band of Horses. Leader Ben Bridwell croons just like MMJ’s Jim James, albeit in a more traditional indie rock setting than MMJ.
13. Ween, La Cucaracha. The wacky Ween brothers, Dean and Gene, are back with their first album of new material since 2003. La Cucaracha is their warped look at the current state of the music business, with songs that mock (or celebrate) teen pop, lo-fi indie rock, jam bands, English techno, and even Latin music.
14. Jesse Malin, Glitter in the Gutter. Okay, the piano-bar cover of the Replacements “Bastards of Young” is sort of bizarre. Yet on his third solo album, the former leader of D Generation continues to show he’s a master of writing pure pop gems that his more famous buddy Ryan Adams would die for.
15. Babyshambles, Shotter’s Nation. Forget about the tabloid lifestyle of former Libertines leader Pete Doherty. Yes, he’s been in and out of jail and rehab for the past year. Yes, he’s known primarily as Kate Moss’ boyfriend. Somehow Doherty managed to record the best album the Kinks never made.
16. Grinderman. Nick Cave has rediscovered the guitar, and this debut album by his side project is easily the grittiest album he’s ever made…and that’s obviously saying something.
17. Lily Allen, Alright, Still. Every year there’s a fluffy pop album that catches my ear, and this year it’s the debut album by this ska-loving Brit pop star. Allen has a knack for writing witty little ditties about singles bars and past loves – songs that are bitter quite often but are never NOT fun.
18. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha. I’m really jealous that my beautiful friend Colleen got to see this talented multi-instrumentalist open for Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb earlier this year. On his tenth album (why have I not heard of him before?), the Chicago songwriter is one of those few artists who cannot be lumped into a specific genre.
19. Iron and Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog. Previous Iron and Wine albums have been stripped down affairs with minimal musical backing to accompany leader Sam Beam’s signature vocal. That’s no longer the case, as the sonic pallet is stretched as far as possible without crossing into the dreaded “overproduced” category.
20. Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II. After years of albums devoted to a single genre, Young finally returns to the days of On the Beach and American Stars and Bars where the tunes jump from extended guitar duels to short little country ditties. But the question remains why he titled this album as a sequel to a bootleg 99% of his fans have never heard.
21. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Simply put, if you like their debut album you’ll also like their latest. The guitars are a bit more aggressive, but it’s still pure 21st century Brit pop.
22. Son Volt, The Search. Another year means another strong album by former Uncle Tupelo leader Jay Farrar’s band. Although more straightforward then recent solo and full-band releases, there are still occasional attempts to move away from the standard alt-country sound Farrar helped create.
23. Thurston Moore, Trees Outside the Academy. Moore’s first solo album since 1995’s Psychic Hearts is probably the closest we’ll ever see to an “unplugged” album by the Sonic Youth leader. Playing primarily acoustic guitar doesn’t mean that the unhinged noise and feedback that made Moore famous isn’t present on this album.
24. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The most shocking news of the year had to be the addition of legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Yet his presence hasn’t resulted in a dramatic change in the band’s sound. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing, as this album stands proudly next to their pre-major label groundbreaking efforts.
25. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away. Who could have guessed that this little indie-pop band could be Sub Pop’s biggest group since a little band called Nirvana? Or that their third album would top the Billboard charts? Maybe they won’t be the band that will “change your life”, as Natalie Portman famously said in Garden State, but one can’t help but cheer when smart bands outsell the usual pop fluff that normally sits atop the charts.
26. The Ike Reilly Assassination, We Belong to the Staggering Evening. Here’s the best review I’ve read of this album – “the outing sounds as if it sprang from a whiskey-soaked session in which Bob Dylan and Steve Earle commingled with The Replacements and The Pogues”. Seriously, can you see why I like this disc?
27. Josh Ritter, The Historic Conquests of Josh Ritter. Ecstatic reviews constantly compare Ritter to Dylan and Springsteen. Hmmm, I don’t hear it. I hear some Wilco mixed with a bit of the Smiths, which is more than enough for me.
28. Interpol, Our Love to Admire. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to dismantle a winning formula, and the members of Interpol clearly understand this fact. If you liked either of their previous albums, you’re going to like this one. The guitars may be a bit punchier, and the lyrics may be a bit less bleak, but it’s still primarily the template of spiky guitars and bass-heavy rhythms.
29. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond, and 30.The Stooges, The Weirdness. Reunion albums rarely work, but this year saw the surprisingly strong returns of Dinosaur Jr. and The Stooges. Much of the credit is probably due to the fact that the reunion albums occurred after the reunion tour. Instead of the forced energy that plagues the majority of these situations, both bands waited until their sound had gelled before entering the studio.
31. Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War. How could a concept album about life during wartime written and recorded by a Canadian band possibly work? Somehow this collective, including acclaimed artists such as Feist, Jason Collett and Amy Milan, tells a cleverly-crafted story that involves doomed love affairs, veterans’ ghosts, and even soocer hooligans.
32. Carbon/Silicon, The Last Post. Little has been heard by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones since the dissolution of Big Audio Dynamite in the early-90’s outside of occasional production work. This collaboration with former Generation X leader Tony James has been in the works for many years, and it’s a welcome return for anybody who misses the Clash.
33. The Weakerthans, Reunion Tour. Smart, literary-based songwriting has always been the core of the Weakerthans, and this first album in four years showcases this strength.
34. Tim Armstrong, A Poet’s Life. Amazing fact about this album – the ska/reggae tracks on this album were originally released by Armstrong to Rancid fans one at a time on the internet to tide them over until the next Rancid album. Radio play in L.A. caused them to be officially released, and it’s easily the strongest side project Armstrong has been affiliated with. Of course, a Sioux Falls namedrop also helped this album catch my attention.
35. Art Brut, It’s a Bit Complicated. If Ween was a British band that formed just a few years ago, they’d probably sound like Art Brut. They’re probably the most self-aware band currently in the public eye, and they perfectly ape the whole Franz Ferdinand/Arctic Monkeys sound.
36. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger. Ryan Adams only released one album this year? Oh yeah, there’s also an EP (more on that a little farther down this manifesto). Easy Tiger is a strong album that’s missing one crucial element – it’s a classic song or two away from standing proudly next to Heartbreaker or Gold.
37. Chuck Prophet, Soap and Water. The former Green on Red guitarist is one of the unsung heroes of the music business. He has recorded, produced, and written for artists of a variety of genres, and has quietly released a number of fantastic solo albums. Soap and Water carries on the template of effortlessly moving through a variety of styles.
38. Lucinda Williams, West. Heartbreak has always fueled Lucinda’s finer moments, and her latest breakup must have been a doozy. Never has she sounded so emotionally drained as she does here, and Hal Wilner’s atmospheric production provides the perfect sonic backing for her wails.
39. Hot Hot Heat, Happiness LTD. I’m sure longtime fans of this Canadian experimental band are crying sellout over the glossy production that’s prevalent on their major label debut. Too bad for them, as Happiness LTD is the album of their career, full of the doom and gloom pop that has eluded the Cure for years.
40. Blonde Redhead, 23. Originally sort of a Japanese version of Sonic Youth, Blonde Redhead have slowly evolved towards a more dream-pop sound not unlike the best moments of Lush. 23 carries on where 2004’s Misery Is a Butterfly left off, full of what Amazon calls “cascading guitars, military rhythms, and wobbly melodies”.

Best Reissues

1. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation. Arguably the greatest indie rock album of all time gets the “deluxe edition” treatment, with an extra disc of a Daydream Nation-era concert and a handful of bonus tracks.
2. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True. It’s hard to believe that it was thirty years ago that Costello, along with the Clash and so many others, transformed me from a classic rock geek into whatever awful word you want to now call me. My Aim Is True has been reissued numerous times, but this version with not only the usual bonus tracks but one of the first ever concerts (and sound check) with the Attractions is now the essential version.
3. Pink Floyd, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This is the ONLY Pink Floyd album worth owning. Hate me all you want.
4. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth. One of Britain’s original indie rock bands gets the deluxe treatment here. Besides their only album and single, this new package includes previously unreleased Peel Sessions and demos that sound as fresh today as they did way back in 1980.
5. Traveling Wilburys Collection. Long out of print, both of the Wilburys albums are collected here with a handful of outtakes, rarities, and a fascinating DVD documentary.
6. Joy Division (Entire Catalog). To capitalize on the release of the movie based on leader Ian Curtis’ life, Control, Rhino Records has given the deluxe treatment to the band’s entire catalog. Although no outtakes or demos are present on these discs, each album does contain a previously-unreleased concert.
7. Betty Davis, They Say I’m Different and Betty Davis. Miles Davis’ former wife is credited with introducing him to psychedelic rock, which led to the legendary Bitches Brew album. In the early 70’s she recorded a handful of landmark funk albums that have been out of print until earlier this year.
8. Magazine (Entire Catalog). Six months after co-founding the Buzzcocks, Howard Devoto left the acclaimed band. A few months later, he returned with this underrated band that led the way from punk to postpunk.
9. Sly and the Family Stone – The Collection. 2007 saw the entire Sly and the Family Stone catalog reissued, and for a surprisingly cheap price one could get them all in box set form. The first and last discs may be forgettable, but everything in between is an essential piece of funk-rock history.
10. Monkees, Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones LTD. After two chart-topping albums that had little input from the actual “band”, the members of the Monkees lobbied to become a real band. Although the results obviously were not of the caliber of the Beatles or Stones, they’re actually not bad albums…particularly those songs headed by Michael Nesmith.

Best “From the Vaults” Release.

1. Elliott Smith, New Moon. As a rule, albums of demos and outtakes leave a lot to be desired. Not so for Elliott Smith, as this two-disc set ranks proudly next to anything in his catalog.
2. Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall 1971. The long-promised, career-spanning Archives set has yet to be unveiled, but Neil has finally allowed some of the material to trickle out. This long-traded recording was taken from a Toronto concert that featured much of Harvest months before they were actually recorded for the album.

Best Covers Album:

1. Various Artists, I’m Not There Soundtrack. This soundtrack for the critically-acclaimed movie finds primarily indie-rockers covering both classic and relatively obscure Dylan tunes. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, Cat Power, Jeff Tweedy, and Yo La Tengo especially shine on this two-disc set that also includes Dylan’s previously-unreleased Basement Tapes version of “I’m Not There”.
2. Patti Smith, Twelve. Who would have guessed that Patti Smith was an Allman Brothers fan? Or Paul Simon? Or that anybody would even attempt a Nirvana cover? Besides those artists, she also records songs by the Stones, Hendrix, Dylan, and the Jefferson Airplane. A few leave something to be desired, but when she hits she hits big.
3. The Smithereens, Meet the Smithereeens! Covering a Beatles album from start to finish may seem to be the act of a fool, but somehow the Smithereens make it work. Ok, Pat DiNizio cannot possibly recreate the vocals of Lennon and McCartney, but musically this is as energized as anything they’ve ever recorded.

Best Compilation:

1. Afghan Wigs, Unbreakable. Greg Dulli is probably the greatest rock vocalist most people have never heard. The current leader of the Twilight Singers began his career in this band that never made it beyond a cult following in the 90’s. This collection takes the highlights from their entire catalog and adds a couple of new songs that give hope to a full-fledged reunion.
2. Frank Black, 93-03. The former leader of the Pixies has released a ton of albums since he began his solo career in 1993, but he’s always been overshadowed by the legend of his former band. This collection proves that his post-Pixies output deserved more notice.
3. Social Distortion, Greatest Hits. Ok, there is some disappointment that the first Social Distortion compilation is only a single disc. Or that it only includes one song not included on any of their previous albums. Or that their cover of “Under My Thumb” is not included. All of these complaints are forgotten once you press play and hear one classic tune after another.

Best EP:

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is. Recorded in one day, the five tracks on this EP rank with anything they’ve ever recorded and set high standards for their next album. Karen O has one of the most unique voices in rock, and Is Is is her finest moment.
2. Ryan Adams, Follow the Lights. Ryan’s second release of the year features two songs specifically recorded for some show called October Road. The rest are new recordings of older tunes, highlighted by a quieter version of Rock n Roll’s “This Is It”.

Best Bonus Track: Wilco, “The Thanks I Get”. If it had been included on Sky Blue Sky, this straight-forward rocker would have made an already-great album that much greater. Instead, it was originally an Itunes bonus track (and Volkswagon commercial) that the band rightfully put on their website for those of us who traditionally bought the album in CD form.

Comments

Andy Howes said…
Nice picks Scott.

Here's my top 75-

1. The Avett Brothers - "Introducing Emotinalism"
2. Oakley Hall - "I'll Follow You"
3. Band of Horses - "Cease to Begin"
4. Josh Ritter - "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter"
5. Jason Isbell - "Sirens of the Ditch"
6. Ryan Bingham - "Mescalito"
7. Steve Earle - "Washington Park Serenade"
8. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - "Raising Sand"
9. Neil Young - "Chrome Dreams II"
10. Ryan Adams - "Easy Tiger"
11. Amy Winhouse - "Back to Black"
12. Mac Lethal - "11:11"
13. John Butler Trio - "Grand National"
14. Bow Thayer - "Spend it All"
15. Levon Helm - "Dirt Farmer"
16. Blitzen Trapper - "Wild Mountain Nation"
17. Giant Bear - "GIANT BEAR"
18. Bright Eyes - "Cassadega"
19. The National - "Boxer"
20. Mavis Staples - "We'll Never Turn Back"
21. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - "100 Days, 100 Nights"
22. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - "Lifeline"
23. John Fogerty - "Revival"
24. Jenny Owen Youngs - "Batten the Hatches"
25. Artic Monkeys - "Favourite Worst Nightmare"
26. Kings of Leon - "Because of the Times"
27. Okkervil River - "The Stage Names
28. JJ Grey & Mofro - "Country Ghetto"
29. Bradley Walker - "Highway of Dreams"
30. Miranda Lambert - "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
31. Rocky Votolato - "The Brag & the Cuss"
32. Ron Franklin - "City Lights"
33. Iron & Wine - "The Shephard's Dog"
34. Elvis Perkins - "Ash Wednesday"
35. Andrew Bird - "Armchair Apocrypha"
36. The Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"
37. Bruce Springsteen - "Magic"
38. Paul McCartney - "Memory Almost Full"
39. James Morrison - "Undiscovered"
40. Over The Rhine - "The Trumpet Child"
41. Rilo Kiley - "Under the Blacklight"
42. Norah Jones - "Not Too Late"
43. Wilco - "Sky Blue Sky"
44. King Wilkie - "Low Country Suite"
45. Deadstring Brothers - "Silver Mountain"
46. Orgone - "The Killion Floor"
47. Bettye LaVette - "The Scene of the Crime"
48. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - "Living With the Living"
49. Hayward Wiliams - "Another Sailor's Dreams"
50. Mark Knopfler - "Kill to Get Crimson"
51. Shooter Jennings - "The Wolf"
52. Adam Hood - "Different Groove"
53. Marc Ford - "Weary & Wired"
54. Queens of the Stone Age - "Era Vulgaris"
55. Xavier Rudd - "Food in the Belly"
56. The Good, The Bad, & the Queen - "The Good, The Bad, & the Queen"
57. Stephen Marley - "Mind Control"
58. Common - "Finding Forever"
59. M.I.A. - "Kala"
60. Mark Ronson - "Version"
61. Brother Ali - "The Undisputed Truth"
62. Velvet Revolver - "Libertad"
63. Spoon - "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"
64. Son Volt - "The Search"
65. Golden Smog - "Blood on the Slacks"
66. The Shins - "Wincing the Night Away"
67. Albert Hammond Jr. - "Yours to Keep"
68. Josh Rouse - "Country Mouse, City House"
69. Johnny Irion - "Extempore"
70. The Greencards - "Viridian"
71. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby - "Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby"
72. Kenny Wayne Shepherd - "10 Days Out"
73. Will Kimbrough - "EP"
74. David Picco - "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning"
75. Ozomatli - "Don't Mess With the Dragon"

- Andy Howes

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