grey marble

January 19, 2008

Favorite albums of 2007

I love year-end lists. And so here's my own. I wish I could write about music in a better way. In no particular order:

Radiohead, In Rainbows
The true followup to OK Computer, this is the album I wish Hail to the Theif had been. And the initial download release reminded me of going to midnight sale CD releases in college to buy an album as soon as I could. It's amazing that that they managed to suddenly reawaken that excitement of being one of the first to hear an album along with the rest of the world, rather than finding a leak online weeks before the official date. And of course, wanting the vinyl, I shelled out for the discbox.

Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Something like an indie rock version of Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, this album bemoans the life of an indie rocker and turns the lens on itself. Commenting on the various pressures and ennui of being in a "mid-level band," Okkervil River manages not only to update Jackson Browne's portrait of being in a band in the aughts, but also puts themselves in a direct historical path, showing how the more some things change the more they stay the same. I love the Beach Boys' quote at the end. So apt.

Rhymefest, The Man in the Mirror
Mark Ronson and the "Best Kept Secret" remix Michael Jackson's discography and let Rhymefest do his thing in tribute to the King of Pop. Amazingly, the album actually benefits from its skits, which, with tricky editing, take the form of studio chatter between Rhymefest and Michael Jackson as they make the album. Maybe it's because I'm a fan of MJ, but I find myself coming back to this. There seems to be such joy in the creation of it, which never ceases to put a smile on my face.

Burial, Untrue
I'm not even completely clear on what dubstep is, but the dark murky soundscape of this album and the skittering beats offer themselves as the children of Massive Attack and the cousin once or twice removed of Dizzee Rascal. A fitful late night descent into a dancing darkness. Or something like that.

Kanye West, Graduation
How does he do it? I'm amazed at the level of quality he's been able to sustain in the hip hop arena. I'm not even sure what to say about this other than it's more of what you've come to know and expect of Kanye while managing to exceed and rise above it. How else would he continue to be so fresh?

Jens Lekman, Night Falls on Kortedala
If Okkervil River were channeling the spirit of Jackson Browne, Jens Lekman is like a Swedish Van Morrison. But instead of becoming subsumed by his 60s and 70s R&B and AM radio influences, he filters them through a sweet Swedish precision. Almost too precious by half, there's something infectious in the seemingly simple way he plays with and through his influences. It's music by a lover of music.

Bettye Lavette, The Scene of the Crime
In a year when Sharon Jones released her third soul excercise in 60s revivalism, and Amy Winehouse borrowed Jones' band to put her own brand of funk on it, I found myself returning to Bettye Lavette's Muscles Shoals-like album, recorded with the Drive-By Truckers. While not as raw as her previous outing (the fantastic I've Got My Own Hell To Raise,), the fuller sound brings a new warmth to the proceedings and the band does great work supporting Lavette's voice, growls, and phrasing. As a side note, she'll be playing February 8th in New York as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook presents series. And, in a move that I have long wanted and hope will become the norm, the LP comes with a free coupon to download the music as an mp3.

Blonde Redhead, 23
Airy, lush production propels this album foward in an almost hypnotic state. An autumnal dream-pop album, I assauged a few dark late nights with this small gem.

Bjork, Volta
While perhaps not her best album, it's Bjork! And while some songs seemed to meander to the point of almost becoming lost, others reaffirmed Bjork as one of the most distinct voices in contemporary music.

Notable reissues:
Betty Davis, Betty Davis
Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different
Her first two albums serve thick powerful slabs of 70s funk. Married to Miles Davis (for a time) she turned him onto Jimi Hendrix and psychadelic rock, influencing Bitches Brew, in the process. The first album features Sly and the Family Stone's rhythm session and backing vocals from the Pointer Sisters. I read someone somewhere call her the Janis Joplin of funk, an apt comparison.

Book about music:
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th century.
A breathless tour through the landscapes of 20th century music. At times I felt as though I was running to keep up, almost always I wanted to rush out and buy the music Ross discusses so that I could listen along. By charting the development of 20th century music it helped my understanding of how music is, and makes me want to learn music theory, the better to understand the structures of the music itself.
Posted by eugene at

Back to the present

I've decided not to continue back-blogging my trip in Japan. I find there's something missing when I go back to fill in the gaps. The stories are there, but they seem flat on the page, disconnected from experience. I'll no doubt tell some of the stories in the weeks to come as they seep back into my consciousness, but for the time being, I'll be back in the present, as the title attests.
Posted by eugene at


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