December 13, 2007

Clicky Clicky Music Blog: The Best Records Of 2007

In the past we've cast our annually anointed selections as "records you should have heard," which served a two-fold purpose. The designation reiterated our focus on relatively unsung releases and differentiated us (we hope) from the lockstep feel of many music blogs' lists of year-end favorites. You can read our 2006 list here, 2005 here (albums | songs), and we expect if you look around the Interweb a little you can find lists for other years. While we harbor hopes that our list stands out, as in the past our method of choosing the top records comes down to a very simple tabulation of the number of plays each album has garnered in our ITunes in the given year. So there's really no magic to it: our favorite records are the ones we listened to most.

We report with great satisfaction that one of our top picks for 2007, the recently issued EP Arcs Across The City, came from an act that was unknown to us prior to February of this year. Johnny Foreigner's then-manager emailed on an odd Saturday, said he thought we'd like the band, and gave us some links to MP3s. Our fandom was instant. The larger message here is that, beyond all the bullshit of press hype, actual Hype and awkward MySpace solicitations, this music blogging thing continues to be rewarding. On a one-to-one level, some cat from another country can see that you love Meneguar, email you some files, and bang: dumb joy. We look forward to many similar experiences in 2008, although we recognize how fleetingly rare such experiences are. Our picks for favorite songs of the year will be along later. For now, we welcome you to consider what we believe to be the best records of 2007.

1. Meneguar -- Strangers In Our House -- Troubleman Unlimited [BUY]

Meneguar -- Strangers In Our HouseThe lyric "you get what you want when you don't want it anymore" somehow one-ups and explodes John Lydon's anarchistic boast "don't know what I want but I know how to get it." But for the most part we don't know what singer Jarvis Taverniere is on about for much of this record. All the same, when he shouts "you could never do what distance does" or even "at the bottom of my heart there is a ledge" we are suitably moved. Strangers In Our House is a blockbuster collection of sophisticated indie rock anthems, with the emphasis on rock. We already proclaimed it the rock record of the year when we reviewed the set here in September. Prior to Strangers In Our House being released we saw Meneguar explode in a basement up at Tufts University. While we weren't familiar with much of the new material at that point, the set was astounding, and we were able to stand close enough to the action to get jostled by the band rocking out. Read our review of the show here. Meneguar will be touring the east coast of the United State in February, and in the meantime the quartet is working on a new record that will be released through Woodsist.

2. Johnny Foreigner -- Arcs Across The City -- Best Before Records [BUY]

After anticipating this release and subsisting off of MySpace rips of songs from Arcs Across The City for months, Johnny Foreigner's finished product surpasses our expectations. Although the appealing grit and rough edges of the successive demos are partially scrubbed away, the Birmingham, England trio's characteristic, irresistible energy remains and is augmented by additional guitars, vocal parts and production flourishes. With a first full-length basically in the can and poised for a spring release, it will be interesting to see whether working with a noted emo and hard rock producer burnishes or dims the band's aural charms. Arcs Across The City is a formidable debut, packed with compelling narratives, fractured arrangements, big guitars and miles and miles of anthemic lyrics. It is a compelling declaration from a trio that went from nowhere to everywhere in our esteem over the course of 2007. We reviewed the record here last week.

3. Dinosaur Jr. -- Beyond -- Fat Possum [BUY]

Dinosaur Jr. -- BeyondWe reviewed this record here. Beyond is a gift that keeps on giving... although we're starting to wonder whether they'll be making another gift anytime soon? The Dinosaur Jr. tour has gone just about everywhere this year (we've got one of their roadie's blogs in our RSS reader), and it even made a stop at the local clothing store Urban Outfitters in June. We reviewed the awesome show here. But the record is just superlative, melding the potency of vintage '80s Dinosaur with the compact brilliance displayed on Mascis' astonishingly strong solo release More Light. This record succeeds because it doesn't try to overthink anything: there are great songs augmented with ample and sublime shredding throughout. Mascis is as cryptically charismatic as ever. And it helps that Murph beats the hell out of the drums. Dinosaur Jr. just played two dates at Boston's Paradise Rock Club before Thanksgiving, and unfortunately our travel plans made it impossible for us to attend. But we are looking forward to whatever comes next from J, Lou and Murph.

Dinosaur Jr. -- "Almost Ready" -- Beyond
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4. Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga -- Merge [BUY]

Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga GaWe listened to this record over and over and over: in the car; in the office; in the kitchen. It's exceptional. Taut, glistening pop-rock, touches of spacey, warts-and-all production, and hooks galore. The songs all flow with an ease, an internal logic that is so finite that each tune seems representative of what indie rock is, at its core. If (when?) space aliens come to the United States asking about indie rock, perhaps the most obvious example to hand them is Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. We reviewed the Texas-based quartet's October show at the Roxy here.

Spoon -- "The Underdog" -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
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5. Frightened Rabbit -- Sing The Greys [US release] -- Fat Cat [BUY]

Frightened Rabbit -- Sing The GreysThis record was issued at the tail end of a stint this year during which we worked 40-something days in a row at the day job, a time when we were suffering with tendonitis in both wrists from all the hours. On the first Friday in October we decided we'd had enough so we took the day off and went to the oldest fair in America. On the way we stopped at a satellite branch of trusty Newbury Comics and we bought Sing The Greys. And then we got in the car, cranked it up, rolled the windows down, and had a perfect fall day. We'll always remember that. Oh yeah, the record is great. While we never wrote a proper review of this rough-hewn indie gem, we otherwise offered microscopic coverage of the stellar Glaswegian trio in 2007, up to its Nov. 11 show at Boston's Great Scott nightclub, which we reviewed here. Sing The Greys is packed with hits, and we recommend listening to it often.

6. The Mendoza Line -- 30 Year Low -- Glurp [BUY]

Mendoza Line -- 30 Year Low30 Year Low, a slightly odd double-disc collection, was released almost in tandem with the announcement that the band's two principal songwriters, married for a short time, were divorcing and going their separate ways. And so the discs ache and throb in places, or at least some of the compositions lend themselves to having the songwriters' travails projected onto them. But elsewhere on the set there is a bit of glee, a touch of drunken hijinks. Whether feel-good or feel-bad, the music feels immediate and real, like you've caught a strange wild animal in your hands, and now you can't believe you've caught it and don't know what to do. Just listen. We reviewed 30 Year Low here, and a triumphant show in May by the now-truncated band here.

The Mendoza Line -- "30 Year Low" -- 30 Year Low
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7. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start -- Worst Band Name Ever -- Gradwell House [BUY]

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start -- Worst Band Name EverAs we said in this review in July: "Worst band name ever? Does it matter if your band is among the best American indie rock bands currently working?" The latest addition to a rock-solid catalog packed with trebly reverie and cacaphonous crescendoes, Worst Band Name Ever presents Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start in its most refined state. The band has always championed brevity, melody and nostalgic romance. On Worst Band Name Ever the music is more laid back than ever before, with acoustic guitars setting the scene for a lot numbers. Even with a somewhat more reserved approach UUDDLRLRBAS still succeeds in imbuing tracks with dynamic changes, and no other band this year has created a record with more subtlety.

UUDDLRLRBAS -- "The Red Loop" -- Worst Band Name Ever
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8. Mobius Band -- Heaven -- Misra Ghostly [BUY]

Mobius Band -- HeavenThe fact that a young woman writing for a popular online publication just trashed this record in a ridiculous manner makes us love Heaven even more. And while we don't feel it is worth the time to refute her outlandish assertions, we do feel like it is worth noting that she is simply wrong. We can tie this to one example: somewhere in the review she makes some comment that conveys the idea that the music on Heaven is more conventional than the music on its predecessor, 2005's The Loving Sounds Of Static. This is simply untrue. The compositions on Heaven are markedly more sophisticated and make nods here and there to the more complicated music of Mobius Band's self-released series of EPs, which are well worth seeking out. On top of that is a melancholy that is manifested in fairly sublime ways throughout the record. Weathering life's disappointments offers a great well of experience for artists to leverage and/or exorcise in their work, and of our year-end selections Heaven is the set that does this most openly, and very intelligently. But it is hard not to circle back to the way Heaven *sounds*. Mobius Band's dense, gritty electronic production is remarkable, and we expect that the trio will begin to be in demand as much for production chops as for their records before this decade is over.

Mobius Band -- "Hallie" -- Heaven
Mobius Band -- "Friends Like These" -- Heaven
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9. Ringo Deathstarr -- Ringo Deathstarr EP -- SVC Records [BUY]

Ringo Deathstarr -- Ringo Deathstarr EPWe breathlessly exhorted you to check out Ringo Deathstarr as soon as we heard a promo MP3 posted by its label SVC Records. The Austin, Texas-based quartet's sturdy rendering of the most captivating aspects of Jesus And Mary Chain ("Some Kind Of Sad") and My Bloody Valentine ("Swirly") -- that would be airy vocals and guitars, chunky bass and keys -- is irresistible. At just five tracks in length, the Ringo Deathstarr EP is easy to listen to so often you just hear it in your head all the time. Not bad for a band with a shifting line-up (albeit one consistently led by Elliot Frazier) and -- reportedly -- no ready source of transportation to gigs. Well the transportation thing must be sorted out, because we are told that Ringo Deathstarr will be touring in February, and at least one of the planned dates is in the Boston area. Hopefully a full-length record isn't too far off either, because the EP is dynamite.

Ringo Deathstarr -- "Sweet Girl" -- Ringo Deathstarr EP
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10. The Good, The Bad & The Queen -- The Good, The Bad & The Queen -- EMI [BUY]

The Good, The Bad & The QueenYeah, a major label record -- we're as surprised as you are. But something about The Good, The Bad & The Queen really fire our imaginations, over and over. It is an immensely deep and massively patient collection of songs from one of the pillars of '90s Britpop; a sideman from one of the greatest bands of all time who by many accounts is responsible for bringing ska and reggae into the punk consciousness; an Afrobeat drummer; and a fourth player whose identity we can't even recall without walking across the room and consulting the liner notes (this is still our first instinct, even though Google is two clicks away). And yet Damon Albarn's quartet The Good, The Bad & The Queen made what is perhaps this year's most engrossing record. And, as we are in the middle of reading the book "Britpop!" we must reiterate what we think we saw written elsewhere earlier this year: With The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Albarn has finally succeeded in making the quintessential British record.

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