Monday, December 31, 2007

And the Song Sings All Around Me

My friend Dave and I have a tradition that goes back to high school of naming our top music of the year. It's one of those utterly pointless excercises that I look forward to every year because, well, I'm a massive music geek and I'm also a big fan of Top 10 lists (isn't everybody?). For the record, this year was probably the best for music in quite some time. I considered 16 albums and had a list of about 40 songs to distill down to the highly scientific collection of data points you see below. So, without further ado: The Top 10 Songs of 2007: 10. The Fratellis: "Chelsea Dagger" The Fratellis are Scottish and they flat-out rock. Make a note, that will be a theme of this list... 9. The Nightwatchman: "The Road I Must Travel" The Nightwatchman is better known to the world as Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Turns out he can play a pretty good acoustic and has an excellent singing voice. The man's a triple threat. 8. Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers: "World Ain't Gone Crazy" I own a Peacemaker's shirt that says "The World Ain't Gone Crazy...It was Born that Way." 'Nuff said. 7. Matt Nathanson: "To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts" Nathanson is an indie artist from San Francisco. He plays a 12-string and plays it quite well. "...Noisy Hearts" is the catchiest song off his new album. Thereby, it makes the list. 6. The Waterboys: "The Man with the Wind at His Heels" The new Waterboys, like a lot of their albums, is a bit schizophrenic. It ends on this number, however, which is an amazing song. Also, Mike Scott of The Waterboys is Scottish. 5. Idlewild: "You and I Are Both Away" It was almost impossible to pick Idlewild songs this year. They're all too good. That's a problem I wish I had more often. 4. Malcolm Middleton & Alan Bisset: "The Rebel On His Own Tonight" This is, by far, the best song off of the Ballads of the Book CD, a collection of poems written by Scottish poets and performed by Scottish bands. It's fairly high concept and, not surprisingly, hit or miss, but it produced some good stuff. 3. The Alternate Routes: "Ordinary" The Alternate Routes are an indie act I saw when they opened for Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers in October. They're awesome. Not Scottish, though, to the best of my knowledge. 2. Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers: "Goon Squad" I had the same problem with the Peacemakers that I had with Idlewild this year. 1. Idlewild: "A Ghost in the Arcade" This song couldn't kick any more ass if it tried. Top 10 Albums of 2007 10. Chris Cornell: Carry On - So Audioslave broke up this year because Chris Cornell wasn't a big fan of having to split the profits evenly with his bandmates. You know, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. He then proceeded to release my least favorite album he's been involved in since, um Ultramega OK. Still, "No Such Thing," Poison Eye," "Ghosts," and "You Know My Name" (from the new Bond movie) are decent. 9. Collective Soul: Afterwords - Collective Soul's untitled album is one of the best ever. I mention this because Afterwords was sold as a return to the band's roots. I think that's what reviewers say when they're out of ideas, since Afterwords sounds more like their last album, Youth, than the untitled disc. "New Vibration," "What I Can Give You," and "Good Morning Afterall" are highlights. "Hollywood" is annoying, but that's American Idol's fault, not Collective Soul's. 8. Jimmy Eat World: Chase this Light - It's good, but it's kind of nondescript. I didn't listen to it as much as I thought I would. Still, it starts strong with "Big Casino" and "Let it Happen." The title track is pretty good and it ends on a strong note with "Dizzy." Still, I'm putting it in 8th more because it has fewer weak tracks than the previous albums than because it has a lot of good ones. 7. The Waterboys: Book of Lightning - I thought this album was a mortal lock for the second best of the year for several months. Things have changed. It's not that I like it less, but I've been listening to numbers 2 through 6 a lot more. It's still got some good stuff, though. "The Man with the Wind at His Heels," of course, "The Crash of Angel Wings," "Love Will Shoot You Down," and "Everybody Takes a Tumble" are worth a listen. 6. The Fratellis: Costello Music - To quote C. Montgomery Burns, "They're new, but they're good." Highlights: "Chelsea Dagger," "Flathead," "Cuntry Boys and City Girls" (um, that's not a typo), "For the Girl." Also, I have the UK version. The US version is slightly different in that it drops the boys and girls song in favor of a track called “The Gutterati?” I’ve never heard it. 5. The Nightwatchman: One Man Revolution - Chris Cornell's album came in at number ten. Tom Morello's came in at five. There's a lesson to be learned here, but what it is I couldn't tell you. It's mostly angry and all acoustic. The angry part is to be expected from a member of RAtM, but the acoustic part would probably more of a surprise from a guy who uses the frets on his electric guitar like turntables. "Let Freedom Ring," "California's Dark," "Flesh Shapes the Day," and "The Road I Must Travel" rock hard. 4. Matt Nathanson: Some Mad Hope - It took a bit for this disc to grow on me, but it grew quite well. It starts out strong with "Car Crash," then just keeps going. "Heartbreak World," "Gone," "To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts," and "Detroit Waves" are all pretty stinkin' good. 3. The Alternate Routes: Good and Reckless and True - According to their website, the Alternate Routes raised the money to get their debut CD pressed after a trip to a casino. Here's hoping their luck continues to hold. Find their stuff and listen to it. (There's a link over in the right hand column...) "Ordinary," "Aftermath," "Time is a Runaway," "Who Cares?," "Going Home with You," and "Are You Lonely" more than make up for the fact that the album has slow ballads entitled "California" and "Hollywood." I suppose it also helps that those songs ain't bad, either. 2. Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers: No More Beautiful World - I thought that seeing the Saw Doctors on St. Patrick's Day would be my concert of the year. Then the Peacemakers put on a 2 1/2 hour show in October that included over half of Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy (the first Refreshments disc, A.K.A. Roger Clyne's original band). They also found some time to squeeze half of No More Beautiful World in somehow. "Hello New Day," "Lemons," "Goon Squad," and "Andale" are the great fast songs while "Contraband," "To the Bottom of the Bay," "Plenty," and "World Ain't Gone Crazy" are slower but no less good. I've finally learned to appreciate "Wake Up Call," too. Really, it's all good. 1. Idlewild: Make Another World - Idlewild are finally playing the role of bride. In 2005 Warnings/Promises took second place behind Our Lady Peace's Healthy in Paranoid Times. Last year Marty Casey led The Lovehammers to a first place finish over Roddy Woomble's solo album. No one had a chance against Idlewild this year, though. Album of the year doesn't quite say enough, though. This is the best CD I've heard since Local H released Pack Up the Cats in '96. And that's one of my three favorite CDs of all time. It hits the ground running with "In Competition for the Worst Time," then keeps up the intensity through "Everything (As it Moves)" and "No Emotion" before pausing to catch its breath with the lower key title track. Between "Future Works" and "You and I are Both Away," they make use of one of my favorite transitions, dropping a long trumpet coda at the end of the former, then starting the latter with a low, slow intro that lasts about a minute before kicking up the intensity. It doesn't exactly let up at the end, either. "Once in Your Life," the second to last track, does a neat little trick with alternating guitar solos that switch between the left and right channels before giving way to "Finished it Remains," a strong finisher. Even the two bonus tracks on my North American special edition work pretty well. Were it not for the slightly different mastering levels I might have thought they were supposed to be there all along. Also: Kate Rusby's Awkward Annie is good stuff if you're a fan of English folk singers. The View's Hats off to the Buskers has its moments. Eddie Vedder's solo try, the Into the Wild soundtrack, was disappointing. You know how in movies they'll play like 2 minutes of a four-minute song, then fade it out? This entire album, save "Hard Sun," is basically the 2 minute part. It doesn't feel at all fleshed out. Although I genuinely like "Hard Sun," so it's got that goin' for it...

2 comments:

clarefromscotland said...

I think there were better reasons for Chris Cornell to leave Messrs Morello, Commerford and Wilk behind than anything cash-related - he has a sufficient supply of that. The solo tour he's been on this year has far eclipsed anything Audioslave ever did in the live arena - and I'm talking music, not money.

I've met Tom Morello and liked him, but I reviewed his solo album and thought music came a poor second to polemic - and to me, that's Tom's tragedy as an artist. I think he'd do far more good as a politician than he does as a troubadour. Chris Cornell's last album may not have been his best-ever work, but it was brave and exploratory, and it emphatically chose music over message. Whichever effort personally pleases you most, it's like comparing chalk with cheese.

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