"Stand inside an empty tuxedo with grapes in my mouth"
This was a year in which I actually listened to albums again. Oh, I still shuffled - I'll always shuffle, now - but I made a conscious effort to listen to new albums, give them all a chance if I could. And it paid off, most of the time. A few albums - like "Easy Tiger" by Ryan Adams and "The Neon Bible" by the Arcade Fire - were vaguely disappointing, but only in that they were good rather than great. In saying that, let me acknowledge that I downloaded what was by far my favourite song of the year and have no intention of buying its parent album. That would be "With Every Heartbeat" by Robyn, which sounded to me like a great Georgio Moroder tune for the modern era.
My albums of the year, in no particular order, and some words on some of them:
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver.
All killer no filler, every song filled with those little production details and melodic ideas James Murphy does so well. Sounds better played loud than many modern records because its been properly produced. Murphy cares about that stuff, he loves it, and you can hear that in his records.The awesome, moving, funky and brilliantly tuneful "Someone Great" was probably my favourite song of the year apart from "With Every Heartbeat" by Robyn, which is just slightly more sublime and beautiful.
Elliott Smith - New Moon
Shocking that these are mainly outtakes, so high is the quality throughout. Hopefully there are more in the vaults. A live album featuring some of his sublime covers wouldn't hurt either.
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
This sounds like the Doobie Brothers or The Guess Who or somebody who you might know a song by but wouldn't buy an album of. In a good way. A classic rock record with great songs, great playing, great production. I love Jeff Tweedy's songwriting and his sensibility. And I love that Wilco always include at least one song that culminates in a long guitar blowout of some sort, the way "Impossible Germany" does here.
Republic of Loose - Aaagh!
This was released last year in Ireland, but only came out here in October, and I only bought it in January (2007), despite having "Comeback Girl " in my top ten songs last year. Anyway, its fantastic. I've read them described as the Roling Stones produced by the Neptunes but that does them a disservice. They take a little rock, a little funk, a little soul, a little rap, a little electropop - and they mix it all together. Great basslines, great vocals, great lyrics, great tunes. They sound like they want to be a Sly & the Family Stone style collective, but they do it from a skewed angle. Yet it works. And "The Idiots" is a great love song.
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The best thing about this record and its attendant hullaballoo was that it made Radiohead seem important again. On the night of the day of release, myself and 3 of my friends were listening to it simultaneously, according to Last FM. Its also a lovely record, full of instances of beauty and the kind of dynamics that seemingly only this particular band can pull off in quite the way they do. And songs - it features a couple of outright, unapologetic ballads, no electronic distortion or atonal undertows present, and they are both lovely, stunning songs. It also rocks, on occasion.
The National - Boxer
This is one album that resisted my policy of giving albums a chance. The first time, it all sounded the same. That grey, turgid National sound. Adult Indie rock. Second time, maybe one song stood out. Third time, not much difference. So, I admit it, I was weak, I gave up. But shuffle was kind. Shuffle would drop the National in just as I was at my most vulnerable to exactly the type of song they specialise in - a quietly perfect piece of bruised, mysterious romanticism with a slice of poetry in the lyrics (like "You know I dreamed about you, for 29 years before I saw you" from "Slow Show") delivered in Matt Berninger's deepest register. So I returned to the album, and lo, it was the groweriest of growers, the ebola virus of growers, just as "Alligator", the band's previous album, had been. They're just that kind of band, The National. Quietly brilliant.
Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus!
Not so SFA, who have never done anything quietly. This year singer Gruff Rhys released a fantastic solo album and the band released this, their most stripped-down, low-key record in ages. Of course its still epic and eclectic and full of hooky wonders with titles like "Baby Ate My eightball" and "Let the Wolves Howl at the Moon".
Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
This was the biggest surprise of the year for me, an album in which Sam Bean unveiled a hitherto unrevealed aspect to his talent, broadening his arrangements and bringing in elements of Afro-Pop (on the amazing "House By the Sea"), honky tonk and mariachi on various songs. And what songs! Great lyrics, beguiling melodies, perfect balance to the production and playing.
Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
As good as their other records. Nuff said, if you know their other records.
Feist - The Reminder
I love that flutey, innocent voice, and she writes ideal songs for it. "1234" should have started to annoy me by now, but it hasn't.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
"I wrote this song years ago late at night, somewhere off the Goldhawk Road...."
Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
At first this seemed like the years most disappointing record. It sounded tinny, badly mixed, possibly due to compression, the songs less accessible, murkier than usual. But I came back to it and it started to sink in, and grow. Josh Homme writes great crunching songs, and he makes their guitars sound like no other band. And still, somehow, he manages to make it sound funky, without becoming the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
Shes a genius. Pianos replace guitars, and she seems refreshed by the change, recharged after the substandard "Uh Huh Her". The songs are haunting, her voice at the peak of its register seeming to glide into the sound from somewhere old and dark. Its not exactly a comfortable listen, but it is great.