Friday, December 28, 2007

Music picks of 2007

I've noticed that, as I've gotten older, I've lost touch with what the kids like in the music arena. When I was their age (high school age, whatever that amounts to these days), what I listened to was hip and cool. Now what I listen to seems aged and refined.

But hey, at least it's not pop-punk.

This year a lot of that aged music was released. It happens that, every other year or so, a crop of great music comes out - leaving me with choices to make, like opting not to buy the new Smashing Pumpkins album that was released over the summer. My heart forever belongs in the "Siames Dream" era of Billy Corgan's band, and anything past "Mellon Collie" strikes me as unofficial Pumpkins material. Hell, Zwan came closer to a Pumpkins album than "Machina."

Last year, my good bro Driver ran a list of recommended albums that came out over the year. So this year I'm dedicating my list to artists who I like, and who release material regularly, but who haven't had a hit with the kids in ages. And also some new stuff I discovered along the way.

Breaking tradition, we'll call it a Top Ten List. No one ever does those.

In no particular order (except the last one):

"Tohuvabohu" by KMFDM
KMFDM has entered a steady groove, with a consistent slate of band members (something new in their long history) that leaves for little variety among their post-"ATTAK" albums. "Tohuvabohu" also breaks tradition, with 2005's "Hau Ruck," by not using the usual five-letter album title (like "Nihil," "Angst," and "WWIII"). Other than that, this is the usual stuff from my favorite politcal satirists. It's taken a long time for KMFDM to write a song as fabulous and fun as "Superpower" - a return to their epic, self-referential mid-'90s sound that I've missed so much. The rest of the album? Standard stuff, though Lucia gets a lot more air time, and uses it pretty well.

"Mission California" by Cross Canadian Ragweed
This was a new one for me. I read a review of a CCR album in the Detroit Free Press a few years ago, and always meant to try them out. After I saw "Mission California" was out, I took a dive - and I'm glad I did. I had heard that CCR was a roots-rock outfit, but they have a bit more twang than I was expecting. But it's a good twang - like Lynyrd Skynyrd twang. "Record Executive" starts out the album with a thumb in the eye, while songs like "In Oklahoma" and "Smoke Another" keep the tempo upbeat. But there's a few slower numbers here, and they're done well. I hear CCR's live show is a memorable one, so I've got my eyes open for their tour schedule in this part of the country.

"Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace" by Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters seem to be the "it" band these days, what with a Grammy nomination and all. "Echoes" do them justice; it's a steady, consistently good album, ranging from straight-up rockers like "The Pretender" to bluesy, ultra-listenable numbers like "Summer's End." I was glad to see them experimenting with country/bluegrass on "Echoes," too. Not quite the magnum opus "In Your Honor" was, but still one of the year's best.

"Sky Blue Sky" by Wilco
I actually haven't purchased this one yet, but I will. And since it was released this year, it gets put on the list. I hear it's it's an easier-going ride, like a walk down a shady path, and Driver's enthusiasm for Tweedy's group is contagious. Each of their album grows on me the more I listen to them. I've got the middle stuff ("Summerteeth," "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot") and the "Mermaid Avenue" album. Now I'll grab the bookends, and see what all the fuss is about.

"In Our Bedroom After the War" by Stars
I heard about this Canadian indie outfit in Rolling Stone, I think, and heard "The Night Starts Here" thanks to's daily download - and it was enough. Dual singers, a roller coaster of highs and lows, and just enough quiet and heartbreak to keep it in steady rotation. Not to mention a weird, instrumental opening that sucks me in every time. Something new, and something worth trying.

"Year Zero" by Nine Inch Nails
It's risky to say Trent Reznor is lightening up in his old age. Maybe it's just that he's gotten over the self-loathing and found bigger, more interesting, issues to tackle - like the state of our country in these weird times. "Year Zero" is a dystopian view of what America could become, but it becomes something else entirely by producing an amazingly well-thought-out story line. For all his brooding, Reznor found enough light in his tunnel to write a piece of great fiction, and establish an entire participatory experiment while doing so. There's plenty of news out there about the album's interactive elements - secret web pages, thumb drives left in concert hall bathrooms, blackshirts unloading armbands out of mysterious vans - but, in the end, the album really could stand on its own. "The Good Soldier" offers the best NIN song since "The Downward Spiral," while singles like "Survivalism" and "Capital G" point to a police state America that didn't seem so fictional a few years back. The man is talented, no doubt about it, but "Year Zero" takes Reznor's talent to another level.

"Afterwords" by Collective Soul
Look up "reliable" in the dictionary, and Collective Soul's Ed Rowland and gang are right there in the examples. "Youth" - too slow in parts to really capture the imagination. But "Afterwords," released only in Target stores, is a return to a formula that was perfected when Hootie and his Blowfish ruled the world. This is a fun album made by a band so comfortable with itself that album rankings and the monolithic teen love fail to hold sway. Although "Hollywood" helped put Collective Soul back in the "American Idol"-loving consciousness, songs like the amazing "I Don't Need Anymore Friends" and the sweet "Georgia Girl" make "Afterwords" a good listen from front to back. I hesitated even buying this album, knowing exactly what I would get from the band. But that's what I bought it, too: I knew what I was getting, and - in my old age - there's comfort in rocking to a band that I've grown up with.

"Under the Blacklight" by Rilo Kiley
About once a year, Michigan State's college station, Impact 89 FM, turns me on to some random band who I can't seem to escape (Mates of State, Interpol, Snow Patrol, many others), and Rilo Kiley gets added to that list this year. It was an easy experiment. Jenny Lewis's solo album was a hoot. But it was "Breakin' Up" that did it: a song so infectious that I whistle it in the shower during my NPR listens. "Under the Blacklight" also offers the divine "Dreamworld" and the dreamy "Silver Lining," and enough of Jenny Lewis's personality to make me recognize, when I first heard "Breakin' Up," what was going on. Plenty of variety, and plenty of good songcraft, so that now I want to check out Rilo's back catalog to see what else I can find.

"Our Love to Admire" by Interpol
I keep hoping I'll like "Our Love to Admire" as much as I adore "Antics," but - even after repeated listens - it just isn't happening. Oh well. It's still a pretty good album. Even if there was only one song, and it was "Pace is the Trick," I would pay $10 or whatever on this latest Interpol album. I guess I'll never forget the winter I got turned on to these NYC-loving, suit-wearing, spooky-singing throwbacks, and "Pace is the Trick" takes me right back to that time. It's got the right combination of soaring and hypnotizing bends that the song, combined with "Rest My Chemistry" and opening track "Pioneer to the Falls," made "Our Love to Admire" rise above a disappointment. Other than that, the brilliance of "Untitled" or "Hands Away" (off "Turn on the Bright Lights") or "Slow Hands" and "Length of Love" (off "Antics") is nowhere near as evident. The rest of the tracks seem too rushed and thrown together. Maybe it's because Paul Banks is a methodical bastard, and this album seems out of character. Whatever. It's still Interpol, and I still love driving to work with it blaring in my ears.

"Dead Again" by Type O Negative
My pick for the best album of the year. Don and I got to see Type O live in the spring (and I didn't get my tires slashed at Harpo's like last time), which really highlighted the genius of the epic songs "These Three Things" and "Profit of Doom." Like "Life Is Killing Me" before it, "Dead Again" took a few listens to appreciate. But now it's there, and it's fucking amazing. Like Tool, Type O comes out with an album - if we're lucky - every four or five years, and a lot happens in the meantime that bleeds into the music. Peter Steele converting back to Catholicism, getting arrested, and OD'ing on cocaine lend plenty of lyrical material, but the band puts their admirable musical talent to work here, producing 80+ minutes of sonic doom and gloom. Type O never takes themselves seriously, and I appreciate bands (like KMFDM) that poke fun with wit and intelligence. This is not a sunny album, and it's not one you should play for your grandmother. "Hail and Farewell to Britain" and "September Sun" highlight Steele's recent obsession with good melodies melded with Soviet-style May Day Marches. All in good fun. And it all adds up to my most-listened-to album of the year.

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