10. Spoon–Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga [Merge]
Sasha Frere-Jones is a joke and Spoon can prove it. I mean, if all I had to judge indie rock on was the Arcade Fire and the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens (all acts I like), maybe I might come up with something as hackish as his risible blow-up, but the best R&B band in the world is comprised of four white dudes who split time between cities the white can't get enough of (Portland and Austin) and they record for Merge, who also claim such chocolate thunder as The Clientele, White Whale, Destroyer and…Arcade Fire. Because when you use the literal term “rhythm and blues,” that's pretty much all Spoon songs consist of, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga could very well be the culmination of everything the band has done to date, from the frightening minimalism of “The Ghost Of You Lingers” to the rousing fist-pump of “Black Like Me” (ha!).
One thing I've noticed is how Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is seemingly overperforming on year-ends considering that its release was met with a sort of golf-clappy, “yeah- it's good, but it's Spoon- the fuck you expect?” I mean, even Cokemachineglow named it #1, a funny result considering that from what I can cull from an occasional glance, they've made it an objective to bitch about everything Pitchfork does by writing in a mostly unreadable style reminiscent of someone trying to parody PFM in, say, 2001. Good luck with that, guys. But it got me thinking- what would a bad Spoon song even sound like? The fact that it hardly even seems plausible is the best sort of compliment I can give these guys.–Ian Cohen
9. Iron & Wine–The Shepherd's Dog [Sub Pop]
In hindsight, the title track of Iron & Wine's 2005 Women King EP, with its shaggy, moonshine mythology and twisted acoustics, should've tipped us off that Sam Beam was capable of something like this. Prior to that he'd fallen victim to “this sounds like Nick Drake but not as good” coffee-shop folk ghetto. But on Shepherd’s Dog, Sam Beam takes the proverbial great leap forward, flashing an astonishing compositional growth honed by stints on tour with Califone and Calexico.
Ragtime waltzes like “The Devil Never Sleeps” stomp with saloon piano keys and a locomotive rhythm section, split open by searing bursts of electric guitar. On “White Tooth Man,” Beam rifles off off a jangling, unsettling jam, full of slinking sitars and lyrics about white toothed men selling guns and plain clothed cops talking to Indian chiefs and other pulp, sepia-toned images. Ignore the Gauguin-were-he-into-bestiality album cover and those neutered Garden State-era caterwauls he used to be known for, Sam Beam is a great songwriter and The Shepherd's Dog is a gorgeous, haunting slice of Southern Gothic.
MP3: Iron & Wine-“Boy With A Coin”
8. The Besnard Lakes– The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse [Jagjaguwar]
I suspect that The Besnard Lakes stepped out of a time-warp. Front-man Jace Lasek wears cowboy shirts, skin-tight disco pants and rocks huge CHiPs sunglasses. His wife, Olga sings how you'd expect a frozen Grecian statue to sing if it were to come to life, an angelic, ghostly peal that I'd imagine Joanna Newsom sounded like had I only read her press clippings. Except Olga doesn't play the harp and frolic in dewy meadows all day long like Jo-Jo Dancer, instead, she twiddles a too-big-for-her-body bass, chugs whiskey on-stage and sings songs about spies. I imagine that these songs are autobiographical. People named Olga can only be spies or Belarusian gymnasts.
I don't quite know how to describe We Are the Dark Horse because it's one of those things that only manages to evokes incredibly simple images, like clots of gray clouds parting to reveal a bronze sun, or lazy blue rivers laughing past you on the first hot day of spring, the sort of trite metaphors that can only feel apt when music hits you at such a primal gut level. The sound is possessed with a strange, atavistic beauty, a mysterious form of big sky psychedelia filled with frazzled violins, end-of-the world guitars and stadium drums. It's the rare record filled with epic ambitions that manages to deliver on its promises of transcendence. Fuck all that angels and harp bullshit. these are the sort of dazed, bruised beautiful tunes you'd really want playing in heaven.
MP3: The Besnard Lakes-“And You Lied To Me”
There was a healthy amount of sixties nostalgia this year: Person Pitch, Black Lips, King Khan, folk jamz, and maybe Ghostface on the throwback tip (although that's probably closer to the seventies (whatever, Wu sampled the Beatles fer chrissakes)). So why Caribou? Of all the Beach Boys loops, inane hooting and hollering, the chicken scratch and the filet, why is not just the best Summer of Luv shout out of '07 but one of the best albums of '07, the product of one dude in Harry Caray glasses in his closet in London? Maybe it's because where many of those albums stuck to the basics, Dan Snaith decided to flood us in flutes, keyboards, sitars, strings, saxes, splashes, and sadness. “He's writing real songs now” was a description sighing “faineant.” Songs has never been what this guy was about, but that's not saying there aren't melodies. The first track is called “Melody Day,” and it's a great “song!”
The point is that the man never lost his touch, he's just changing his game, every single time, and still delivering innovative, energetic, and visceral MUSIC, for people who love MUSIC! Dan Snaith loves sounds, records, moments. He wants you to love them too. And at the very moment you're smitten, suspended inches off the ground, he takes a drum kit and boxes you three rounds. TELL ME WHAT ELSE THIS YEAR MADE YOU FEEL MORE ALIVE?!? —Tal Rosenberg
MP3: Caribou-“Melody Day”
6. The National–Boxer [Beggar's Banquet]
As long as there are jukeboxes in bars people will listen to Boxer. Its a last call sort of record, full of sad, liquored-up revelations and a sense of sarcastic triumphalism in spite of lead singer Matt Berninger's acknowledgment of the futility of it all: aging, death, love lost, corporate jobs, irreversible mistakes et al. Crooning with a whiskey-worn baritone, only James Murphy might be better than Berninger at capturing the sense of alienation felt among college-educated, thirty-something, un-married urbanites of this generation (I'm sure an aspiring sociologist somewhere has already turning in a graduate school thesis on “All My Friends.”).
Indeed, with its electro-rock fusion and diatribes against Giuliani, trust-fund hipsters and I-Bankers, Sound Of Silver may actually be the flip side of Boxer, with Berninger's alcoholic confessionals invoking an older melancholy Edward Hopper Manhattan, all noirish ballads and boozy shades of gray. It's sonic DNA is steak and potatoes; piano-man laments and guitar rock, beefed up occasionally with strings and brass. The Sound of Silver is a gift for the coke crowd, Boxer is a tribute to the days of 2-martini lunches. The sort of record that beautifully captures a sense of slow erosion, so in response decides to order another drink. After the triumph of 2005's Alligator, the National have raised the bar and drained it all at the same time.
MP3: The National-“Fake Empire”
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