Best Albums of 2007

After much heated deliberation, writers of the Bureau Staff select their favorite albums of the past year.

Six months huh? Who would’ve figured that, when five quixotic college students students with delusions of erudition shambled together this June to produce a series of essays, their march towards irrelevance would continue unabated for half a year? Since our glorious (some have said “immaculate”) conception, we’ve produced two popular articles about shirts, and dozens of much less popular articles not about shirts, and we’ve loved every minute of it.

Over the course of this week we will be fulfilling our contractual obligations, implicitly signed when we placed the term “cultural criticism” in our about page, that require us to canvas our readership with superfluous “best of” lists (plus a special bonus on Friday). Then, we’re taking a week off, which will mark our first non-server-crash-related break from our publishing schedule since launch. (Who could’ve expected such consistency from students studying in Tacoma, a city full of alcoholics? Go team!)

Today, we present our choices for the year’s best albums, accompanied by legal samples of highlighted materials. Using a sophisticated algorithm, developed by a senior Google engineer, we analyzed our individual lists and determined that The Bygone Bureau’s overall best album of 2007 is LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver. We offer our hearty congratulations to Mr. James Murphy, and all of the other artists featured on the following lists.

Best Albums of 2007

Nick

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Sound of SilverThe prevailing rhetoric about this album seems to revolve around frontman James Murphy’s newfound maturity. There is certainly a strong element of burgeoning adulthood on Sound of Silver, especially compared to LCD’s cocky debut double-disc, but vague psychological themes are not what makes this album great. In fact, the brilliance of this album is hard to pin down. Is a simple mix of electronica, rock, and genuine artistic passion all it takes to produce the year’s best music? Sound of Silver is such a modest, unassuming album that it’s power is arresting no matter how obsessed you become with it (believe me). While it often feels like Murphy isn’t even trying, at the same time you can tell he’s pouring his whole being into every song. However he pulls it off, it’s a neat trick.

“All My Friends” video (courtesy of DFA Records)

Daft Punk – Alive 2007
Alive 2007I’m aware of the ridiculousness of calling a glorified greatest hits record the third best album of the year, but my list doesn’t look right any other way. In spite of all the Daft Punk hype, hyperbole and pretension, this record brought me more joy than anything else released this year. Daft Punk’s music has always been unabashedly fun, and the duo’s redoubling of nearly every track’s energy makes Alive 2007 positively jubilant. Yes, this album can only be fully appreciated by hardcore Daft Punk fans and, yes, my opinion is preposterously biased since my mind was melted at their concert this summer, but I fucking love this record, dammit, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything lower on my list.

“Around the World / Harder Better Faster Stronger” video (courtesy of Virgin Records)

  1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  3. Daft Punk – Alive 2007
  4. Deerhunter – Cryptograms
  5. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
  6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  7. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
  8. Battles – Mirrored
  9. The National – Boxer
  10. Kevin Drew – Spirit If…

Caitlin

John Vanderslice – Emerald City
Emerald CityJohn Vanderslice has been a well-kept secret. I say that partly because I only discovered him this past year, but it seems like everyone I’ve talked to about Vanderslice has had the same experience. The conversation consists of five minutes of praise for his latest albums Emerald City and Pixel Revolt followed by the question “Why hadn’t I heard of him before?” I find that the “singer/songwriter” label holds a negative connotation, suggesting an untalented guy with an acoustic guitar who couldn’t find a band or a girl with a piano who has received far too much encouragement just for being pretty.

Vanderslice is indeed a singer/songwriter, but he deserves neither description above. His songs feature the organic qualities of acoustic guitar and piano arrangements, but Emerald City has an incredibly addictive intensity. The lyrics are a mix of poetic verse and what seem to be everyday observations such as “There is a guy from the Sun Tribune/ Staking out my house in a Chevy Impala since yesterday noon” (from “Tablespoon of Codeine”). The album opens with “Kookaburra,” a smooth track that eases the listener into the more rousing “Time to Go.” The key tracks are “White Dove” and “Parade.” Overall the album is quite serene, and I recommend that it be listened to everyday for quiet reflection.

“White Dove” (courtesy of Barsuk Records)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Living with the Living
Living with the LivingTed Leo is an amazing man. If you stripped all those indie bands of their duds and their haircuts, you would just have really skinny naked guys holding a toy piano and glockenspiel. Ted Leo doesn’t deal with any of that bullshit. Instead, he just makes solid, fun, and incredibly catchy rock n’ roll songs. (The band also tours like crazy, so if you have a chance to see them–go!) The band plays with great energy and each performance is unique as Ted Leo has new quips and new people to make fun of at each show. Just don’t stand too close, because he’s kind of a sprayer.

Living with the Living runs a little long at fifteen tracks, but it’s well worth your time. The star tracks are “The Sons of Cain,” “La Costa Brava,” and “Annunciation Day/Born on Christmas Day.” The most unique song is the semi-political “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.” offering a really great chorus to continually chant and annoy all your friends who can’t appreciate Ted Leo.

“The Sons of Cain” (courtesy of Touch and Go Records)
“Colleen”

  1. John Vanderslice – Emerald City
  2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  3. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  4. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Living with the Living
  5. The National – Boxer
  6. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  7. Handsome Furs – Handsome Furs
  8. Caribou – Andorra
  9. Apostle of Hustle – National Anthem of Nowhere
  10. Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Drew

Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Cease to BeginYes, Everything All The Time topped my list last year. Yes, Cease To Begin is topping my list this year. That’s how good Band of Horses is. They approached the expectations of their sophomore album with the same laissez-faire you find on their hysterically relaxed interviews. Switching their style feels as natural as it could, as they gingerly turn down the reverb and not-so-gingerly turn up the country twang. The influence of the band’s hometown in South Carolina can be, again, heard on the album, but the indie rock roots that Band of Horses’ years in Seattle honed are still present. A small-town, friendly feeling of optimism supports the entire album, even whilst the album touches on fear and melancholy. It sounds triumphant when Ben Bridwell sings it, yellow country teeth and all.

“Is There a Ghost” (courtesy of Sub Pop Records)

Radiohead – In Rainbows
Includes a Bonus DiscWhat can be said that hasn’t been said? The opening seconds of the album show Radiohead’s return to rock. With The Eraser, frontman Thom Yorke had his electronica–though always brilliant–shit out of his system. With In Rainbows, Radiohead was left to perfect those tantalizing live leaks we’ve been listening to for the past four years. There are dance tracks (“Bodysnatchers,” “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”), slow tracks (“Nude,” “All I Need”), and a classic Radiohead-style closer (“Videotape”)–and we haven’t even mentioned the so-called “filler” yet! Yorke’s vocals have never sounded so consistently exceptional, and his support system has indeed perfected their craft. It’s not mind-bending at a Kid A level, but it is a maturing Radiohead developing their sound.

“Jigsaw Falling Into Place” video (courtesy of Radiohead)

  1. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
  2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  3. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  4. Ratatat – Remixes Volume 2
  5. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
  6. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  7. Justice – † (Cross)
  8. White Stripes – Icky Thump
  9. Daft Punk – Alive 2007
  10. M.I.A. – Kala

Jeff

Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War
In Our Bedroom After the WarOriginally, I was disappointed when I first heard In Our Bedroom After the War. It didn’t make me feel the way Set Yourself on Fire did, and so I immaturely put the album on the shelf after only a couple listens. Summer turned to fall, and the album grew dusty. I found myself at a Stars concert in October, hoping to hear older songs. However, they instead played the entirety of In Our Bedroom After the War, and it was transcendent. I admit with no shame that I man-cried throughout the show like a twelve-year old girl at a Justin Timberlake concert. I listened to the album again when I got home, and again and again. The reason that Stars will always be among my favorite is that their tremendous sense of hopeless romantic passion makes the conventional sound revolutionary. Stars lead singer Torquil Campbell summed up their MO at the end of the concert when he said (and this is from my memory):

“This is our life. We all gather in a big aluminum tube and drive around the country and play music that we really love, and when people come, it makes us happy. The world is a shitty place, so go home, forget all about our music, be with someone you love, and have some really wonderful sex.”

Just like all their other albums, In Our Bedroom After the War is all about finding and losing love and beauty in a big, ugly, marred world.

“The Night Stars Here” video (courtesy of Arts & Crafts Productions)

Stars of the Lid – And Their Refinement and Decline
And Their Refinement and DeclineStars of the Lid make longwinded but beautiful drone-based music. They have evolved from their early albums, which were static four-track guitar drones, to something that sounds more like if you were to stretch out Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise across two hours. And Their Refinement and Decline is so far removed from anything else I’ve heard lately that I can listen to it in a vacuum, free of context and appreciate it for what it is: an aural opiate. Also, “Even If You’re Never Awake” might be the most beautiful song I’ve heard in years; it makes me want to fall in love in a brightly lit but empty downtown with snow falling all around me, and it will probably make you want to do something entirely different. And Their Refinement and Decline is what you make of it: it could be boring, or it could be a metaphysical listening experience that makes you float in space. It’s more than just ambient music; there’s a sleepy passion behind these songs. The pieces on And Their Refinement and Decline are warm and comfortable, like spending two hours in your favorite sentimental memory.

“Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)” (courtesy of Kranky Records)

  1. Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War
  2. Kevin Drew – Spirit If…
  3. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  4. Stars of the Lid – And Their Refinement and Decline
  5. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  6. !!! – Myth Takes
  7. Iron and Wine – Shepherd’s Dog
  8. New Buffalo – Somewhere, Anywhere
  9. Shocking Pinks – Shocking Pinks
  10. Eluvium – Copia

Jordan

Pharoahe Monch – Desire
DesireThis one wasn’t a difficult choice for me. I think the most impressive thing about Monch’s Desire is his ability to infuse hip-hop with both tremendous soul and cultural antagonism, without muddying into the waters of the “already-heard.” Leading into the album with a 30 second slave-era hymnal, Desire gives way to Erykah Badu, lending her voice in “Hold On.” From there, the album drifts into an assertive, heated tone that is compelling to hear develop. The most rewarding part is listening when the two tones combine, giving us Monch’s best tracks like title track “Desire” and “Push.” Monch’s complex and ambitious delivery is startlingly natural and fluid, though there are a few songs like “When the Gun Draws,” which seem somewhat too overt and ruthless. It took Monch eight years to assemble this sophomore album, which is too bad because I’m ready to hear a lot more soon.

“Push” video (courtesy of Universal Records)

Justice – † (Cross)
CrossOn the hipster dance party scene, this French duo was probably one of the most played. I’ve heard “D.A.N.C.E” more times than I care to remember (though I do enjoy the song), but it makes me wonder if anyone has explored the rest of the album. “D.A.N.C.E.” is certainly a super single, but the rest of , in my opinion, is much more cohesive and superior in artistry. Justice has mastered the art of electronic emotion: each song is like a pill, one for happy, one for mad. The song “Stress” captures a sensation that is both schizophrenic and paranoid; “New Jack” is a wonderful dance-calamity of incoherent mashing (featuring a sample from the Brothers Johnson). The only thing that I can really complain about is that my speakers aren’t loud enough; like any electronic-dance album, all you want to do is turn it up.

“D.A.N.C.E” video (courtesy of, um, YouTube…)

  1. Pharoahe Monche – Desire
  2. Justice – † (Cross)
  3. Eluvium – Copia
  4. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  5. Cassius – 15 Again
  6. Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future
  7. Battles – Mirrored
  8. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  9. Patty Griffin – Children Running Through
  10. Roisin Murphy – Overpowered

Kevin

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Wincing the Night AwayThe Shins have become synonymous with indie pop, and rightfully so. Their sun-soaked melodies and guitar-meets-synth harmonies are a pleasant disguise to singer James Mercer’s lyrics, which impart all too familiar apprehensions of adolescence. Even on the first listen to the band’s latest chef-d’œuvre, Wincing the Night Away, the album is weirdly nostalgic. And aside from Rihanna’s infectious (and pervasive) “Umbrella,” “Australia” is perhaps the catchiest song of the year. Those hooks hit like indie pop haymakers.

But while Wincing was never panned by critics, it failed to receive the same reception as its predecessors. It’s the Shins first album to not appear on every publications’ year-end list. The band is trying something new: They’re writing songs that please less immediately, tracks that reward with repeated listens. “Sea Legs,” “Red Rabbits,” and “Split Needles” unfold methodically, challenging Shins fans with experimental textures and slow percussion beneath Mercer’s soft vocals.

But I understand those who gave Wincing the Night Away a single listen and cast it aside as an unworthy follow-up to Chutes Too Narrow. God forbid the Shins be allowed to write an album that actually requires patience. In light of all their recent popularity, they’re still underrated.

“Australia” (courtesy of Sub Pop Records)
“Phantom Limb”

Feist – The Reminder
The ReminderThis could be the Year of Broken Social Scene, even though the supergroup didn’t make an official release in 2007. Instead, we saw strong albums from side-projects, including Apostle of Hustle’s National Anthem of Nowhere, Stars’ In Our Bedroom After the War, Do Make Say Think’s You, You’re a History in Rust, and even a particularly note-worthy solo album by Kevin Drew. But surprisingly, it was Feist’s The Reminder that was the most impressive release of BSS alumni.

Regardless of what gender you’re attracted to, it’s hard not to fall in love with Leslie Feist. And who would’ve expected that her sequel to Let it Die, which was largely cover songs, would sweep us all off our feet for a second time? The Reminder is full of tracks that are simple (“I Feel It All”), sad (“The Water”), and straight-up sexy (“My Moon, My Man”), a more demanding and heartfelt album than its predecessor. Ladies and gentlemen, this is minimalist pop construction at its finest, backed by one of the most distinctive voices around.

And sure, you can’t walk into a Starbucks without hearing The Reminder anymore, but just look at it this way: There’s finally a good reason to go to Starbucks again.

“My Moon My Man” video (courtesy of Arts & Crafts Productions)

  1. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
  2. The National – Boxer
  3. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  4. Feist – The Reminder
  5. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  6. Battles – Mirrored
  7. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
  8. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Living with the Living
  9. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
  10. Daft Punk – Alive 2007