I still haven't seen enough of the film I've wanted to to make a best films of 2007 list. For music, however, I made a concerted effort to listen to as many new releases as possible. The result is the most new music I've ever listened to and a greatly expanded list. So, instead of the two part review of 2006, here's my top 40 albums of the year.
Useless Film Snob Top 40 Albums of 2007
40) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
Could be considered the biggest letdown of 2007. While not a bad album, it's nowhere near Howl. Instead of staying with the roots-oriented sound, B.M.R.C goes back to their earlier sound, which I don't find that interesting.
Choice cuts: "Berlin", "All You Do is Talk"
39) Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch
He could always be counted on for one or two good songs per Truckers album and that's what's here: two good songs, a lot of mediocre ones.
Choice cuts: "Dress Blues", "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades"
38) Over The Rhine - The Trumpet Child
A mix of jazz, pop, blues, and Americana that sounds like a more interesting Norah Jones. I'll admit I'd never heard of Over the Rhine before this album, and the album was one of many new bands I discovered this year.
Choice cuts: "I'm on a Roll", "Let's Spend the Day in Bed"
37) Bettye LaVette - The Scene of the Crime
On this album, LaVette finds herself backed by the Drive-By Truckers, which would sound like a mixed bag at most. While there are some good rocking tracks, most find LaVette showing off here soulful vocals on songs by Willie Nelson and Elton John.
Choice cuts: "Choices", "Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)"
36) The Thrills - Teenager
The Thrills have always been a band that's had a sound more in common with California than their native Ireland. Teenager finds them still mining 70s California rock with more orchestral flourishes.
Choice cuts: "This Year", "I Came All This Way"
35) Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Banhart combines so many styles here (pysch-folk, samba, doo-wopp, gospel) that the resulting album is a little scattershot. The strength of the albums lies in Banhart moving beyond being a Nick Drake soundalike and letting his backing band get rolling.
Choice cuts: "Seahorse", "Saved"
34) Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
This doesn't sound like a band that was once called the southern Strokes. The songs here veer a little towards bombastic arena rock but they show a band that has grown and can definitely play better and more diverse stuff.
Choice cuts: "Black Thumbnail", "True Love Way"
33) Heavy Trash - Going Way Out With Heavy Trash
Jon Spencer gets a lot of shit for being ironic or tongue in cheek but the thing is, if you're going to make a rockabilly album, you really got to like the stuff. Teamed with Speedball Baby guitarist Matt Verta-Ray and backed by The Sadies, Heavy Trash sound like Gene Vincent and Johhny Cash if they listened to punk rock. It may sound too indebted to its influences, but that isn't going to stop me from liking it.
Choice cuts: "Outside Chance", "They Were Kings"
32) Blood Meridian - Liquidate Paris!
Blood Meridian adopt a little more of the so-called Psych-Folk movement that's gaining steam. I said of last year's Kick Up the Dust that it had an underlying weirdness to it, and while not as good as that album, Blood Meridian should be seen as more than a side project.
Choice cuts: "The Burning River of Guilt", "She Calls Me"
31) Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior
My preference for Thompson is as a guitar player, but he also is a really good songwriter. A few of the songs here deal with the Iraq war but the slower folk ballads are the real strong point to the album.
Choice cuts: "Dad's Gonna Kill Me", "She Sang Angels to Rest"
30) The White Stripes - Icky Thump
I've never been a huge fan of The White Stripes but when they stick to bluesier material, the limitations of their sound are much better hidden. A good but not spectacular albums that a lot of other reviews have stated.
Choice cuts: "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", "Bone Broke"
29) Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer
Even a year ago, I would have had no interest in Of Montreal. Even though, for whatever reason, it appealed to me.
Choice cuts: "Suffer For Fashion", "Labyrinthian Pomp"
28) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
The most musically adventurous Shins album to date but no real stand out song.
Choice cuts: "Sleeping Lessons", "Turn On Me"
27) Deadstring Brothers - Silver Mountain
Talk about endebted to your influences; this sounds like Exile-era Stones outtakes with a little bit of the Faces mixed in. I really like that so I really like this.
Choice cuts: "Queen of the Scene", "You Look Like the Devil"
26) Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation
The two best tracks are the rootsy, Deadish rockers. The rest are all over the place. Definitely the most eclectic album of 2007.
Choice cuts: "Wild Mountain Nation", "Country Caravan"
25) The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
The comparisons to Springsteen and U2 are obvious here but I think it's not nearly as good as Funeral.
Choice cuts: "Keep the Car Running", "The Well and the Lighthouse"
24) Patton Oswalt - Werewolves & Lollipops
Comedy albums are albums too, and Oswalt is one of the few comedians of today who can make an album as good as comedy album's heydey of the 60s and 70s.
Choice cuts: "American Has Spoken", "The Miracle of Childbirth"
23) Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter - Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul
Another album that could be considered psych-folk highlighted by Sykes' alluring, smokey vocals.
Choice cuts: "The Air is Thin", "Station Grey"
22) Dr. Dog - We All Belong
A mix of classic rock styles, from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to the Band, Dr. Dog perfects songs that sound older than they really are.
Choice cuts: "My Old Ways", "Alaska"
21) Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
An album much more in tune with alt-country than emo, maybe Conor should leave the earnest shouting behind for good.
Choice cuts: "Four Winds", "Classic Cars"
20) The Felice Brothers - Tonight at the Arizona
I saw the Felice Brothers open for Bright Eyes, knowing next to nothing about them. Their shaggy Americana with vocals that sound exactly like early Dylan are right to my liking.
Choice cuts: "Lady Day", "Mercy"
19) Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Sam Beam get more musically adventurous as well and his use of reggae and African styles don't overshadow his songs.
Choice cuts: "White Tooth Man", "Resurrection Fern"
18) The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On
California power pop that is done smartly and catchy.
Choice cuts: "Down In the Valley", "Brass Ring"
17) Radiohead - In Rainbows
I've never been a big fan but after hearing most of these songs at Bonnaroo 2006, I got the album and liked it much more than I thought I would.
Choice cuts: "Bodysnatchers", "Faust Arp"
16) Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back
Staples revisits songs of the Civil Rights Movement and with help from Ry Cooder, makes them sound fresh and just as relevant as forty-five years ago.
Choice cuts: "We Shall Not Be Moved", "Jesus On the Mainline"
15) Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Spoon always makes great albums and the best songs here find the use of horns much to their advantage.
Choice cuts: "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", "The Underdog"
14) Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir
A band that's huge in their native Australia, their sound has more in common with American roots music than the AC/DC copycats that are known here. "One Crowded Hour" is my choice for song of 2007.
Choice cuts: "One Crowded Hour", "Bottle Baby"
13) Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
Apparently, I like this album a lot more than most of the people who've posted on Stereogum. Rilo Kiley have always had pop elements in their songs, so why should it be any suprise that they've made a pop album?
Choice cuts: "Close Call", "15"
12) Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
Ben Bridwell and co. move to South Carolina and more southern elements end up in their music. It's an interesting new direction but could have been a little more consistent throughout.
Choice cuts: "Is There a Ghost", "The General Specific"
11) Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
Adams clearly made an attempt to make a much more accesible, streamlined record and while it didn't achieve much chart success, it' clearly his best effort since Cold Roses.
Choice cuts: "Goodnight Rose", "Pearls on a String"
10) The Cave Singers - Inviation Songs
A band from Seattle that sounds a lot like they'd be from out in some mountains. Another band that could be lumped into the pysch-folk category.
Choice cuts: "Seeds of Night", "Helen"
9) Vietnam - S/T
From their look to their sound, everything about this band is reminiscent of the 60s. The songs are right out of the Lou Reed/Bob Dylan songbook. But like Howlin' Rain last year, there's something about that type of music that I find appealing.
Choice cuts: "Toby", "Summer In the City"
8) Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
The most straightforward sounding Wilco album in some time which I think makes it deceiving to some people. It's not supposed to be anything more than what it is: direct. Sometimes, it's good to hear a band strip down their sound a little.
Choice cuts: "Hate It Here", "What Light"
7) Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara
I guess I'll call this my best discovery of 2007 since I've never heard them before. Tony Dekker's haunting vocals are the key here, with very subdued, melancholic sounding songs for the most part.
Choice cuts: "Backstage With the Modern Dancers", "There Is a Light"
6) Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Like some other acts on this list, Ritter brings a lot more musically to this album than his past ones. Not as strong as The Animal Years but still very good.
Choice cuts: "The Temptation of Adam", "Empty Hearts"
5) The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
The Avett Brothers aren't just bluegrass: there's a little bit of punk rock, latin and classic pop in them as this varied records shows.
Choice cuts: "Salina", "Living of Love"
4) Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Nothing much to say except well-crafted songs with excellent songwriting.
Choice cuts: "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock & Roll Man", "John Allyn Smith Sails"
3) Feist - The Reminder
Before she was selling Ipods and becoming a "new" artist, Leslie Feist released an album that I was sure was going to be near the top of this list. A smartly done album can also have a pop sensibility to it, which nowadays, isn't so easy to see.
Choice Cuts: "My Moon My Man", "1234"
2) Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Not too long ago, my tastes would not have run to this. It would have been too weird and foreign sounding. Now, I think it's the most adventurous album of the year. In terms of the way this band uses sound, they create something based in improvisation that is much more interesting and pyschedelic than anything coming out of the stagnant jamband scene.
Choice cuts: "Peacebone", "Fireworks"
1) The National - Boxer
I liked this album before I saw their impressive performance at Bonnaroo but ever since then, this has been the album I've listened to and enjoyed more than any other this year. I really don't know exactly why I like it or how to describe it in any concrete way other than it's the best album of the year.
Choice cuts: "Slow Show", "Apartment Story"