15. Caribou, Andorra
This is the first Dan Snaith creation that I’ve gotten into (and just barely in time for this list), but it has been a successful venture so far. The subdued pop melodies and the orchestral beatscapes add up to a mellowed out final package.
Video: Melody Day
14. Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, Voices and Choices
Mr. Shawn Lee has created a future soul orchestra that is marching to victory. He also conjured up a video game soundtrack, a covers album, and a Christmas album in 2007, but it is this full-fledged beauty that helped me through the year. Lee painted a wide palette of lush instrumentation and smooth vocals over some beathead drum breaks to sculpt a fine product that is suitable for a mellow listen at all times of the day.
Video: Kiss The Sky (Well, not really, but the song is the soundtrack to “The GH Chronicles: Chapter Six, Part 9.” Thanks, YouTube!)
13. New Pornographers, Challengers
Your favorite Canadian supergroup came forward with another strong entry to their catalog this year. They’re not doing anything super unique, but cozy songs jampacked with warm instrumentation and endless hooks are bound to work, right? Not to mention that the soaring waltz of “Go Places” is one of my songs of the year. I still like 2005’s Twin Cinema more, but that took into this year to grow on me, so I’ll give this some time too.
12. Electrelane, No Shouts No Calls
The toast of Brighton, England has apparently called it quits, but not before they dropped this addictive bomb on the masses. I mean, I might not have had a summer without it. Verity Susman’s sincerely yearning vocals on songs like the twinkling “To The East” and the heartfelt “Cut And Run” hit me right where I live. Emma Gaze’s almost robotic drum patterns are also a hallmark of this album. Is an American reunion tour out of the question? Probably.
Video: To The East
11. Black Kids, Wizard of Ahhhs EP
In a move that is in line with the internet-powered evolution of music distribution, this Jacksonville quintet gave the world their first four “official” songs for free. The EP is a concise 15 minutes of New New Wave anthems brimming with smart-alec vulnerability. So, go to their website and check it out.
10. Antibalas, Security
Brooklyn’s afrobeat juggernaut hooked up with producer John McEntire (Tortoise) this year to concoct a rugged polyrhythmic maelstrom. Their horn line is as fierce as ever, but McEntire’s vision helped focus the songs into compact (well, sorta) statements. Antibalas has mastered the art of making instrumental protest songs, as evidenced by the damage evoked by “Broken Metal,” and vocalist Amayo has something to say when he gets behind the mic. For more insights, read my interview with tenor saxophonist Stuart Bogie here.
Stream: Various Songs
9. Thes One, Lifestyle Marketing
One half of the LA-based hip-hop duo People Under The Stairs went solo this year. This album is a collection of Thes’ remixes of commercial jingles composed by instrumentalist Herb Pilhofer in the 1980s. This juxtaposition of quirky ad lines laid over hip-hop beats works surprisingly well, and the bonus disc of Pilhofer’s original compositions is a nice bonus.
Video: Grain Belt Beer
8. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights
The Daptone army continues to march on. Though their contributions to Amy Winehouse tracks brought the Dap-Kings mainstream attention in 2007, they still had time to work fruitfully with the star of their own team, Miss Sharon Jones. Their third album reflects the influence of the ’70s Stax soul records, as Sharon packs some sultry grit into her tales of love and determination. As usual, the Dap-Kings excel at both the ballads and the uptempo numbers, with loads of instrumental touches to keep your attention.
Video: 100 Days, 100 Nights
7. A Band Of Bees, Octopus
These British boys (known as “The Bees” across the pond) released another slab of eclectic jams in 2007. Though their refusal to stick with any one genre or influence can be distracting at times, they continue to improve at composing cohesive albums. The Bees use a wide variety of instruments and textures to create unique anthems like the groove-heavy confidence of “Listening Man” and the dubbed-out dance number “Left Foot Stepdown.”
Stream: Various Songs
6. Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass
After releasing Labor Days in 2001, Ian Bavitz’s subsequent output lost me. However, when I started hearing tracks from this year’s None Shall Pass, I got drawn back in and haven’t regretted the occurrence. Though the MC is still on the abstract side, his rhymes are less bracing and more focused at this point, resulting in oodles of quotables and songs that are more meaningful and enjoyable. Aesop’s nimble riding of the deliberate ping-pong locomotion of the lead single/title track was another sonic highlight of the year for me.
Video: None Shall Pass
5. Ghostface Killah, Big Doe Rehab
Despite a lack of commercial sales, Ghostface continues his career as the most consistent solo artist to emerge from the Wu-Tang Clan with this release. His vocals are still as heartfelt and ridiculous as ever, and his Wu familia sound more lively on their multiple cameos than they do on 8 Diagrams. The beats are well-chosen and soulful and Ghost proves once again that he doesn’t need instrumentals, he’ll rap right over vocals.
Video: Yolanda’s House
4. The Budos Band, The Budos Band II
Though Miss Jones did fine this year, I was even more impressed by Daptone’s resident Afro-funk enthusiasts. Though their first self-titled disc was sturdy, the follow-up was more eclectic and alive. The wall of horns is still thunderous and the percussion is hot and heavy, but the boys manage to create distinct cinematic backdrops from song to song while never losing their focus.
Video: Ride Or Die (Live at the Ravari Room!)
3. Sean Price, Jesus Price Supastar
Formerly known as Ruck (from Heltah Skeltah), Sean Price kicked out some hardcore humorous raps on his sophomore solo album. The thing that distinguishes Price from his fellow gun-toting NYC rhyme slingers is his sharp, self-deprecating wit. Plenty of gun and drug raps, but he never forgets the mistakes he has made and makes light of them. The beats provided by producers like 9th Wonder and Khrysis give Price and his guests a heavily soulful backdrop to spit over. Hardcore rap can still be fun!
Video: Mess You Made
2. Patton Oswalt, Werewolves and Lollipops
Yes, this is a comedy album, but it has to be my favorite album ever released on Sub Pop, so I think it counts. Though it’s a silly affair, Oswalt provides relevant commentary on the ridiculous structure of the world around us without sounding forced. His views on KFC, George Lucas, and the similarities between Bush and Cheney and the Dukes of Hazzard are hilarious, keeping the album on repeat.
Video: KFC Famous Bowls
1. Dolby Fuckers, Dolby Fuckers
Yes, I was involved in the recording of one song on this album. However, I feel strongly about the worth of Lee Keeler’s mind-bending lo-fi sonic pop experiments. This is the record I listened to most in 2007 without getting tired of the tunes, and “Bucky Kentucky” is pure echo-y gold. Read my original review (and disclaimer) here and download the album for free here.
Video: Vitamin Flintheart