Music Snob's Best Albums You Probably Won't Like Of 2007

25. "In Advance of the Broken Arm" by Marnie Stern
Any hipster'll tell you that Marnie Stern was one of the hottest new artists of 2007, and the most hotly anticipated. Indie legend has it that at age 23, Stern was inspired by Sleater-Kinney to take her music in a noise-rock direction. Her debut, "In Advance of the Broken Arm," is near brilliant in its mix of experimentation and catchy noise. Hyperactive octopus Zach Hill's drumming guarantees the album is robust. And Stern positively shreds her guitar to astonishing effect. 24. "Challengers" by the New Pornographers
"Challengers" leaves behind a lot of the bounce and bubblegum from past New Pornographers records. This one-time supergroup now seems to be leader Carl Newman's project, and he has decided to play it more serious and less loose and fun. The lack of the unexpected is the most unexpected thing about this album, but even while feeling weightier, the album carries the touching wistfulness of the Pornographers' past. Meanwhile, songs like "My Rights Versus Yours," "All of the Things that Go to Make Heaven and Earth" and "Mutiny, I Promise You" have all the power and grace of the Pornographers at their best. Does it hold up to 2005's "Twin Cinemas" (a Top 10 in any year)? No. But thus far into their career, any year this band releases a record is a year in which the best pop rock record is a New Pornographers record. 23. "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" by Spoon
Spoon started out a decade ago making punkish, Pixiesesque rock -- embracing the soft-loud dynamic the Pixies made famous -- but over the years, their sound has evolved, including more styles and more experiments and ultimately being easier on the ears. This album and 2005's "Gimme Fiction" show them as terrific players and reflect Britt Daniel's growing prowess as a songwriter. Like The National's past two albums, Spoon's recent work requires attention to truly appreciate. The band doesn't stuff this recording with too much, but with a casual listen, the listener likely overlooks a lot of what's going on. On "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," Spoon tries on Motown R&B and blue-eyed soul, but it is essentially a pop rock record. Because of the inventive, dub-style production, even the sparse songs seem exhaustively calculated. No longer is this a guitar-driven band. Piano man keys highlight the first song and lead the second; cheerful, bouncy horns mark swinger "The Underdog;" rock steady bass drives "Finer Feelings;" and the album closes with another piano song, the glammy, near-ballad "Black Like Me." What shouldn't be lost on anyone, no matter how close they do or do not listen, is the everyman, gutter-dweller sentiment common to so many of Daniel's songs, particularly on the defiant and inspiring "Underdog." 22. "8 Diagrams" by Wu-Tang Clan
Finally, the Clan has come up with an album that holds a candle to their earth-shattering 1993 debut, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)." That's not to say they haven't released good records since then, just no great ones. Several solo albums from the bunch have reached that level, but the more prolific members -- Raekwon, GZA, Method Man -- only managed to put out one gem apiece. Ghostface Killah has put together a remarkable catalog, but "8 Diagrams" comes a week after his latest solo effort, which seems somewhat of a letdown (at least not as good the previous two records, not on the first couple of listens, anyway). Producer RZA finally seems comfortable to do what he wants to do, rather than what he's expected to do, and that freedom rings throughout the record. RZA pushes his past work further, and the album is full of psychedelia, funk, sweet R&B and a refreshing dose of live band music. And with eight rappers (R.I.P. Big Baby Jesus), no one member is forced to carry the album lyrically. Each gives snippets of their styles and strengths, and RZA weaves it altogether. Notably, Inspectah Deck, whose solo albums have disappointed, again proves to be the underdog scene-stealer. Considering Ol' Dirty's death, it's no surprise that this record is largely bleak and somber, but that makes for a thoughtful listen. 21. "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" by Devendra Banhart
The godfather of freak folk really doesn't seem all that freaky on this record. His second full-band album sounds more like classic folk rock. Banhart is a folk singer who has surrounded himself with a wide assortment of instruments and experimental and psychedelic music. This album also strives for a pop vibe and pays homage to Motown soul. The influences of Venezuela, where he spent much of his childhood, are audible again, too. All of that doesn't necessarily suit this free-form singer's style, but it makes for more focused work than his early stuff, and his vocals still quiver and flutter, which is perfect for the subject matter -- lots of lonely heart aching and pining. Not that freaky at all, just very respectful of tried and true music of the past. 20. "We Are" by Cloak/Dagger
And the award for best hardcore album of 2007 goes to Richmond's Cloak/Dagger. It should rank in anyone's genre-spanning best albums list. "We Are" is a terrific LP of short bursts of hardcore adrenaline. While the band will inspire you to bang your head and shake your fists, their songs are surprisingly catchy and will make you remember. Shoot, this is better than any hardcore album I heard last year, too. 19. "Return of the Mac" by Prodigy
"Return of the Mac" is a return to form for this half of hardcore hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. It's his best work since that outfit's "The Infamous," released more than a decade ago. The Alchemist has produced much of Prodigy's prior work, and that longtime relationship works well again, here. There's something to be said for creating music with artists you know and are comfortable with. Alchemist creates warm soundscapes that lean heavily on blaxploitation music while Prodigy raps in his world-weary monotone about death and despair and the decline of civilization. It's gangsta without braggadocio. Thinking man's gangsta rap. 18. "Cryptograms" by Deerhunter
With "Cryptograms," Deerhunter has one of the most exciting albums of 2007. The group's 2004 self-titled debut was a sloppy punk record, but so much has changed. It's an experimental indie rock band, now, mixing atmospheric instrumentals with more traditional songwriting, but even those more traditional songs still ignore melody and structure. The rhythm is remarkable, though, and the music, mellower than it was in '04, runs through a range of emotions. The guitar work has Sonic Youth's fingerprints all over it with a heavy foot on the delay pedal, and the ambiance whispers droney shoegaze and Joy Division. 17. "Dandelion Gum" by Black Moth Super Rainbow
This is electronic music I never saw coming, and that's probably the only way I could really get into electronic music -- a few '70s groundbreakers withstanding. The approach here is analog, and at the risk of sounding like a purist, it makes for a warmer sound. "Dandelion Gum" is lo-fi techno meets pop that alternately feels gloomy, creepy and sunny sweet. With subtle drumming, grooving bass and toyish, dated synth (and sometimes guitar), Black Moth Super Rainbow has crafted an album of impressive, inventive little psychedelic compositions. 16. "Wild Mountain Nation" by Blitzen Trapper
Blitzen Trapper's third and best album is a baker's dozen of songs from all over the musical map. It includes country, prog, jangly pop, psychedelic rock, power pop and more, but unlike a lot of other bands on this list, this group doesn't try to melt the styles into each other. Too schizophrenic you think? It really doesn't come off that way. All the while, the band is reminiscent of mid-'90s slacker rock, and a common thread or vibe -- a certain Blitzen Trapperness -- runs through each song and holds the album together. I've heard the Beck comparisons, but this album is better than that. Beck dons new costumes from song to song. Blitzen Trapper may head in different directions, but they always dress as Blitzen Trapper. 15. "Myth Takes" by !!!
The post-punk revival is exhausting at this point, but few bands do it better than !!!. While they follow in the footsteps of Gang of Four, Pop Group and the like -- as so many bands do these days -- !!! copies less and listens more, merely taking the advice. These are dance songs with driving beats, but they move along patiently, albeit with an abundance of pent-up nervous energy. "Myth Takes" is more boisterous and fun than past !!! records, but there is still enough haunting darkness to help maintain an edge. This group aims to make even the most ardent indie head-bobbers give up and groove. 14. "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" by Of Montreal
Of Montreal has been making great records for a decade, now, but only recently have they started to get some recognition. I never thought it would happen. The music seems too outsider to catch on, despite the fact that Kevin Barnes writes some of the catchiest songs around, even if they are relentlessly weird. He's just a really strange guy who likes pop music. "Hissing Fauna" finds this, the most successful of the Elephant 6 bands, traveling in darker territory. It is Barnes' break up album, and on it he shares depression, rage, self pity, denial, and in the process, we get a psychedelic dance record. It may not sound as fun as past Of Montreal albums, but it sounds more real. 13. "All Hour Cymbals" by Yeasayer
Best new band of the year, here. Yeasayer's debut LP is world beat goes indie. African, Middle Eastern and even Caribbean sounds are wrapped in folk and post punk, and infectious pop often drives the bus. The band implements a host of instruments and rewrites rules of music logic, like marrying Black Sabbath to reggae but only making it a part of the sound, not the central focus. The songs rarely follow any traditional structure. Instead, the music sprawls and winds and builds and seemingly doesn't go anywhere until you realize at the end of the song that you were there the whole time. And then songs like "2080" keep the album grounded, following more familiar paths and getting your feet moving. Think of the Talking Heads' "Fear of Music" and "Remain in Light" or David Bowie's late-'70s work with Brian Eno, and then think about that music being made today. 12. "Friend Opportunity" by Deerhoof
Never has a band packed so many seemingly contrasting musical ideas into such small packages. Deerhoof's second album since ditching the crutches of quirky pop and no wave streamlines their apparent new approach. "Friend Opportunity" seems more focused than "The Runners Four." The band is breaking out into new genres, like avant garde jazz, noise and garage rock, while not abandoning their earlier ones, and they pack 'em all into devastating three-minute journeys, racing through without concern for the listener's ability to keep pace. John Dieterich's guitars shift from heavy to razor sharp. Greg Saunier's drums provide hypnotic beats or pound your skull. And Satomi Matsuzaki's cartoonish twee vocals seem completely out of place, except for the fact that so much seems misplaced here. Really, though, it isn't. What you get is prog on crack, ADHD rock, and it's incredibly compelling. As much of a mess as this may sound, this album keeps you guessing, then delivers hooks that draw you in, then quickly abandons them before you can get comfortable. 11. "Boxer" by The National
"Alligator," The National's previous album, was good on first listen but great six months later. Thanks to that warming period, I think, I could appreciate "Boxer" from the beginning. The National's mix of chamber pop and post-punk doesn't include many rockers, but the band just puts out consistent collections of beautiful songs. You have to listen close to appreciate how dynamic the band is and how powerful the lyrics are. It's worth the attention. On "Boxer," The National sounds tighter than ever, and "Fake Empire" and "Start a War" may be the most depressingly pretty songs of the year. 10. "None Shall Pass" by Aesop Rock
Looking at this list, I'm surprised at myself for choosing Aesop Rock to be the best hip-hop artist of the year, but I can't question the choice. I haven't heard better in the genre this year, even though I've heard lots of very good. "Labor Days" was an instant classic in 2001, so it's hard to say this was better, but that may be because an artist can't really duplicate the impact of an album like that. Honestly, I think I enjoy the music on "None Shall Pass" more -- it's a mix of traditional hip-hop beats, inspired sampling and rock and roll. And Aesop Rock's hyperactive, hyper-literate lyrics seem as strong as ever. But it may take another six years for me to understand them as well as the words to "Labor Days." The man spits so fast, it takes at least that long to catch up. 9. "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" by Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse seems high to me here, at No. 9, just because the band has to hold up against its brilliant catalog. Long gone from their Northwest indie guitar god beginnings, Modest Mouse still has moments held over from that mid-'90s era, but they've turned into more of a post-rock band, contrasting dance punk with Americana. This album plays like a sequel to previous effort, "Good News for People Who Like Bad News" -- the radio friendly, incessantly catchy lead single "Dashboard" is positioned at No. 2, just like "Good News's" "Float On" was, but it is nowhere near a copy -- and neither is this record. Is it the band's best album? Not even close. But it demonstrates that leader Isaac Brock can flat out write good songs, whether they're heavy or light, challenging or catchy, fast or slow. 8. "Person Pitch" by Panda Bear
Panda Bear makes the first of his two appearances in the Top 10 here. In fact, I may be holding him down at No. 7 simply because his main gig, Animal Collective, is higher up. Panda (Noah Lennox) is the Brian Wilson of that group -- not their leader, per se, but their driving melodic force. His solo sonics aren't as adventurous as that band's, but he may be the hypnosis behind AC. The music here is still somewhat folky, but really, it sounds more like minimalist techno -- a mellow dance party. A dance party where the dancers still pair off and touch each other. Layers of loops create the sound, but the experimentation is much more subtle than AC's, buried beneath the pop sensibility. 7. "Let's Stay Friends" by Les Savy Fav
After a six-year layoff, Les Savy Fav has gone back to rock and roll. The angular guitars stolen from post-punk are still there, and so too is the post-hardcore that seemed to disappear from the dancey 2001 LP "Go Forth." This really is the band's finest pop rock record. It's not as edgy as their early work nor as catchy as "Go Forth," but it strikes a perfect balance of power and accessibility, and the band sounds tighter than ever. 6. "Friend" by Grizzly Bear
Labeled an EP, this record stretches to 11 tracks thanks to covers by admirers of vastly different styles -- CSS, Band of Horses and Atlas Sound (Brandon Cox of Deerhunter). It otherwise collects alternate versions of familiar Grizzly Bear songs, most notably an excellent, fully realized "Alligator," previously unreleased songs and noise experiments, and the band's new live favorite, an inspired cover of the Crystals' "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)." What this collection does demonstrate is more of a lean toward rock music for this group, which in the past has been kind of a tender noise band playing folk songs. Certainly it's not a proper release, it is far too scattered, particularly with the collection of covers, to ever feel coherent as an album, but it is simply one of the best collections of songs released this year. 5. "Red Album" by Baroness
Heavy metal is back and better than ever, and with their debut full-length, Baroness established themselves as the next big thing. Once considered sort of a Mastodon baby brother, "Red Album" finds the band creating a more unique sound of their own. In addition to the elements of metal -- stoner, doom and thrash -- this record is filled with prog rock inventiveness, arena rock aspiration and an indie rock sensibility. But ultimately, it is a heavy record that'll shake your bones and your soul. 4. “Grinderman” by Grinderman
Nick Cave (welcome back to the Best of… circuit) decided to make a rock and roll record again. Welcome to the Top 10. And while his album with the outfit Grinderman is a garagey rock and roll album, it is not a straightforward rock record. Welcome to the Top 5. While Cave takes top billing here, this album really was a collaboration with a few of his Bad Seeds. They decided to go into the studio, dumb it down and thrash out some songs, giving the punk and no wave treatment to blues, soul and even lounge sounds. And they kept it sparse and fuzzy. They came out with Cave’s most Birthday Party-sounding record since his days in the Birthday Party, but not quite as wild. While the boys cut loose, Cave held the reins tight. And a dirty, lighthearted humor prevails on the album (witness “No Pussy Blues”). But it is in Cave and the Bad Seeds’ nature to experiment, so Grinderman doesn’t play like any other garage rock record around. Even the most straightforward foot stomper, “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars),” is injected with Cave’s goofy buzzing bee imitation. 3. "Beyond" by Dinosaur Jr.
Rarely does a band take such a long hiatus and come back just as strong as ever. Other than Dinosaur Jr., only Mission of Burma comes to mind. The original lineup of Dino Jr. got back together and toured a couple of years ago, and in 2007 they treated us to a new album. It's just as brilliant and essential as the trio's first three albums in the late-'80s, which helped pave the way for the alt-rock explosion and inspired many a stoner rock band. The only difference between the band now and then -- aside from guitar god J Mascis' gray hair -- is better, cleaner production. 2. "Rainbow" by Boris with Michio Kurihara
This Japanese metal trio followed up last year's brilliant "Pink" -- a marriage of thrash and shoegaze -- with an album that has the shoegazey drone wearing the pants in the family. They collaborated with brilliant psych-freak guitarist Michio Kurihara, of Ghost, for a record that largely ignores "Pink's" hardcore thrash in favor of that album's texture. There are still some up-tempo rockers, like the searing "Starship Narrator," but they are fewer and farther between. And the trio is content to let Michio stretch out with his dazzling, hyperactive fretwork, wah-wahs and explorations. All the while, sampled sounds and haunting noisescapes lurk in the background. This band has always put out records vastly different from the last -- and this album is vastly different from "Pink" -- but "Rainbow" seems to take those shoegaze experiments and run with them, following Michio's psychedelic lead. 1. "Strawberry Jam" by Animal Collective
Quite simply, Animal Collective is the best, most interesting band around, and this is the album they've been building up to. This is the most important band of the decade -- the most unique group in experimental rock -- and this may be their masterpiece (2005's "Feels" may argue otherwise). The album melds noise, folk, psychedelia and drone. The odd layering of sound can seem chaotic, but it is ultimately compelling, and no matter how out there the music gets, a keen sense of melody holds it together and defies you to turn it off. It's the sound Brian Wilson would have come up with if he was a 20-something going crazy in the second half of the '00s rather than the second half of the '60s. This band gets grouped with like-minded artists Grizzly Bear (not a bad comparison, but Grizz isn't nearly as adventurous) and the freak-folk scene, but Animal Collective's sound is much more singular. This band is a genre unto itself, and "Strawberry Jam" is a testament.

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