Music/Popular Culture

The best CDs of 2007, pt. 2: Platinum LPs

Welcome back to part two of our annual music wrap-up. Today we award the Platinum LPs, given for superior achievement. (If you missed part one, click here to review the Gold LP winners, updated to include three inadvertent omissions.) These appear in no particular order.

Platinum LP

The Birthday Massacre: Walking with Strangers
Toronto’s The Birthday Massacre is a study in contradictions. While sometimes labeled a “goth revival” act (and it’s true that you’ll hear all kinds of ‘80s post-punk and goth influences), there’s something very contemporary, even forward-looking, about their sound, which manages to be appropriately dark and bright to the point of chirpy. Hard, yet, achingly beautiful. Thematically discomforting, yet not remotely nihilistic. And so on.

This is hands-down my favorite CD of the year to simply listen to – lush, rich, driving and ambient all at once. The worst thing I can find to say about Walking with Strangers is that it’s probably not much better than their previous effort, Violet. Of course, that was a damned fine effort, too.

Blonde Redhead: 23
A lot of times I’ll fall in love with a dreampop/shoegazer/noisepop band and it feels like I’m the only one, but this year’s superb release from NYC-based Blonde Redhead seems to have popped up on a number of year-end lists. Their debt to My Bloody Valentine is obvious, but they also bring a haunting sense of melody to their music in ways that MBV and some of their other followers never managed.

Droning, shimmering, sweeping, dissonant but irresistibly lovely – 23 is a songwriting tour de force in a genre known a lot more for its atmospherics than for its tunesmithing. Simply remarkable.

The Clientele: God Save the Clientele
The most delightfully upbeat CD of the year. From top to bottom, this bright exercise in indie chamberpop feels a carefree stroll through one sunny park after another, and if I make it sound insubstantial, you have my apologies. GStC is anything but trivial. One reviewer, AMG’s Tim Sendra, calls it “a stunning batch of songs that will break your heart, pump it back full of life, and send you off to dreamland with a warm feeling filling your soul.” Not far off the mark, that – despite the warm, feel-good vibe, there is a lyrical depth here, but even when things go badly we’re never allowed to forget that the sun rises again tomorrow and with it comes a fresh burst of hope.

In its best moments – and there are many – The Clientele reminds me of Luke Haines on a good day. Tonally reflective, musically rich and warm – wonderful to listen to whether you’re paying very close attention or not.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen: The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Once upon a time Damon Albarn produced an iconic CD about life in London, Blur’s classic Parklife. After a couple insanely innovative outings at the center of Gorillaz, he’s now looped that aesthetic back into the task of yet another definitive set of snapshots depicting life in London. This time, though, the mood and storytelling are considerably bleaker.

Albarn has recruited a noteworthy cast this time around, and TGtB&tQ feels more like an actual band than Gorillaz ever did. Guitars are handled by Verve’s Simon Tong, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen and Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and each brings a healthy dose of what made them famous to the project. Still, the disc feels more like Demon Days than it does Parklife, Urban Hymns or London Calling.

Albarn has now produced epic efforts in three different incarnations, and it’s hard not to number him among the greatest auteurs in rock music today. In sports terms, he’s an automatic first-ballot hall of famer even though he’s still in the middle of his career. Of course, rock doesn’t have a hall of fame….

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raising Sand
Did you see this one coming? Because I know I didn’t. Metal legend teams with one of the brightest lights in contemporary bluegrass? Okay-dokey.

Of course, it’s brilliant, oscillating between folk, Americana and country, and perhaps thanks to T-Bone Burnett’s laid-back influence the whole things comes off as really effortless. Warm, organic, and maybe a little less explosive than I might have expected (Krauss only plays the fiddle on a couple of tracks), the result is what happens when legit superstars are willing to subjugate their individual talents to the requirements of the team.

VAST: April
Over the past decade it’s hard to find a band or performer that’s been more consistently outstanding than VAST, aka Jon Crosby. April represents a break from past form, though, in that it’s a bit more acoustic and also in Crosby’s willingness to let other people into the studio, a move that helps infuse the CD with some of the dynamism of the VAST live show, which is simply one of the hugest sounding things I’ve ever encountered.

April is probably not quite the masterpiece of 2000’s Music for People, but its suite of haunted, stunningly beautiful songs of love and loss still prove the merit of a brilliant artist. Even his second best work is markedly better than the best efforts of most others.

Amy Winehouse: Back To Black
Graham Parker says this is the best thing anyone has done in a very long time, and I’m very close to agreeing with him. Winehouse has reached back into the vaults, dragged out soul and R&B, dusted it off, and made it new again. This isn’t an easy thing to do – these styles have been done, done some more, and then done to death, so the vibrancy of Winehouse’s neo-soul sound is nothing short of remarkable. The songs are stellar and her performance of those songs suggests a power and experience that you rarely find in a 24 year-old. It’s a shame her personal soap opera has dominated public conversations about her – really, it should be all about the music.

P. Hux: Kiss the Monster
Track 5 is called “Come Clean,” and it begins this way: “I’m gonna tell her everything / I’m going to say I slept around.” Talk about two short lines that got my attention – I wanted to jump up, grab a phone and see if it was too late to stop him. It was: “I heard some feet go pitter-patter / A window on my pick-up shattered / fucking really fucking matters.” Parthenon Huxley has been around awhile – is career started in the Carolinas in the ‘80s – and the experience shows. A lot of power pop seems so constrained by the form and by the need to touch all the right bases influence-wise that it never quite establishes a serious depth, but that’s not an issue for Hux (and hasn’t been for some time, actually). Thoughtful guitar pop at its best.

The Lost Patrol: Launch and Landing
Damn. Just, wow. Twangy, epic widescreen music for empty western landscapes at sunset. Somehow TLP conjures the Old West and layers it with a twinge of goth electronica in a way that’s relentlessly cinematic. Their sound is defined, in some ways, by the connotive power of echo and reverb, yet it’s never overpowered by studio tricks. Instead, the focus never leaves the staggering accomplishment of the songs themselves, which manage to be as transcendent in impact as they are simple in structure and conception.

Oh, one more thing – this is a self-release. Somehow music this masterful isn’t worthy of label attention? You’re kidding, right? Well, that was the fate of the last Jets Overhead record, too, and it struck me as being the best release of 2006.

Radiohead: In Rainbows
I’ve always respected Radiohead for their willingness to explore and innovate. That respect hasn’t always translated into a high regard for the finished product, though. This year, though, the band has translated some of their experimentation into actual songs, and the result is frankly pretty impressive. In fact, I think it’s probably their best in several years. The commitment to more traditional structures has infused In Rainbows with a direction and a sense of control that hasn’t always been evident on the last few discs, and with luck this is the start of a new phase in the band’s considerable career.

Join us next time when we’ll award the 2007 Slammy for CD of the year.

25 replies »

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  2. Birthday Massacre? Coolness. Violet was great, so now I have more music to add to my list.

    I’ve always appreciated these, Slammy, even when you were doing them over on the Pit, because even if I didn’t like half of what you did, I still was doing better than shooting blind.


  3. I admit that your description of them made me very, very curious. Time to play with tonight while I develop bad guys for my DND game, I think….

  4. Robert Plant fans tend to like Raising Sand a lot more than Alison Krauss fans. I think she lost out on this one, T Bone Burnett’s production attaching bass bombs to the her ankles. It’s okay, but nowhere near the year’s best.

  5. Doug: I don’t rank, like I used to, but if I did I’d probably have the Plant/Krauss between 5 and 10. My take is that neither Plant fans nor Krauss fans are probably going to love it if they bought it hoping for what they’re used to from the individual artist. Maybe Plant fans would be a little happier, but on the whole I felt like the CD’s real strength was the fact that it WASN’T an all-star team, exactly.

    Thanks for commenting, though. If I ever do one of these lists and get universal agreement on it I think I’ll probably kick over dead on the spot… 🙂

  6. As an electronica addict, I don’t listen to rock much anymore. But this list intrigues.

    Especially your description of the Lost Patrol. Might seek it out.

  7. TLP is awesome, but it’s a band that uses some electronics, not an electronica band. Of the things in the Gold and Platinum tiers this year, for the electronica lover I’d recommend you try out The Chromatics, Apparat (a must), Sarah Nixey and of course Skinny Puppy. The Birthday Massacre isn’t a techno band, but they’re not even a little bit afraid of a synthesizer….

  8. Also – one that didn’t make the list. If you like really noisy, really dissonant electrometal where the “songs” go on for 25 minutes, I can’t recommend Nadja highly enough. On a far more accessible note, do look up thenewno2, Dani Harrison’s new band. They have some demo stuff floating around and I can’t WAIT for a real CD….

  9. Yup. I don’t think these are the two best CDs of the year (although the Lost Patrol is damned close), but they’re probably my two favorites. Let me know what you think of TLP.

  10. Looks like Lost Patrol’s latest mp3 can’t be obtained on Amazaon since it’s self-distributed. Too bad cause they’re cheap and I don’t like to download free.

    Thanks for the added recommendations too, Dr. S.

  11. Just gave TLP a listen on – Quite different. Not sure yet whether I like it or not, actually. I caught my foot tapping a few times, though, and that’s a good sign.

  12. Hey man,
    Hope you’re fine.
    thanks for the tips. The Birthday Massacre and The Lost Patrol I had not heard. They are really good. On the subject of goth and dark moods, I would recommend one big favourite right now: Hannah Fury. Someone described her as Tori Amos meets Tim Burton. I think that’s quite accurate…

  13. Hey, Thyr. Good to hear from you. Just sampled a bit of Fury’s 2000 CD (the only thing they have at eMusic). The Amos comparison is very apt, especially. Thanks.

  14. Hey Dr. Slammy! Thanks so much for the nod to Lost Patrol. The band is currently signed to Kalinkaland Records in Germany, and hopefully this spring a compilation will be released covering all the music from 2000 onward. We appreciate this very much! I’ll be sure to plug you guys in our blog.

    Ed Colavito,
    TLP’s Manager

  15. Ed: Congrats to the band on the deal. I hope it brings them a wider audience. Truly, they’re one of the best things in the world of music right now.

  16. just a word of caution when looking for lost patrol merchandise, there is also a Swedish pop punk band called The Lost Patrol a.k.a. The Lost Patrol Band. I know if you listen on the songs are comingled together. If you’re looking to purchase CDs, your best bet is, search “lost patrol” and all available titles will show up. As for downloading “Launch and Landing,” it’s on iTunes, Trade Bit, etc… CDBABY should give you a list all download sites carrying the tunes; however, purchasers of the CD get an extra bonus cut, which is one of the band’s best songs. 😉