It is a scientific fact that 78,4% of all MP3 bloggers are busy compiling their top 10 albums of the 2007 so far as we speak. So, before it becomes a bore, I’ll get in early. I might be on safe ground doing so before the first half of the year is up, because I’ve seen no releases for June that would be obvious contenders, other than the new Joseph Arthur album (and I can live without the White Stripes, I’m afraid). So…
1. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Some Wilco fans have expressed their disappointment with the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. These fans are mistaken to measure Sky Blue Sky not on its own merits. Here, Jeff Tweedy eschews the cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album.
Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The cadenced dual guitar solo on “Impossible Germany”, the album’s stand-out track, is perhaps the best of this decade.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Hate It Here.mp3
2. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
In 2005, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year, and it remains one of my all-time favourites. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors, or the simultaneously released (and quite awful) Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake, but once it hits you, it hits you hard. This is a beautiful, richly textured, and cohesive album. I cannot say whether Cassadaga will equal my affection for I’m Wide Awake (which provided the soundtrack for a particularly intense period in my life), but I do know that I will return to it for a very long time.
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3
Bright Eyes – Make a Plan To Love Me.mp3
3. Loney, Dear – Loney Noir
The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs often start softly before building up to an orgasmic crescendo. For once the critics got it right when they proclaimed Loney Noir a work of genius.
Too often artists who don’t conform to the corporate expectations of the mainstream music industry fall between the cracks, especially when they come “foreign” countries. All the more my pleasant surprise when I caught the video the the utterly stunning “I Am John” on VH-1 a few weeks ago (see the video here).
Loney, Dear – I Am John.mp3
Loney, Dear – No One Can Win.mp3
4. Rosie Thomas – These Friends of Mine
Music at the moment is blessed with a crop of women with guitars, singer-songwriters who take their inspiration from Joni Mitchell and Carol King, not the corporate skanks that populate the Top40. Rosie Thomas is one of the finest artists in that crop. “Heartachingly beautiful” has become a cliché. With These Friends Of Mine it provides an accurate description. On her fourth album Rosie fulfills all the promise she hinted at in her previous efforts: There is now a consistency of quality in her exquisite melody to complement the sheer poetry of her lyrics. The album’s stand-out song, “Much Farther To Go”, features the brilliant Sufjan Stevens on vocals and, yeah, the banjo.
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go.mp3
5. Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night
On her new album, Missy (real name Melissa Higgins, which sounds rather better) cheers up a bit, at least musically, from the quite wonderful The Sound Of White. Where The Sound… was beautiful in its melancholy, On A Clear Night is a little more relaxed in sound, if not lyrically. The excellent lead single “Steer” is a pop-hit-with-intelligence along the lines of The Sound’s hit “Scars”. Higgins’ does not sound as pained as she used to and she has thankfully tuned down her distinctive Aussie wicketkeeper’s accent.
Missy Higgins – The Wrong Girl.mp3
6. Maria Taylor – Lynn Teeter Flower
Not quite as wonderful or eclectic as 2005’s 11:11, but there is still a lot to like here.
Maria Taylor – No Stars
7. Brooke Fraser – Albertine
Released in Fraser’s native New Zealand in December, but elsewhere in 2007. I’ll confess, Sarah McLachlan is one of my guilty pleasures (give a woman a guitar, let her record her own songs, and I’m a fan, really). Fraser has some of the McLachlan thing going on. Bonus points for including the names, activities and contact details of several human rights and relief organisations in the liner notes.
Brooke Fraser – Deciphering Me
9. Fountains Of Wayne – Traffic And Weather
Not a Fountains Of Wayne classic, but there’s much to like here. If it disappoints some, then only by the group’s own high standards. FOW are furiously channelling the ’80s. But where those idiots Maroon 5 fail doing the same, our friends from NY pull it off most of the time. And then there is this wonderful alt.country song below…
Fountains Of Wayne – Fire In The Canyon
9. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
This will rate highly on the top 10s of most of the 78,4%, and possibly higher on those not compiled by the remaining 21,6%. I rate this album highly, and the ubiquitous “Heretic” is one of this year’s stand-out tracks. But, truth be told, I prefer the predecessor, The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
Andrew Bird – Cataracts
10. Crowded House – Time on Earth
Not yet released, and the track sequence of the album we CH fans have been downloading reportedly might yet change, which would be welcome. It’s really a Neil Finn solo album with chums, and it is not entirely convincing, a clutch of very good tracks apart (such as the one below). Still, it is Crowded House and therefore will always be in contention.
Crowded House – Nobody Wants To
Last year at the halfway mark, my interim Top 10 consisted of albums by Joshua Radin (number 1 then and at year-end), The Weepies, Eels, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Collective Soul, Counting Crows, Devics, Ron Sexsmith, James Hunter. By the end of the year, only three other albums (Crowded House, Ben Kweller and Snow Patrol) managed to get into my final Top 10. Let’s hope for a better second half of the year.