8. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Yes I am. No, but seriously, this jubilant yet immensely depressing album really did something big for Of Montreal this year. Never before has intense personal drama been so much damn fun to witness, and it seems lots of ravey youngsters have discovered this truth, as the band has exploded in popularity. I can’t say if Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? represents a permanent stylistic shift for Of Montreal, but pretty much the whole thing is a frenzied and dense dance-fest, which is super for Kevin Barnes’ flamboyant yet lady-loving persona. Through it all he maintains a voice very real in its suffering and very, well, human in its revelations. We can relate to him in those sparkly ass-huggers, we really can.
7. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
I like that Andrew Bird. Just take his part Beck, part Rufus Wainwright voice, prodigious whistling talent, and violin skills and try and make a non-engaging album. And look, I didn’t even have room in that sentence to mention the glockenspiel. He weaves it all together in a way that not only pleases our pop sensibilities, but also leaves adequate room for spin-offs and moments of revelry in all his individual talents. Lyrics and instrumental proficiency combine to portray him as a pretty smart young man who has fun with his skills while also creating something artistically pleasing. The astounding range of that whistling of his shows a significant appreciation for sound and the places it can go.
6. Feist – The Reminder
Some might call the story of this album a fairytale, while others who shun mainstream commercial success might now be using it as a coaster. Either way, there’s no denying that the ever-charming Feist made herself a lovely album with The Reminder. Her distinctive voice during its more subtle moments still carries with it a gorgeous emotive power, and then there are those places where she lets it wail and really delivers the shivers. The songs range in style and character appropriately so that she has the chance to show us what she’s packin’, and they’re delightfully arranged so we’ve plenty of dancing moments, weeping moment, and “Wow, she’s awesome” moments. Her dancing around in a sequined jumper with that euphoric fun-bunch of hers in “1 2 3 4” just adds to the good times, plus I dig the banjo on that track. Also, best use of handclaps, found throughout.
5. Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band – EP
The Ys Street Band, oh that is witty. Though this be but a humble EP delivering a mere three songs with only one of them new, I really, really like Joanna Newsom and so was thrilled over its humble release. “Colleen” (the new one) comes away from the dense orchestral arrangements all over last year Ys and brings us a playful sea ditty with lots of old-timeyness and Joanna hiccupping gorgeously all over the place. In this and the other two remixes, a batch of new instruments are tested out, each given ample space to explore, awe, and in some cases take great songs ever further. Note the pleasing addition of a tambura and musical saw (which is left to wail away on its own for the track’s last five minutes) to the already astounding “Cosmia.” “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie,” remains simple yet beautiful, and is here lent extra vocal accompaniment and sounds richer than when recorded for The Milk-Eyed Mender. Good job being awesome, guys.
4. Tiny Vipers – Hands Across The Void
Though notably bare, this album’s campfire strummers are potent and gripping. The sparseness brings you close to singer and words sung, such that you really do end up feeling like you’re in the room there with her. Which I was one chilly evening recently, at an under-attended show at Union Hall. The audience consisted mostly of just me and a swaying, really confusing bum in the front row (How did he pay for the show, and why? Shouldn’t he have spent that money on vodka?), and Jesy Fortino with only her guitar played a lovely though withdrawn set. Her shyness didn’t dampen the pipes one bit, but rather lent her an endearing respectability that sorta made it all about the music, as they say. Her voice is the star of Hands Across The Void, with its sometimes low richness and other times playful singsong. Some have compared her to Joanna Newsom, but she totally doesn’t play the harp.
Show: Union Hall, November 17th, 2007
3. St. Vincent – Marry Me
St. Vincent’s lush voice is not unlike that of Feist in some ways, and on Marry Me it dances beautifully around the excellently produced songs. This was made only the more clear when seeing her live, where the layered sounds of the album were meticulously reproduced on stage with a tangled mess of wires and pedals that she constantly leapt forward to stomp on. It was that performance that pulled me back to the album and revived the ear for some deeper appreciation – the sounds packed in there are a whole lotta radness. Some simply rock in a straightforward manner, while others appropriately relay the tinges of oddity that make Annie Clark special. I particularly enjoy the chipmunk effects and the jingle bells.
2. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
This album makes me feel warm and fuzzy, because it takes an artist I already adored and expands his talent to new reaches of excellence. With The Shepherd’s Dog, fans got to hear their beloved Sam Beam’s gorgeous whisper up against all kinds of fun new instruments and collaborators, and were even given the chance on a few tracks to shake booty. Beam’s singing style naturally conveys humility, which infuses the poetry of his lyrics with real passion and trustworthy insight. He really is a talented fellow in many realms, including certainly that of hair growing and maintenance. Besides the greatness of most of the songs on this album, it’s also satisfying that it fits nicely into the story of Beam’s progression as an artist.
1. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
This album is difficult to categorize, a fact I found to be true in raving about it to various friends and acquaintances (non-annoyingly, I assure you). On Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective have exercised their talent for cramming in endless bits of splendid sound, but this time they’ve made it insanely catchy, through and through. Giving it a listen brings about a state of elation the likes of which you might not have experienced, because really what “genre” do these dudes fit safely into? This is an excellent album to listen to with headphones, so that you can properly hear all the loaded moments and be rattled by those leaping sounds that are thrown or coughed in at always exciting points. And guess what kids, this album was recorded in Tucson! Represent!!
? Radiohead – In Rainbows
This one’s a “Duh.” In Rainbows is a loaded album to tackle, and I don’t dare try to add to the already overflowing critical gushing. Personally, I was just really glad that this album didn’t suck. In my eyes, Radiohead have an immaculate record of genius-displaying output, so wouldn’t it have been a total bummer if they made a crappy album? Not due to lack of faith in their awesomeness, but rather a foolish adversity to tempting chance, I hoped suckitude would not occur, and certainly it did not. Also, the box set is kickass. Along with the vinyl and the actual regular CD, it comes with a disc of bonus tracks, a fancy booklet of artwork, and a nifty case to wrap them all carefully away in. Score!