Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rocking My World, Working My Nerves

The best and worst of 2007 Music

1. MIA

If Rappers and Dancehall deejays were bemused by MIA’s Arular, they were downright bewildered by Kala. As well they should be: the future of street beats has announced herself, and that street isn’t in the Bronx or West Kingston, but Sao Paulo and Bangalore. Not for nothing did some point to the Timbaland track as their favourite—the worst and the safest song on the album. But nothing else was safe on Kala, musically or lyrically. Sure the kids are playing some didge “Mango Pickle Down River,” but by “Paper Planes” They’ve already riddled you with bullets and are now taking your money. With its increasingly proggy ambitions, hip-hop has been itching for a punk rock for some time now, so you know it has arrived when the two warring movements both hate it. Backpackers will never get past her lack of flow and chart watchers will never get past her lack of hits. But “Bird Flu”, with its massive talking drums, quasi 808’s, ostrich squawks and chirpy little girls mispronouncing her name is a hit. The transmogrified beat of Global kids who “watch Lost on cable” and answer hip-hop without giving a shit if the parent just doesn’t understand. This is the sound of the world right now and if you’re still bitching about her sing-songy voice, dirty beats or even the Bam-ba-ba-lam-ba-ba-lam-ba-ba- lam-bam chorus of “Come Around”, then you’re probably not aware that music has moved on without you.

2. Radiohead

Three months after I downloaded this I’m still clutching my headphones, out of breath and gasping in wonder. Of course Radiohead can do beautiful, that’s a surprise to no one, but who could have guessed at In/Rainbow’s unabashed loveliness? It’s shocking to hear them reclaim their humanity after three brilliant albums that nonetheless left us cold. Coming after Hail to the Thief, the first 10 seconds of “15 Step” hurts. But the keyboard glitches fade as soon as you realize that that’s Colin Greenwood on bass and good old Phil Selway (surely rock’s most underrated drummer) on the kit and they have never sounded better. In/Rainbows is unquestionably Radiohead’s warmest album even if lyrically Yorke is still hedging his bets on “All I Need.” And “Bodysnatchers” is the kind of blistering hard rock blast that the band tosses off every now and then to remind all comers that while they can do you, you could never do them. I haven’t been left so staggered by a record since REM’s Out Of Time. Bands like Coldplay existed solely because of the void Radiohead left, but now that the band has come back, with the natural ease of a conqueror I might add, maybe Chris Martin should focus on being a househusband from now on.

3. Justice

Not since Armand Van Helden dropped the pum-pum crazy “Koochi” on gay clubs back in ‘99 has a record been so devisive as Justice’s Cross. Maybe because, their massive sound, all Van Halen drums, mid range madness and actual riffs had many screaming rockism, and not in a good way. But Justice is not afraid of biting the hands that feed them beats, showing major love for Michael Jackson on the year’s best single (D.A.N.C.E) but also slipping “neither black nor white” in the chorus which could be taken several ways, none flattering to our favourite plastic surgery disaster. Like sonic daddies Daft Punk, and Cassius, Justice knows that all rock and roll is essentially dance music. And Disco set to eleven can out-stomp Metallica.

4. Feist
The Reminder

It always sucks when your one and only starts seeing other people, worse when it was the other people that made the first move. So I’m torn between joy at Feist’s deserved success and dismay that the idiot who bought Sheryl Crow at Starbucks now hums 1234 whenever he’s bitching for a caffeine hit. I feel it all too, my secret slipping away, destined to the same fate of former best private crush Nick Drake. Maybe it will do me good to remember that what draws the buckster also drew the hipster: stellar melodies, a refreshing genuineness and sincerity, a knack for interpretation not seen since Dusty Springfield, and that sometimes trebly, sometimes soaring, always astonishing voice.

5. Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

I’ve been convinced that Spoon was America’s finest band for some time now, but now I have gone from surety to religious mania. Never before has a band made such a huge sound from such few ingredients. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, you can literally feel the empty spaces between the words and notes. “The Ghost of You Lingers” bursts in with an insistent piano melody but at the very moment when every other band would have broken into a hard rock stomp, Spoon keeps banging away at the keyboards, withholding the climax you’ve been itching for until the terseness through repetition becomes almost unbearable. And when the drums do come, in the super slinky soul strut, “Don’t You Evah,” these four white boys lay down a groove that will make Smokey either very jealous or very proud.

6. Of Montreal
Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

What’s this? Prince is alive and fallen in love with the Beatles? Fronted by the least convincing straight man in rock, Of Montreal’s fey-one-second- fiery-the-next pop was almost defiantly queer, in both senses of the word. There was truly nothing like it, the funkiest beats since Controversy, and the most wide-eyed cutesy singing since the Wizard of Oz. That is until you listen to the lyrics, some of the most savage post breakup ditties since some girl bawled You Oughta Know. Is this what the 21st century man sounds like? Are women now the strong silent type while men vent on wax? Who cares, stay for the melodies, stay for the funk and remember that for every blast of cruel wit (“You’re just some faggy girl”) comes something so silly it’s joyous (“I need a lover with soul power.”) Yeah right.

7. The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse.

The brilliant Canucks not named Feist, Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, Besnard Lakes would have risked pretentiousness with that album title were it not so apt. Then there are the songs themselves, some of the most darkly beautiful since the third album from those guys at number two. The Besnard Lakes don’t have choruses so much as climaxes and they swing from muddle to crescendo, peak to peak like those orgasms that men don’t get to have—most times in the same song. The term adult alternative went as quickly as it came, which is a shame because we’ve finally found a band that deserves it.

8. The White Stripes: Icky Thump

9. Tinariwen: Aman Iman

10. LCD Soundsystem: Sound Of Silver

11. Panda Bear: Person Pitch

12. The National: Boxer

Next Up: The worst!