Here are my favourite 10 albums of the year. It was a good year for music really, and it was somewhat painful having to narrow it down. They are not ranked individually within my list, rather they are all noted for elevating my soul for various reasons throughout the year. Lots of links are provided .... Enjoy!
Amiina - "Kurr" - The album title comes from the Icelandic word for birdsong, which is an apt description for this tranquil and transcendent album from this female quartet. For an experimental album it is surprisingly warm, drawing you into a richly textured aural landscapes. This is the album you want to play at night as the soundtrack to your lucid dreams, the ones where you are flying unfettered and free from the restraints of gravity. Also, any album that includes wine glasses, musical saws, metalophones and glockenspiels deserves a closer examination. (Video Links; Hilli, Icelandic TV Performance).
Blonde Redhead - "23" - This is nostalgia music reminding me of other 4AD and indie bands of yore that were my musical mainstay in the late 80's and early 90's. The album is dense and impressionistic and is both alternately playful and brooding at times. Kazu Makino's voice is a beguiling instrument weaving in and out of the richly textured production. Some of the tracks remind me of a more accessible and melodic version of My Bloody Valentine. This is surreal dream pop for the 21st century. (Video Links; 23, Dr. Strangeluv)
Crowded House - "Time On Earth" - Musically there is nothing ground breaking here, but what you do get with this Crowded House reunion is more finely tuned and thoughtful song writing from Neil Finn. The songs alternate between starkly melancholic numbers and some of the more upbeat pop gems that Crowed House are best known for in their past work. Neil Finn's ruminations on the fragility of life and the trials of human relationships, in combination with his penchant for a good pop melody make this album a subtle though engaging affair. (Video Links; Don't Stop Now, Silent House, She Called Up)
Gogol Bordello - "Super Taranta!" - This latest offering from Eugene Hutz and his merry band of global gypsy punks is a chaotic and joyful assault on the senses. It is a life affirming journey through the global village, as seen from the eyes of an immigrant to the new world. The accordion and violin add an element of warmth and compliment the frenetic guitars and the thickly accented, almost shouted vocals of Hutz. The aesthetic of the album is summarized perfectly in these lines from the opening track Ultimate; "There were never any good old days/ They are today, they are tomorrow/ It's a stupid thing we say/ Cursing tomorrow with sorrow." (Video Links; Wanderlust King, Supertheory of Supereverything)
Iron & Wine "The Shepherd's Dog" Sam Beam returns with a more full sounding, less low-fi affair than on his previous releases. His whispery vocals are complimented here by a muddy and organic backing band, functioning as the perfect soundtrack to his surreal lyrical journey into Americana. The album has a mesmerizing and dream like quality and after multiple listens it weaved its way into my consciousness. (Not too many great videos on YouTube, so check out the bands My Space page for some songs from the new album)
M.I.A. - "Kala" This is hip-hop for the globally minded, representing a refreshing perspective outside of the mainstream, including stories of third world refugees, and those often defined as the "other". The album also has a party like vibe at times and has a frantic and engaging pace. The range of samples and instrumentation is staggering to the imagination, including everything from Bollywood film scores to the "Guns of Brixton" by the Clash. Also, any album that includes both a partial cover of the Pixies' Where is My Mind and also samples a didgeridoo for a bass line is alright in my books.(Video Links; Paper Planes, Jimmy, Bird Flu)
The New Pornographers - "Challengers" - On their fourth album the Pornographers continue to thrill and perplex with their ability to craft the type of songs that have that rare ability to get stuck in your head while at the same time being somewhat indecipherable. This is a more subdued and subtle offering from this talented collective. It is an album that sneaks up on you after a few listens and will eventual embed itself inside your brain. A more grown-up, though no less engaging outing, full of the richly textured hooks and dynamic vocal interplay between Neko Case and A.C. Newman. (Video Links; Challengers, My Rights Versus Yours)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - "Raising Sand" - This collaboration was the surprise of the year for me, and upon reflection it makes perfect sense. The harmonies between Plant and Krauss are amazing and they approach each obscure cover version with a rare combination of reverence and restraint. The production by T Bone Burnett is crisp and minimalist, bringing the artists dynamic voices to center stage while adding new, albeit subtle, sonic dimensions to two artists that are already established in their own right. (Video Links; Album preview on YouTube)
The Polyphonic Spree - "The Fragile Army" - On their third album Tim DeLaughter's symphonic rock collective have created a jubilant call to arms. It is a brazenly hopeful record that avoids sounding trite and addresses the need to come together in turbulent times. One of the standout tracks, Running Away is a giddy celebration of being deeply smitten with another person and much like the rest of the album it is endearingly direct and earnest. This is the album that took me to my "happy place" in 2007. (Video Links; Running Away, The Fragile Army)
Spoon - "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" - Clocking in at 36 minutes this is a tightly crafted indie-pop masterpiece that flies by quickly, demanding repeated listens to grasp what the band has accomplished in the studio on their sixth outing. The songs are deceptively simple and there is actually a lot going on in each track, therefore listening with headphones is essential in this case. The album as a whole had the rare ability to stick like goo into my brain and I played it continually all summer. The blue eyed soul meets indie rock found in Your Got Yr. Cherry Bomb is probably one of the most infectious tracks of the year. (Video Links; The Ghost of You Lingers, The Underdog, You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb)