Best Albums of 2007: Picks 10 to 1

    Prefix’s top albums  of 2007 – Staff picks

    Prefix’s top albums of 2007 – Picks 50 to 11

     

    Animal Collective
    Strawberry Jam
    Domino

    It wasn’t necessarily the plan, but Animal Collective stretched out the ol’ constituency with this one — even longtime holdouts averse to the ad nauseum repetition and nonsensical wordplay of past records (“Who Could Win a Rabbit?” Who the fuck cares!) are now nuzzling up to the suddenly cuddly band. And sure, punching up the lazy charm helped. But ultimately, Strawberry Jam was just too pretty to resist: the chugging loops of “Peacebone,” the starry soundscapes of “Fireworks,” the clattering euphoria of “Derek.” This record even landed Animal Collective its first national TV appearance, on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The band went with “#1,” an accessible record’s least accessible moment, a calculatedly uncalculated move by musicians not quite ready to let go their old constituency go. ~Amos Barshad

     

    Andrew Bird
    Armchair Apocrypha
    Fat Possum

    Though it’s no surprise, Andrew Bird’s return to the Prefix Top 10 list — Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs was our 2005 winner — arrived more subtly, perhaps, than his fellow acclaimed artists’ work. When it was released in March, Armchair Apocrypha didn’t immediately puncture a hole in the fabric of conventional musical expectations, nor did it widen the one he already created. This time around, however, the wonder is in the waiting, in letting repeated listens reveal the smoothed edges and symphonic mastery of songs like “Heretics,” “Plasticities,” and “Simple X.” But it’s the stunning “Armchairs,” with his band seamlessly synchronized and his obvious musical dexterity shining in an emotionally cathartic final minute, that does the grand and gorgeous proselytizing of a dozen imitators — and keeps Bird on the very highest branch, free to explore, inimitable, untouchable.~Matt Liebowitz

     

    Pharoahe Monch
    Desire
    Universal Motown

    As single after epic single was released at the end of 2006, including the horns- and soul-filled “Push,” Desire was primed to be the rap album of 2007, and nothing on Pharoahe Monch’s socially conscious second solo outing, after an unfortunate eight-year hiatus, proves otherwise. He’ll tell you he’s “vocally unmatched/ globally with the flow,” and no doubt he’s right — and ready for revolution. Monch is the KRS-One of the Dubya Bush generation, fed up with an invasive government that will make it “necessary to communicate through telekinesis” and a media industry that anaesthetizes us with money, sex, and stupidity. Desire is one of the most urgent albums in years, and with perfectly produced, stomp-heavy, gospel-infused beats, you may find yourself thinking about the politics of the dance floor. ~Sean Nelson

    Arcade Fire
    Neon Bible
    Merge

    Neon Bible punched through the ubiquitous hyperbole surrounding Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut, reverberating with echoes of everyone from Echo to Springsteen without sacrificing the originality, eclecticism, and vision that sparked the band’s ubiquity in the first place. Firmly establishing its own identity, Neon Bible glows with an eerie, confident incandescence as the Butlers and company confront the darkness of the decade (this year’s intersecting evils of unchecked surveillance, power corrupted, and religious zealotry). The wild and not-so-innocent shuffles of rockers like “Keep the Car Running,” “Intervention,” and “(Antichrist Television Blues)” actually manage to out-boss the Boss in their ability to meld the longing for possibility with the raging, propulsive torrents of mainlined rock ’n’ roll. Full of grandeur and idiosyncrasy, darkness and celebration, prog and pop, this hydra-headed art band sprints where so many others (from U2 to the Killers) have stumbled: Arcade Fire has crafted a desperately ambitious, daring sophomore album that deftly maneuvers among the big issues while facing impossible expectation. Like an old Springsteen track, but with more hurdy-gurdy and pipe organ, these tramps were born to run. ~Travis Woods

    Kanye West
    Graduation
    Roc-A-Fella

    “Rapper’s Delight” has a permanent place in hip-hop history for being the culture’s first single, but the song is more important for setting the course for hip-hop music: to record and translate the block for the masses. Run-DMC and Public Enemy became pioneers for welding popular music (i.e., rock) to hip-hop and maximizing the cassette/CD medium. Such efforts successfully elevated hip-hop to mass culture. However, as popular as hip-hop became, its production remained designed for personal or club listening. Plenty of stars, from LL to Jay, filled arenas, but no hip-hop artist engineered an album for one — that is, until Kanye West. His third album, Graduation, sounds very much like any other hip-hop record, but it contains broad strokes of crushing synthesized bass lines (“Flashing Lights”), minimal verses (“I Wonder”) and neon light displays (“Stronger”) that simply do not translate through headphones or a club alone. And West is the perfect candidate to deliver such excess: a widely recognized icon who embraces the cult, contradictions, and sheer fun of celebrity. Graduation is what every great album should be: more than an album, a fucking spectacle. ~Dan Nishimoto

     

    The National
    Boxer
    Beggars Banquet

    Weary yet elegant, the National’s fourth LP is a record for and about those who have taken their shot and missed. But rather than dwelling on defeat, Boxer sits on a park bench at night, looking toward the forever afterward where we pick up the pieces. Tragedy is largely referenced as a credential, an unspoken boast laden with the understanding that every failure reveals a truth — and he who dies with the most might just win. There are dull pangs of longing resting behind every echoing piano note and every droning guitar, but throbbing in between every stammered drum beat lies acceptance and hope that the next step will be the one that counts. ~Mike Krolak

     

    Panda Bear

    Panda Bear
    Person Pitch
    Paw Tracks

    Person Pitch, the second solo full-length from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, is as warm an album as anything the Beach Boys put out and as friendly as anything by the Dead. But like most albums this good, it becomes a knot of contradictions beneath the analytical lens. The openness and innocence of its emotional content make it deeply intimate, while the precision in its layers and textures create an effect of formality. For its gentleness and subtleties, Person Pitch is best absorbed in solitude, but it refuses austerity and has the unmistakable whiff of universality. It is simultaneously the album we knew Noah Lennox had in him and better than anything we imagined it could be. ~Adam Webb-Orenstein

     

    LCD Soundsystem
    Sound of Silver
    DFA

    To borrow a phrase from James Murphy’s fantasy house band, everything about LCD version 2.0 was “harder, better, faster, stronger.” On LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut in 2005, Murphy the rock historian and Murphy the dance-floor emancipator seldom interacted. And the songs were so reference-drenched, he came off like some obsessive record collector, not a songwriter. But on Sound of Silver, those frustrating dichotomies collapse on a set full of too-cool punch lines, meticulous production, and — gasp — affecting pathos. On the covertly patriotic “North American Scum,” Murphy sounds like he caught Jonathan Richman’s cold as he disses the old world for its mimes. Thin White Duke crooning erupts out of a cowbell and Krautrock mix in the hypnotic “Us v Them.” And on “All My Friends,” Murphy lets us behind the curtain and into the deejay booth, singing about aging and fear with an aching sincerity. If he ever really was losing his edge, don’t worry — he found it. ~John Motley

     

    Radiohead
    In Rainbows
    Self-Released

    The pressure was on In Rainbows’ music to be the story after the headline-grabbing details that preceded the record’s release. Did Thom Yorke and company deliver? Are they not supermen? The moment Jonny Greenwood’s uncharacteristically groovy guitar line slips in over the hectic percussion on “15 Step,” details like “Pay what you will” fade to black. From there, everything on In Rainbows, shorter and tighter than Radiohead’s previous two albums, works: the crunchy rock of “Bodysnatchers,” the slow-jam silkiness of “Nude,” the raga roll of “Reckoner.” Radiohead’s next business move? Who knows? But it’s a safe bet that, musically, the zeitgeist juggernaut will just keep on rolling. ~John Zeiss

     


    M.I.A.
    Kala
    Interscope

    In a year when Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, and Amy Winehouse dominated the news, M.I.A. seems damn near essential. The dominant creative force behind this year’s best album was a powerful female artist who, instead of collapsing in the spotlight, has produced a more mature and powerful work with her sophomore album. Kala builds on the energy of 2005’s Arular with well-constructed songs and a broader palette of sounds that are built for the long haul. Drawing from Bollywood, the Pixies, and the Clash, the record manages to sit smack dab in the middle of pop culture without seeming to come from anything so familiar. It’s world music without being forced or self-congratulatory.

    But what’s most exciting about Kala isn’t the compositions that only get stronger with every listen, or the music that is at once familiar and fresh. It’s Maya Arulpragasam herself, a strong frontwoman who is masterful in the creation of her persona and her control over the album’s direction. M.I.A. ridicules hip-hop masculine posturing on “Hussel” (guest star Afrikan Boy chides “You can catch me on the motorway/ Selling sugar water and pepper/ I rep Africa not Miami”), and asserts her feminine power on “Bird Flu” (“When I get fat/ I’m gon’ pop me out some leaders”). On Arular, M.I.A. was overly concerned with telling everyone she was a rebel. With Kala, she shows it. ~Matthew Gasteier