2007 in Music

This is list of music I have reviewed originally released in 2007.

1. Tomahawk: Anonymous (10/10)

It’s still too early to judge, but I can’t help it. At the time, maybe I was a little unwilling to make this claim. I think this album was heard by the wrong people:

  • Tomahawk fans heard it and didn’t hear Tomahawk.
  • But contemporary Amerindian music fans probably don’t even know it exists.

Well, as far as I can figure this is a landmark in native American music. Now, I’m not familiar with much. I know Robbie Robertson’s solo stuff. I know Susan Agluclark. I know Rez Blues. Well, this is something else entirely. It’s a massive departure from that stuff. It has the transcendental quality that I’m always ranting about.

It sounds of today – the programming, some of Patton’s singing – but the traditional songs also sound… well, traditional. It sounds of its time and apart from its time like much of the best music. I think people will be talking about this album in fifty or a hundred years, unlike much other music.

Maybe that sounds crazy.

2. PJ Harvey: White Chalk (9/10)

The (lady) balls that it takes to make such a drastic about face in one’s sound is absolutely incredible. I am blown away.

I have no idea when she made this change, to be honest, as I haven’t heard anything she made (beyond one song) between the mid nineties and this release, but this is crazy.

Not only has she dropped her signature electric guitar (on which she had a rather unique style) for piano and other instruments, but she is singing in a different range. I mean, what? Who does that? The balls.

I love when an artist pushes herself into new areas like this. And she’s written another stellar set of songs to accompany this radical change in direction.

Excellent.

3. Steve Coleman: Invisible Paths: First Scattering (9/10)

I like to think of these as sax sonatas but not in sonata form since Coleman isn’t of that tradition; I guess that’s sort of a silly thing to do.
Read the review.

4. Erik Friedlander: Block Ice and Propane (9/10)

I feel like there is nobody who can touch Friedlander on the cello; he is the cellist of note in this day and age. And though that statement may merely speak to my musical ignorance, and not to Friedlander’s true stature – or lack thereof – I still think a record like this demands attention in terms of how we think of the instrument (even if it isn’t quite a solo cello record).

Friedlander demonstrates the full range of technique – at least that I am familiar with that is possible on the instrument – and he has assembled a series of pieces that show off both his abilities as a player and his sense of composition. I have personally never heard anything like this previously, and it is, for me, the apex of “solo” cello that I know of in this post-tradition musical world.

Excellent.

5. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (9/10)

They sound like a real band for the first time since Being There. The music isn’t nearly as adventurous as its been the last few albums, but what they sacrifice in adventurousness they make up for with an organic sound. These songs sound lived in, developed by playing, not by sitting in a booth thinking about what should go where. It’s a change that works, at least as a one-off. I’m not saying they should pursue this route further.

6. Radiohead: In Rainbows (9/10)

This is like the Bends to Hail to the Thief’s OK Computer, which is a regression, in a sense. It’s odd that their internet-released album is so accessible, or maybe they knew it would have to be. It’s a very good album, but it doesn’t knock me on my ass like its predecessor.

7. The Bad Plus: Prog (8/10)

There was a time when fusion was a great thing: jazz bands playing ridiculously loudly, using crazy new effects, and messing with their tapes. And then, something happened. (Was it Weather Report?) Fusion became all about Fender Rhodes, and cliché “smooth jazz” alto and soprano saxes, and fretless basses to the point now where if you tell a non-jazz fan you like fusion, they make a screwy face or laugh at you. To the lay, fusion means some kind of unholy fusion of shitty contemporary cool jazz and pop music production.

So I love The Bad Plus. They remind me of the possibilities inherent in jazz. They play mostly arch-traditionally, in that they are a piano trio (though they do occasionally incorporate other instruments). And yet they rock. They cover rock and pop songs, but it’s not just the covers. They are loud. (This is particularly true in concert, where they are very loud.) And they know how to work a vamp like a good jam band. They are ostensibly not a fusion band but this is where I think fusion should have gone. And I’m happy for it.

The covers are all classic versions, I doubt you’ll hear better piano trio renditions of any of these songs. (Certainly not ones that so both embrace the original and honor all the various jazz traditions available to modern musicians.) And the originals are pretty strong as well.

I’m not sure why the album is called Prog – Rush, particularly ’80s Rush, barely qualifies – but who cares? This is jazz that is at times beautiful, at times violent, and it times not obviously jazz. It honours and yet critiques the tradition. Great stuff.

8. Grinderman (8/10)

A decade after The Bad Seeds abandoned their chaotic post punk roots for a kinder, gentler sound, a few of them decided to show that they can still play loud, violent rock music.

I have long thought of this as part of Cave’s midlife crisis – he’s older and mellowed and so he wants to put out a record that has the kind of violence of The Birthday Party. Whatever the reasons why, I think they succeed across the board. Cave has written enough good songs and the entire aesthetic is refreshingly loud, violent and messy compared to what the main band had been doing for the last decade.

Good stuff.

9. Ry Cooder, My Name is Buddy (8/10)

Read the review.

10. The White Stripes: Icky Thump (8/10)

A return to normalcy in many ways (though with a much fuller sound than the early albums), White can write endless numbers of catchy songs and the aesthetic is still here, for the most part, so we get what we want from a White Stripes album.

With hindsight, I can hear more of White’s other projects in this record – it sure sounds like he is outgrowing the band, both in songwriting and in arrangement – but I still like this record more than those later projects, for the most part.

11. Do Make Say Think: You, You’re a History in Rust (8/10)

I want to like this as much as Hymn but there’s a few things that make this a little weaker in my mind. For one thing, it sounds like the guy from Deep Dark United showed up to insist on some vocals. (I have no idea if it’s actually him; apparently it’s not though it sure sounds like him.) And while that’s going on, the band sounds a lot more like Deep Dark United. I’d personally rather listen to Do Make Say Think, thank you.

12. The Dillinger Escape Plan: Ire Works (8/10)

It’s varied enough that I like it. That’s their strength and they should stick to it, they can pull off multiple styles. They may want to enlist real singers if they’re going to include more traditional singing, however.

After many more listens: I absolutely love this record whether or not I think it’s a true classic. One of those albums I gotta put on every few months just to yell along with it.

13. Paul Motian: Time and Time Again (8/10)

I’m not sure I really have words to say how much more I like this second Motian-Frisell-Lovano collaboration than the first time out (this century). That felt to me like a re-hash of some cool cliches (for the first half anyway) and the whole thing just felt like it was dwelling in another decade.

This is a lot fresher, a lot freer, a lot more interesting (to my ears). I still find Motian to be an impossibly busy drummer and I suspect that, were it not for Frisell and Lovano, that might drive me crazy. Frisell almost seems to inhabit a completely different – and more traditional – space than he has for most of the decade this was recorded in, and he and Lovano sort of hover around Motian’s endless drumming creating all sorts of nice little “jazzy” moments where it seems as if they are both playing against and with each other at the same time.

Great.

14. Augusta Read Thomas: Terpsichore’s Dream (8/10)

This connects with me more than her Aureole does. It’s got all the stuff I love about modern creative orchestral pieces, but feels perhaps a bit more playful.  It’s still nothing new, but it’s enjoyable enough.

15. The Creaking Tree String Quartet: Soundtrack (8/10)

There is a part of me that wants to call this progressive bluegrass, as it often contains those elements: bluegrass or bluegrass-related music with a heavy influence of jazz.

But this is too diverse to call it progressive bluegrass. There is a clear folk influence (or rather a folk via romantic music influenced by folk influence) and I even hear a strong post-rock influence, despite the lack of amplification. This elevates it above its genre even before we look at the absolutely excellent playing.

The only thing to quibble about is that some of the compositions sound too much like other songs. But that’s a small quibble for musicianship this good, with energy to match.

16. Book of Knots: Traineater (7/10)

Read the review.

17. Bjork: Volta (7/10)

One of the things that is great about Bjork is her diversity. But on this record it’s a bit of a problem here. I like a number of the individual tracks quite a lot – a few of them are among her very best work – but I don’t see how they add up to a coherent record. Sometimes I am not bothered by her unwillingness to stick to a genre, but here a couple things just fee out of place with the rest of the music.

I still quite like the album, I just don’t know if it works as a coherent record.

18. Listening Party: Who Are We Missing? (7/10)

There was so very much music like this in the ’00s. But I like the rootsiness of this record, which feels much more pronounced than a lot of the similar indie rock of its time. The songs are catchy and the performances are super ramshackle.

I get that this is fairly generic indie rock for the era, but there’s enough here that I like that I’d rather listen to this than a lot of other bands that sounded like this.

19. The Sadies: New Seasons (7/10)

This was the first Sadies album I had ever heard and, overawed by their reputation in Canada, I guess, I decided it was great, even though it kind of sounds too much like other bands, specifically an alternate reality version of The Byrds. I like the Byrds though, and their sound has been updated significantly so that it is still quite a pleasure to listen to. This is a decent set of songs too.

But the album is just too damn tied to the past.

20. The Cave Singers: Invitation Songs (7/10)

So it took me a while to get into this. The lead singer sounds a little bit like he is trying to be a country-ish young Lou Reed (you know, the guy you hear on those early Velvets demos). And the affectation (can I really believe he sounds like this when he speaks?) is fucking annoying. Honestly, I wish they had a better singer (or at least a different one).
Read the review.

21. Ween: La Cucaracha (7/10)

I don’t what was happening to me three years ago when I bought this album, but something about it didn’t sit right.  I gave it my usual three listens and then put it away.  I was unimpressed.  But I really wanted to like it, so I gave it a 6/10 and hoped that I would discover its pleasures later.  The next two-three times I listened to it – probably only because I was listening to all the Ween I have, and so felt obligated – I started to feel that the 6/10 was too generous.  And I put it away again.  I hadn’t  listened to it in at least a year when I listened to it on Wednesday.  I had already started my new review when “Fiesta” ended.  It was a tragedy, this album, because it gave us the chance to listen to a once great band in the midst of mediocrity.

But something happened as I listened: I laughed.  I laughed and I laughed.  I don’t remember laughing before.  I remember being confused, sort of like the first time I heard “Pandy Fackler” (as it was before I had really heard any Steely Dan).  But this time I seemed to “get it” in a way I hadn’t.  I heard lyrics I had somehow missed the first five times.  My favourite is currently “She’s got a Master’s Degree…in fucking me.”

I don’t know how I missed all of this.  I don’t know how I could decide that two guys like Ween had gone straight and had stopped doing parodies.  I have no idea how that happened.  But I have seen the light.

I still don’t think it’s as good as White Pepper, as that has some major highlights, particularly “Bananas and Blow,” which I think is one of their best ever (and I think it’s probably the last word on Jimmy Buffet).  But this is so much funnier than I remembered.  And even the songs that aren’t obvious to me have such inane lyrics that I’m sure they would be dead-on if I knew the targets.

I’m sorry I hated this for so long.

22. Inhabitants: The Furniture Moves Underneath (7/10)

Read the review.

23. Eddie Vedder: Into the Wild (7/10)

This is a good set of songs (I wouldn’t expect anything less) and the music fits the vibe of the movie. Dare I say the album is more successful than the film, in part because Vedder knows what he’s doing (he may not have released a solo album before but he’s written tons of songs and and recorded them) whereas Penn…well, not so much.

24. Behold…the Arctopus: Skullgrid (7/10)

Read the review.

25. Thrice: “The Alchemy Index: Volume II – Water” (7/10)

Unfortunately I have not been able to hear Volume I so this review is only of Volume II.

It’s a tough call though, because ostensibly, a lot of the appeal of this, and the reason the discs are separate even though they don’t have to be, is for stylistic reasons. So without hearing Volume I, I cannot comment as to how Volume II diverges.

And that’s a problem, because Volume II is basically just somewhat commercial Post Hardcore. It’s hard to get excited about it. When reviewing another one of these bands a few years ago, I worried that Post Hardcore was becoming sort of a more indie version of what Post Grunge became back in the ’90s, and at least a little of this makes me worry about that (the wordless choruses).

But there’s enough anger here to save it from that fate, I guess. It’s alright.

26. John Scofield: This Meets That (6/10)

The title is indeed apt: this is an eclectic record, covering all sorts of styles. And that is all well and good. But it leaves me wanting something a little more.

I feel like this is pretty mild-mannered – almost polite – eclecticism. Everything is tasteful and well-executed but there’s nothing here that shocks me or moves in the way that it should. I don’t feel particularly compelled to write anything about it, which is probably everything that needs to be said about how I feel about.

27. Evil Dead: The Musical (6/10)

It’s amazing how tastes change. When I saw this a number of years ago I absolutely loved it. But it took me forever to get my hands on the soundtrack. (I deeply regretted not buying it at the show.)

But now I am listening to it in a post-Book of Mormon world and what can I say? I am disappointed. It’s not that this bad; it is pretty funny and occasionally clever but it lacks polish and more than a few of the lines go for either fan knowledge or groaners. The music, though referential enough, still reeks of its origins as off-off-Broadway (or the like). I feel like The Book or Mormon has spoiled me for musical comedies now. Ah well.

28. Queens of the Stone Age: Era Vulgeris (6/10)

I lost interest in QOTSA because of this record. It’s not that I don’t like the music on it – I like some of it as much as I like their best work – but a lot of it feels like a different band. I appreciate risk-taking, and I think this is, at some level, risk-taking, given how the previous recorded sounded (this is a lot more commercial).

But, to me, the record feels born of two different impulses: one is a risk-taking creative impulse to make music different than previous QOTSA records, and the other is an attempt to recapture the radio dominance of Songs for the Deaf. And they don’t really fit together.

29. Cuff the Duke: Sidelines of the City (6/10)

There seems to have been a conscious decision here to reign things in a little bit, and its to the band’s detriment. It is less stylistically diverse than past efforts, it is certainly more country and less rock and the new guitarist isn’t anywhere near as fun as the old one. Sometimes when a band finds their focus it is a good thing (often it is a good thing) but personally I enjoyed it more when these guys were a little more out of control.

30. Thrice: The Alchemy Index: Volume III and Volume IV – Air and Earth (6/10)

Unfortunately Volume III takes the brief moments of Volume II that alluded to a sort of Post Grunge / “Modern” rock style and takes them to the logical conclusion.

Volume IV is, to me, where the idea of disparate EPs falls apart.

Read the full review.

31. Stars: In Our Bedroom After the War (5/10)

Canadian “indie” music critic orthodoxy claims this as one of the great albums of the last decade; listening to it, it’s hard to agree.

The arrangements are lusher, rougher edges are polished away, songs are generally more anthemic and easier to digest compared to the previous album. And I definitely detect hand-signals in the performances.

This is a perfect example of a band who sacrifice a successful aesthetic to broaden their base. Their aesthetic kept their overly-dramatic poppiness in check. But here that poppiness reigns free. It’s well made, sure. But so much music is well-made. It’s catchy, sure. But so much music is just catchy.

Very meh.

32. Orchestre symphonique de Quebec conducted by Yoav Talmi: Children’s Corner: Debussy Orchestrations (5/10)

The more I listen to so-called “classical” / “high art” music the more of a snob I become about it. And I guess that’s not surprising, after all I am a gigantic music snob (though I would argue that I am much less of a music snob – having let hooks into my life at least a little – than I was in, say, 2003) but it still is a little weird, given that I can’t play an instrument (unless you count my wonderful singing voice), I can’t read music, and I can barely express myself when talking about the differences between performances of the same piece. But I am getting worse (pfft Mozart pfft). Perhaps this is evidence.

What we have here is a series of orchestrations of Debussy pieces. And I can’t help but find them all a little bit over done. They reek of muzakality.
Read the rest of the review.

33. The Autumn Defense (4/10)

Where do I begin? Read the review.

34. Various Artists, Puccini Gold (4/10)

This embodies everything that is wrong with opera compilations. The only theme here is Puccini “hits,” not performers or anything else.

  • So, first we get a very arbitrary selection of bits and pieces of Puccini operas.
  • Then we get a very arbitrary selection of interpretations of those bits and pieces as there are numerous contributors.

Who exactly is this for? For people who don’t want to sit and listen to a whole opera, or even a compilation of a composer’s famous arias (or what have you) by one singer (where you might get the odd idiosyncrasy, heaven forbid). This is is pop as opera gets. It’s not just popera it’s pop popera.

The Three Tenors performance of “Nessun Dorma” at the end of the album – even though a different version begins the album as well, with just Pavarotti that time – is the best example of what is wrong with this stuff: it features three guys totally over-singing everything and the audience cheering wildly – repeatedly, and seemingly at random, because we cannot see what is going on on stage – because they are thinking “wow I recognize that melody!”

Yuck.

35. Marilyn Manson: Eat Me, Drink Me (3/10)

So I guess this is sort of a solo album since apparently there is no band any more. Read the review.

Not Ranked: The Glenn Gould Collection Vol. 3: Johannes Sebastian Bach: The English Suites, the French Suites (9/10)

This is a compilation of Gould’s performances of many of Bach’s keyboard suites (originally intended for harpsichord but, as always, Gould plays them on piano). I am not sure of the original recording date because there is no booklet. I think he recorded them in the ’70s but I’m not sure.
Read the review.

Not ranked: Karl Amadeus Hartmann: Concerto Funebre; Sonatas and Suites for Solo Violin performed by Alina Ibragimova (9/10)

This is an excellent collection of Hartmann’s violin music. Read the review.

Not ranked: Edward Elgar: Falstaff; Cello Concerto; Nursery Suite (9/10)

Though the sound isn’t ideal – though it certainly is better than I expected – this is the most interesting Elgar I have heard so far.
Read the rest of the review.

Not Ranked: Neil Young: Live at Massey Hall 1971 (8/10)

This is a strong set of material including recent popular tracks from CSNY and Springfield and some new stuff he was working on. The banter isn’t as strong as on Canterbury House even if this has famous songs on it.

Not Ranked: Glenn Gould et al.: The Young Maverick (7/10)

This is a collection of radio broadcasts Gould made for the CBC.

It’s got a lot of his major performances, but these versions aren’t as good as the studio recordings if only because the sound quality isn’t very good. And that’s kind of annoying because I stumbled on this because I was looking for Gould’s performances of some Beethoven stuff and some more modern stuff.

It’s a good survey of his talent and his idiosyncrasy – though knowing the pieces ahead of time helps, and I can’t say I know more than half to 2/3rds of them – but the sound quality is garbage.

Not ranked: Andrew Davis, Philharmonia Orchestra: Elgar: Enigma Variations; In the South; Serenade (6/10)

Read the review.