Monday, December 31, 2007

More year-end lists + surprises of 2007

There was no shortage of great music released in 2007, but it did seem like a weak year for memorable singles. It was the year of "Umbrella" and "No One" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" (note the song quality heading rapidly downward) and "Irreplaceable" (now we're reminiscing about the spillover from 2006). Rihanna had the summer jam that seemed to stay ubiquitous throughout the entire year, so in the long run "Umbrella" sticks out as the Sound of 2007, not so much by its quality, but by getting noticed when there wasn't anything else to challenge for the crown.

More than ever, Best Tracks of 2007 lists are leaning more toward what the title says -- tracks, not necessarily singles. In past years, songs like "Hey Ya" and "Crazy" topped polls in a laugher, and the response ranged from passive nods of agreement/understanding to outright applause. This year, it feels more like there was a concerted search to identify some song, any song that could meaningfully challenge "Umbrella". Cue the Pitchfork list stocked with plenty of album tracks, including some that are ranked ahead of actual singles from those albums.

In 2000, Spin magazine named "your hard drive" as its album of the year, and their choice was met with what we can diplomatically term "polite ridicule". Yes, it's a huge copout to print a year-end list and not choose a #1. It's also stupid to publish a prominent music magazine, where one expects to see intelligent and non-trivial criticism, and make a non-insightful comment that can be summed up as simply "the internet is important". Even if there was a good point lurking beneath the ridiculousness, it was simply an obvious, uninspired take on things (no, Spin's attempt to justify it in hindsight doesn't make the decision any better at the time it was made). Nevertheless, it's been seven years, and "your hard drive" is reaching progressively higher levels of influence when it comes to shaping not only individual music tastes (obviously) but also in defining the "hits" independent of whatever MTV or radio might be playing. At one point, "you" compiled the album of the year by downloading your favourite hits, but now the internet is so entrenched in musical culture that "you" choose the hits yourself.

I tried hard to identify ten singles I truly cared about, but it was an impossible task, particularly when there were so many non-singles that meant infinitely more to me this year. Shoehorning something like "No One" or Gui Boratto's "Beautiful Life" onto the list and not including "Windowsill" because it wasn't a single? I couldn't do it. Unfortunately, I will admit up front that these decisions led to a fairly boring list. There is a a lot of overlap with my album choices (lists are boring when there isn't enough variety) and the inclusion of obvious, if indeed fantastically great, mainstream artists (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado) is hardly distinctive. I made a point of including as many singles as I could, hence the inclusion of "Beautiful Girls" when it probably wouldn't crack the top 25 if I fairly and honestly ranked all tracks from 2007 as equals. So, in all, this list doesn't deserve a fancy graphics-laden rollout, so here it is, along with some brief comments:

Top Ten Tracks of 2007

1. Jichael Mackson, "The Grass Is Always Greener"

Mind-warping track that only gets better once the Chris Issak samples come in.

2. Arcade Fire, "Windowsill"

All of "Neon Bible" is building toward this track, and I have no idea why I'm the only one who knows it.

3. Nelly Furtado, "All Good Things (Come to an End)"

Best Chris Martin song ever?

4. Panda Bear, "Bros"

Most joyous track of the year.

5. Justin Timberlake, "What Goes Around ... Comes Around"

Another great single from an album that finally won me over in 2007, with a fantastically sexy and engrossing mini-movie/video to boot.

6. Rihanna, "Umbrella"

You may have heard this song once or twice.

7. Go Team, "Doing It Right"

"Sesame Street Theme 2007"

8. Low, "Violent Past"

Far and away the best track on an otherwise uninspiring album.

9. Substance and Vainqueur, "Resonance"

It's like they never left (except less awesome than before they did)

10. Sean Kingston, "Beautiful Girls"

Fun summer jam. Isn't it weird how "Stand By Me" makes a comeback in 21-year intervals?

That was the list I finalized in mid-month and sent off for the critics polls. But all month, I've been imbibing lists and catching up on music that I didn't pay close enough attention to during the year. Every year it's the same thing. All the supposed best music of that year gets unceremoniously pushed aside the second after the ink has dried on your own year-end list because you've been playing the hell out of that music all year and particularly in the previous few weeks and you're bored shitless of all of it. Then you cane the hell out of albums and tracks that you discovered too late in the year to warrant inclusion on your list, or simply stuff that you discovered while browsing through everyone else's lists. Then you question which of these albums and tracks should have made your list, had you known/heard about/appreciated them earlier, which is an interesting exercise that probably deserves a year-by-year personal breakdown, which I'll get to if I ever get around to completing the year-by-year look back on my actual year-end lists that I promised to work on in January(incidentally, to anyone who actually might care about it, the project became derailed not because of laziness, but from indecision about the best way to quantify the review process. If that doesn't make sense now, then it will if I ever get around to completing it).

So here are some December 2007 surprises (an incomplete list):

Spoon, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga". Spoon's "less is more" approach to music is very much at odds with the music I normally like, particularly in regards to indie rock. Guitar/drums/piano songsmithery that hangs the melodies out to dry -- it's not really my thing unless the music is unbearably depressing. Spoon didn't hit on any kind of newfound magic formula here, except that the tunes are exceptionally good, particularly "The Underdog" and "Finer Feelings". The former catches you from the start, trumpets blazing (literally), and the latter gets hookier as it progresses, straight through to the finish that arrives far too soon.

Of Montreal, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal". Although capable of greatness in fits and spurts ("So Begins Our Abalee" was one of my fave tracks of 2005), Of Montreal tend to bore me over the length of a whole album. There are only so many tinny, lo-fi dance dance beats and smart-ass lyrics a person can take ... or so I thought! With this epic track, Of Montreal not only rock ass with twelve captivating minutes of simple yet infectious beats, caustic lyrics that spawn a million spiraling verses, and a cooing chorus that you hope will never end -- oh no! it's more than that, it's "This Corrosion 2007"!!!

And you know what ... I *still* haven't heard the entire album, just a (very good) track here one month, a(nother very good) track there in a different month. But "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" was the tipping point. I messed up by not believing the hype sooner.

Black Kids, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You". This popped up on Pitchfork's list, and along with a bunch of other songs on that list that I wasn't familiar with, I dl'ed them and road-tested the bunch on my iPod. This kind of music-sampling arrangement is perfect for producing those magical, revelatory moments when you get blown away by a spectacular song by a band you've never heard of while you're standing on street corner or sitting on a train. *This* is what the Go Team need to sound like in order to jump from being party kids making rough-and-tumble sugary anthems, to being full-fledged Bomb Squad/Spectorian teen-opera makers. A shoegaze Go Team, I mean, that's such a simple and obvious combination to make, but the best ideas are always the simple and obvious ones that nobody else was smart enough to come up with.


Sandra said...

I loved that Black Kids song, too. Ah, takes me back to the summer of 2007. What ever happened to them anyway?

Barry said...

They're still around but man was that debut album disappointing. They still haven't recorded the follow-up.