Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Scooter & Hum’s Top Five Albums Of The Year

In saying goodbye to 2007, I took a look at some of my favorite books of the year last week. In this week’s version of "The Scooties", I thought I’d run down some of the albums that had me cabbage-patching through the seasons. Enjoy …

And the "Scootie" goes to …

1. Arcade Fire “Neon Bible”
Release Date:
March 6, 2007
Best Songs: “Keep The Car Running”, “(Antichrist Television Blues)”
Rolling Stone rating: 3.5 stars
Rolling Stone review link and quote: “Like almost everything on Neon Bible, the follow-up to Arcade Fire's 2004 full-length debut, Funeral, "No Cars Go" is excess with a point: We are drowning in the unspeakable and running out of air and fight. If only everything else on Neon Bible made that point with the same dynamic overkill.”—David Fricke
Thoughts: Think Springsteen meets old-school U2 meets Radiohead. “Neon Bible” has been derided in some quarters as being more studio-smooth and not as raw as the debut “Funeral,” but I believe both pieces can be appreciated on their own merits, without comparison. The near-frantic “Keep The Car Running” will forever be the song that always makes me think of 2007.

2. The Shins “Wincing the Night Away”
Release Date: January 23, 2007
Best Songs: “Sleeping Lessons”, “Phantom Limb”
Rolling Stone rating: 3.5 stars
Rolling Stone review link and quote: “The melodies are very nearly on a par with the curlicues and knockout drops of the band's breakthrough, and [James] Mercer is still singing so lithe and refined you'd think Ray Charles had never existed.”—Robert Christgau
Thoughts: Most people know that the Shins were vaulted into mainstream recognition thanks to Natalie Portman, who claimed that the band would “change your life” in the Zach Braff movie “Garden State.” That led many who would otherwise have ignored “Oh, Inverted World” to discover that terrific album. I know I always do whatever Natty Port says; she has a convincing, er, way, about her. “Wincing the Night Away” builds on that success with a little harder edge and some better-considered lyrics. They still are the type of band that feels like you’re listening to something in the background instead of really involved, but that just makes them different, not lacking. And that’s more than OK.

3. White Stripes “Icky Thump”
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Best Songs: “Icky Thump”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)”, "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues"
Rolling Stone rating: 3.5 stars
Rolling Stone review link and quote: “Like his sometime heroes Led Zeppelin, Jack White builds monuments. They're suitable for awestruck visits. But they're no place to settle down.”—Robert Christgau
Thoughts: Dug it. Loudier, noiser, harsher, grungier, meaner. I read that “Icky Thump” was their first song that made the top 20 or something, but while that is a complete turnoff for some hoity-tooty musicophiles, I can look the other way. Jack and Meg always have fun and always include some throwaway songs, but no one generates more sound per band member and they are constantly refining their sound and experimenting. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” veers close to ‘80s hair rock, but the thumping sound of the well-named “Icky Thump” is mesmerizing. You can’t beat a lyric like “White Americans, what? / Nothing better to do? / Why don’t you kick yourself out? / You’re an immigrant, too. / Who’s using you? / What should we do? / Well, you can’t be a pimp, / And a prostitute, too.” Or how about "I'm breakin' my teeth off / Tryin' to bite my lip / There's all kinds of red-headed women / That I ain't supposed to kiss" from "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues"? Some wondered whether Jack’s side projects (e.g., the Raconteurs) would adversely affect his White Stripes work, but this album dashes those beliefs toot-sweet. This is one of the few bands left that always have me eagerly anticipating their next work — and never leave me disappointed.

4. "Once" Soundtrack
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Best Songs: “Say It To Me Now”, “When Your Minds Made Up”
Rolling Stone rating: 2.0 stars
Rolling Stone review link and quote: “Thanks to [Glen Hansard’s] soulful wail, cuts like the excellent "Trying to Pull Myself Away" and "Leave" have a solid roots-rock magnetism.”—Kevin O’Donnell
Thoughts: A terrific accompaniment to one of my finest films of 2007 (stay tuned for that list). Not only does the movie leave you wanting to see more, see it again, but it makes you leave the theater wondering, “Where the hell do I get the soundtrack?” Glen Hansard mixes some of his songs from The Frames with some great collaboration with the young, sublimely talented Marketa Irglova. The result is some very emotional, hard-hitting tracks that complement the film well, but can also be thoroughly enjoyed as standalone pieces. Some of the songs miss the mark (inevitably, every soundtrack has a few), but overall, a very strong effort and one of the better soundtracks you’ll ever find.

5. Joss Stone “Introducing Joss Stone”
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Best Songs: "Tell Me ‘Bout It", "Put Your Hands On Me"
Rolling Stone rating: 3.0 stars
Rolling Stone review link and quote: “But for the most part, Stone employs her remarkable instrument with focus and nuance on Introducing, and the result is an album full of solid pop-wise R&B.”—Christian Hoard
Thoughts: Hot. 19 years old. British. What’s not to like? Do you really need to actually listen? I mean, good music would be a bonus, right? In all seriousness, if you were to be locked in a room and played the album without knowing who the singer was, and then someone told you it was a 19-year-old white chick from Britain, you’d probably laugh and say no way. But Stone seizes your attention right off the bat with a shockingly powerful voice that puts the en vogue pop tarts that litter our soundwaves to shame. I’m not as familiar with her previous work, but I’ve read that this album is a departure from her soul roots to more R&B, and that definitely came across. This isn’t the type of music I’d normally like and in a normal year this album wouldn’t make my top five, but it was recommended to me and I found myself digging at least a couple of tracks on the album. I’m not sure I would go out and buy more Joss Stone pieces, but I can certainly appreciate the immense talent and potential that her voice alone offers. Personally, I’d like to see her lean more toward soul and put the hip-hop tinges aside, but this piece is worth the get just to hear the middle portion of “Put Your Hands on Me.”

Honorable mention:
Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times” and the Raconteurs’s “Broken Boy Soldiers” were both released in late 2006, narrowly missing the cut for inclusion in this list. I was expecting a little more from Jack White and the Raconteurs, to be honest, but this was still a funky disc that leaned a little more toward poppy than I prefer. Still worth a listen or five. Dylan’s latest was terrific, and he gets a lot of bonus points for casting Scarlett Johansson in his video for “When the Deal Goes Down.” Need more convincing? See for yourself …

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