Everybody's doing it, so I might as well dabble in the conceit that anybody is really interested to know which releases of the year I liked best. I don't think it has been a vintage year for music, or perhaps I have not paid much attention. I've also found myself falling off Planet Indie, so the "singer-songwriters" boss the list. I've put sample tracks into one file, in case somebody is interested. The featured titles appear below my brief comments. Full tracklisting in the Comments section.
1. Jay Brannan - Goddamned
Strong, idiosyncratic lyrics and melodies one can sing along to by the antidote to all the depressingly boring corporate stars. And Jay was interviewed on this blog, so he rules.
(Bowlegged And Starving)
2. Ron Sexsmith - Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Perhaps Sexsmith's most consistently engaging album yet. It's as beautiful as any Sexsmith album (the man has never made an ugly album), and as warm as any. This is music to make long, slow love to, and cuddle afterwards.
(This Is How I Know)
3. Tift Merritt - Another Country
Merritt's third album is easily her best. Returning to the softer alt.country/folk sound of her debut, some of the songs here qualify for the dreaded cliché "achingly beautiful".
(Hopes Too High)
4. The Weepies - Hideaway
My go-to album when I don't know what I want to listen to. Bright, melodic folk-pop which seems to be written for Saturday mornings with a croissant and a good cup of coffee. The album is a few songs too long, but with none being offensive, should I complain?
(Takes So Long)
5. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Rilo Kiley singer goes back to her alt.country roots. It's nit an easy album to get into, and it features Elvis Costello on one song, which in my book is not a recommendation (the song isn't bad though). Jenny's voice is as sexy as always, which compensates for a couple of duff songs. The title track is perhaps the year's best song.
6. Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers
Kathleen Edwards lets rip with sardonic wit on an album which gives a withering look at her homeland Canada, loafing partners, the war lobby and more, and then surprises with vulnerable moments. Another album which requires a few spins before it catches on.
(Oil Man's War)
7. Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
Hyped as the new Dylan since he could walk, on this solo album Conor finally lives up to the promise. Meaning, it all sounds a bit like Dylan in his prime. One can hear Dylan singing most of these songs. It sounds not unlike last year's Bright Eyes album Cassadagia, which was fine, but not a patch on I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, one of the best albums of the decade.
8. Ben Folds - Way To Normal
I have apologised for not liking this album much at first. It's too much like Ben Folds Five, when I prefer the two solo albums. Folds actually released two albums: a "leaked" version, which he especially recorded and then, well, leaked; and the real CD. Some fans prefer the leaked version, which isn't bad at all. But it would be a conceit to rate it more highly than the real Way To Normal.
(Free Coffee [Leak Version])
9. Hello Saferide - More Modern Short Stories...
Yet another album which initially failed to meet my big expectation; and another one that required a few listens. Annika Norlin (who is Hello Saferide) has largely abandoned the twee indie-pop of the debut album and EP. More Modern Short Stories... has an edgier sound. It sounds good, but detract from the lyrics, and it's in the lyrics (and that cute accent) where Norlin's strength resides.
(X Telling Me About The Loss Of Something Dear At Age 16)
10. Neil Diamond - Home Before Dark
A couple of years ago, Neil Diamond made a comeback with the Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs, which was quite outstanding (even if later bonus tracks rendered the title nonsensical). Home Before Dark continues in a similar vain, laying to rest the scandalous notion that ND is in any way "uncool".
(Pretty Amazing Grace)
11. Joshua Radin - Simple Times
And another album that delated my expectations. Radin's full debut album, We Were Here, was my top pick for 2006, an intensely intimate affair. This is rather lighter and, well, more mainstream. Thing is, I think I'd like it a lot better if I didn't know Radin's previous output (there was a very good EP as well).
(Friend Like You)
12. Lenka - Lenka
Sunny, bouncy pop. It's light and hugely enjoyable. What Colbie Caillat was to 2007....
(Anything I'm Not)
13. Micah P Hinson & The Red Orchestra
After all that time, Hinson remains some sort of insider tip. A Tom Waits for these times.
(Throw The Stone)
14. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
When I first heard it I was impressed. After a while it felt like a Pink Floyd record. The trouble with Narrow Stairs is not in its quality — it's a very good album — but in finding a reason to play it. If you want Death Cab songs you can whistle along to, try 2005's Plans or the earlier albums. If you want an intricate tapestry of sound, your better off with the mighty Transatlanticism.
15. Jack Johnson - Sleep Through The Static
The surprise inclusion here. I have nothing against Jack Johnson's songs. They are nice, in a Michael Franks kind of way. But his albums are mind-numbingly boring. I got this for review. I listened to it for a few times, gave it a half-hearted approval. Then I gave it another go. And another. And more. And I realised that I was enjoying the CD.
(If I Had Eyes)
16. Yael Naïm - Yael Naïm
I know, it was released in some places in 2007. Yael Naïm's New Song got plenty airplay, but it's nit really representative of this intriguing album, on which Naïm sings in English, French and Hebrew.
17. Emiliana Torrini - Me And Armini
Yes, she's from Iceland. No, she's not like Bjork. Though this album, a much more raucous affair than the whispering The Fisherman's Wife, has a few rather crazy moments which would not seem out of place on a Bjork set.
18. Looker - Born In The Desert
I'm trying to remember the marketing comparison for this, which was pretty spot on. Something like the Ramones through the filter of '60s Phil Spector. Not consistently brilliant, but always good fun.
(Born In The Desert)
19. Kaki King - Dreaming Of Revenge
On her latest offering, the very beautiful Kaki King goes easy on her unique guitar stylings, which were impressive for the first four songs, but became wearying. Here she sings more than she did before. An album one listens to for atmosphere.
(Bone Chaos In The Castle)
20. Jordan Trotter - Jordan Trotter
A rather unknown country singer who deserves some attention. The debut album starts with a trio of quite lovely songs, which would not have disgraced Tift Merritt's wonderful CD. After that things slide a little, with a couple of daring covers (The Wind Cries Mary, Chain Of Fools) which aren't at all bad but, well, redundant.
(I Want You)
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On a different note, this blog will soon migrate to Wordpress, who I hope will not denude its subscribers’ blogs in the spineless manner Blogger has done (six DMCA notices in the past two days!). Don't let me ever hear again how Google are so alternative and so sticking it to The Man. I'm struggling with a few features in Wordpress, but the whole blog – including posts deleted by Blogger (except my Obama post, probably zapped by James Brown's people, which I failed to back up) — should be up in a week or so. The URL will be http://halfhearteddude.wordpress.com, and of course I'll have a notice here. Or I might even figure out how to redirect things...