2007: Anthems for 2009

16Feb08

Robert Christgau (who comes up frequently not because this blog is “about” “The Dean,” but for the same reason we put his name in the title: without him, our rock criticism, and the vast majority of rock criticism we’re interested in looks very different to the extent it can be called criticism at all)  has always argued that most year-end lists come out too soon — generally before the year ends, but definitely before people have had a chance to properly process year-end releases. For a while in the ’80s and early ’90s, he had the Pazz & Jop Poll coming out in March, with critics’ lists due January 15. This was presumably pulled back earlier on grounds of newsworthiness, and now they’re out third week in January.  But now I’ll argue that even March is too early for some practical purposes, so I will here make a distinction between 2007 releases I expect to still be playing as albums (Shuffle is different, and forever, at least until the mp3 biochip implant) in January 2009.  This doesn’t mean of course that I necessarily will be listening to them– some albums that sound great for 8 plays over several months turn out not to have a year in them, and often albums that seemed like also-rans at first I’ll be playing  five or ten years later.

        So here’s my top 7 of 2007:

1.Wussy Left for Dead

2. Bruce Springsteen Magic
3.
Arcade Fire Neon Bible

4. M.I.A. Kala

5. Les Savy Fav Let’s Stay Friends

6. The Apples in Stereo  New Magnetic Wonder

7. Lily Allen Alright, Still

 

I listen broadly enough — broader than the top 7 suggests —  that’s one thing our blog name means, but some years have a predominating common thread, which may be a matter of personal mood, musical or extra-musical trends, or just a blip.

The common thread that I found, one that’s peculiar both in the musical climate of 2007, I think, and also peculiar to my usual tendencies, is The Anthem.  

    Anthemic rock in my top 7 includes Springsteen (duh) and his unlikely successors Arcade Fire  but also M.I.A. , who is as anthemic as pop that doesn’t come from a Rock Band gets — as anthemic as Public Enemy (old Public Enemy, I should note, since I like their recent stuff too, though their great anthemic power isn’t what it once was), to whom she’s compared to by some, and if she invokes fear of a brown planet, give her this: She’s got a clearer sense of “planet” than Chuck D. did in 1990. Also Les Savy Fav in their way, which is an odd thing to say about them.  It’s odd because at some level they’re arty-loft types (I’d say “garage” but the part of Brooklyn where they’re based doesn’t have garages, not like that). It’s odd because they’re not celebrated  (not by me anyway) so much for what their words have to say. But they do operate in that knock-you-over-the-head way . That Let’s Stay Friends took six weeks to knock me over the head (gradually then suddenly, like bankruptcy or death but a lot more fun) is not only irrelevant but about me rather than them.  I’m generally suspiscious of musical overkill , more the older I get — at first, both Neon Bible and Magic sounded only ornate, not powerful to me.  But this year I end up getting off on people screaming at me, which may have to do with the world (not my personal life, happily) giving me lots to scream about. The idea is supposed to be that the screamers are screaming about the stuff that’s got me steamed, but I have no problem with the right catharsis coming along. And LSF aren’t only about screamers like “The Equestrian.” On LSF  at least, they’re also great at the searingly tuneful (“Pots and Pans”) the snaky (“Brace Yourself”) and sometimes even the revealing lyric (“Comes and Goes”).     My idea of a love-at-first-hear album is Lily Allen’s Alright, Still — make me hum,  make me laugh and make me move on the way to making me feel.  If I ended up preferring Apples In Stereo’s New Magnetic Wonder, which makes me hum a lot, move somewhat, laugh a little and making me feel — aside from its deep musical pleasures — only occasionally, it’s because I’ve learned that music that gives me a charge-and-a-half can often get me through my day better than someone else’s spin on what gets them through theirs, or what stops their day in its tracks. And then Wussy’s Left For Dead is the opposite of this — I don’t champion their total reliance on the musical tried-and-true, and sometimes wish the album had more TNT in it, but as singer-lyricists, Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver define brains and soul ’07. The world of their songs is fairly small — sounds like they spend all their time in bedrooms, living rooms and cars. However, not only does this make them not all that different from me at this stage  but it befits their decision to not play outside Ohio (maybe Walker meant what she said on Funeral Dress’ “Soak It Up” about never expecting to travel far without a gun). Of my also-rans, two at the top are also pretty anthemic — the straightforwardly , unapologetically and relentlessly anthemic Against Me!’s New Wave,  and  Super Taranta! (exclamation points are always a suggestion of anthemicality — but for the record  I think that !!! are a pretty decent idea that comes off as boring as it is stupid) by Gogol Bordello, who are anthemic in a bent way, anthemic because they’re ecstatic and pissed off at the same time, like P-Funk, anthemic because declaring your rage may not do anything to defeat the people who are trying their damndest to bring you down, but is at least cathartic.  This attitude is amplified in Gogol Bordello’s live show, which I caught in November and which is one of the most electrifying I’ve ever seen — there’s been hoo-hah about rock & roll circuses for 40 years, but who’s ever put it into practice ? Who’s ever combined punk and theatrics in a way that augments both concepts rather than turning the theatrics merely amateurish or the punk self-defeatingly elaborate? That they ended up 8th on my list, among albums I don’t expect to keep playing and playing, says what I feel about albums and songs. Albums should bring you back of their own accord, and a chief way they do that is with songs. Gogol Bordello’s two most recent and excellent albums do occasionally suggest filler at times.  Below that, Youssou N’Dour’s album might feel anthemic to me if I understood the words.  My trio of responsible-adult hip-hop albums — Lupe Fiasco, Monch, Common — don’t feel anthemic, just brainy and soulful, but not nearly as starkly and self-reflectively as Wussy.  

  So my favorite hip-hop of the year, after M.I.A., was Soulja Boy, whose mere two Pazz & Jop/Idolator votes  prove that all those undie-hip-hop aesthetes who gab about Old School don’t even know it when it hits them. Old School included a moment when having as much fun as you could implied not getting in the way of someone’s else fun, or life — it’s not just SouljaBoy’s kiddie-crunk beat-hooks, it’s the real-teenager way that he figures the best way to get girls to like him is to be sweet, but he also figures they’re smart enough not to fall for a bunch of romantic lies, which seem like a boring way to spend his time anyway. When he names a dance “shotgun,” he explicitly, if mock-ironically, points out that no violence is intended or condoned. What exactly is wrong with that?   So I ran out of anthemic stuff to write about quickly and then veered all over. I said it was a thread, but I do listen around too much for any thread to be too pervasive.

Here’s the rest of the list:   

The Near-Great
8. Gogol Bordello Super Taranta! 
9.
Miranda Lambert Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 
10.
Against Me!  New Wave
11.
The Hidden Cameras AWOO
12.
Soulja Boy souljaboytellem.com  
13.
 Fanfare Ciocarlia  Queens and Kings 
14.
Youssou N’Dour   Rokku Mi Rokka
15.
1990’s Cookies 
16.
Jill Scott  The Real Thing 
17. Manu Chao   La Radiolina

Satisfying, Not Compelling 


18.
Pharoahe Monch  Desire
19.
Common  Finding Forever
20.
Lupe Fiasco The Cool
21.
Ponytails Kamehameha
22.  Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop
23.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss   Raising Sand
24.
Public Enemy  How Can You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Lost Their Soul?
25.
3 Tenors of Soul All the Way from Philadelphia 
26.
Fountains of Wayne Traffic & Weather   
27.
Tom Ze Danc  eh Sa
28.
Art Brut  It’s a Bit Complicated 
29.
Bright Eyes Cassadaga 
One thing all of the above have in common is that for an hour or a day or a week, all of the above had me hoping that they belonged in the company of the top 7 (and of course some of the top 7 once convinced me they didn’t). Down below that are about 45-50 “OK” albums — all creditable, and especially towards the top albums I’m quite proud to claim as part of my world. But in all honesty I can’t — they never breached the threshhold of necessity, never got beyond quite creditable to change my life for even a day. Among the most creditable are:  Bokoor Band, Wu-Tang Clan, Babyshambles, Colombiafrica, Go! Team, Buck 65 (Situation), Lucinda Williams, Balkan Beat Box, Imperial Teen, Kanye West , Konono No. 1 (Live at Coleur Cafe), Northern State, Modest Mouse, Buck 65 (Cretin Hip Hop 1), Wyclef Jean,  They Might Be Giants, Rilo Kiley, Los Campesinos, Patti Smith.  It is part of my New Year’s Resolutions to worry even less about how many merely creditable records I’ve missed. But I can hope that by next January 1, I’m still listening to more than just the above top 7. Or even those.

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