Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Catfish at the record shop

Happy New Year everybody!
It’s not like you haven’t seen several hundred best-of 2007 lists by now (check out Large-Hearted Boy’s master list – sheesh!) but in this little corner of the blogosphere we’re gonna just go ahead and do the same.
So, without further ado, here’s the Catfish Vegas Presents… Top Albums of 2007

1. Okkervil RiverThe Stage Names
Rambunctious and energetic this time out, Okkervil River made their most unabashedly rock ‘n’ roll record yet, centering on the themes of fame and fortune, with nods to the night life and on “The Plus Ones,” a clever bit of addition that turned several classic pop songs on their heads.

2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
If the skinny bearded bohemian Springsteen had come up now and settled on a gypsy ensemble instead of a rock ‘n’ roll band, he’d come pretty close to sounding like Arcade Fire’s newest.

3. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Wilco’s most soulful record, Sky Blue Sky is also dominated by Nels Cline’s one-of-a-kind guitar shredding. Methinks the “dad rock” haters didn’t actually bother to listen to the album.

4. Feist – The Reminder
This album grabbed me for the first time (and never let go) on “Intuition,” when Feist’s repeated “Did I?” is echoed by a chorus that sounds three rooms away. It’s an album of great balance, great songs and the greatest singing voice this side of Neko Case.

5. Band of Horses – Cease To Begin
Hell yeah! The bearded dudes who made what was my favorite album of last year have come back with a record nearly as perfect. Band of Horses found their sound right out of the gate and have settled in beautifully.

6. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
I love listening to all the varied rhythms that carry Sam Beam’s latest batch of tunes. As great as he is singing unadorned, it’s great to hear that he knows when to fill songs up as much as he does leave them open.

7. Radiohead – In Rainbows
The blokes from Radiohead rediscover guitars and make their best album in a decade. Not that they abandoned the experimental, they just reserved that for music industry kiss-off of jumping in with a set-your-own-price direct download. Kudos.

8. Ezra Furman & The Harpoons – Banging Down the Doors
This is the record I’ve been recommending to everyone I know lately. I stumbled onto a rave review at Razing the Bar and snagged a free download Furman’s record company was offering. This is outstanding stuff – hard charging acoustic rock, with hints of Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah, the Mountain Goats and Dylan throughout. This topped out Andy Whitman’s best of 2007 list and if I’d gotten it a few months earlier, it probably would’ve done the same for me.

9. Felice Brothers – Tonight At The Arizona
Believe me when I say that more than most people, I gravitate toward spare, country-folk music, and that the Felice Brothers have made one of the best debut spare, country-folk debuts I’ve heard in a long while. It doesn’t hurt that there’s more than a little Dylan floating around these songs.

10. The Gourds – Noble Creatures
For everyone (including myself) who wrote them off as bluegrass jokers after the amazing “Gin and Juice” cover, I’ll say this: out of everybody recording music today, the multi-talented Gourds are the closest to carrying on the tradition of The Band.

11. Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Bruce comes back from his folk detour for a new E Street Band record that stacks up better than The Rising. The production is just a bit too tight and polished for my taste, but the songs are incredible, with “Radio Nowhere,” “Gypsy Biker” and “I’ll Work For Your Love” as good as anything he’s written since the 1970s.

12. Meat Puppets – Rise To Your Knees
Certainly candidates for music story of the year, the Meat Puppets are back with another album fried by the sun. Rise To Your Knees is the proper sequal to Too High To Die, as caught up in dusty songs as much as the psychedelic hybrid they came up with on earlier albums. The album got me thinking… if only Kurt Cobain had met up with a motorcycle crash instead of a shotgun and hit out in the desert, with the Meat Puppets playing The Band to his Dylan…

13. I’m Not There Soundtrack
I really don’t know where to put this album. Tributes are such tricky business and most ultimately fail. But this collection of Dylan covers is pretty much the best music released all year. The two-disc set stays mostly away from Dylan’s biggest songs – “All Along The Watchtower” by Eddie Vedder and the Million Dollar Bashers and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Antony and the Johnsons are the only “big hits” and really the two weakest tracks on the whole collection. Digging up those hidden gems is the soundtrack’s greatest asset – “Pressing On” by John Doe and “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” immediately drew me in, but what’s surprising is that even as a Dylan fanatic, I’d never even heard either before. Another highlight is the chameleonic work by Calexico, who back Willie Nelson, Iron & Wine, Roger McGuinn, Jim James and Charlotte Gainsbourg and even get parts in the film.

Honorable mentions are awarded in the following categories:

Top local albums:
Chango Malo – The Whiskey Years; The Deludes – Sedation Nation; Greyhound Soul – Tonight and Every Night; Golden Boots – Burning Brain

Indie stalwarts with barely miss albums:
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank; Shins- Wincing the Night Away; White Stripes – Icky Thump; New Pornographers – Challengers

Representatives of the “2007 was a good year for noise” school of Stu Leblanc favorites that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, but nonetheless dig:
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam; Panda Bear – Person Pitch

The old-timers who can really do no wrong but didn’t make records that stack up with their career bests:
Lucinda Williams – West; Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade; Levon Helm – The Dirt Farmer

Previous years-in-review:

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