2007's Best Albums

    1. Panda BearPerson Pitch

    Animal Collective appendage Noah Lennox’s saccharine sample
    collage takes the number one spot for a few reasons: No other record this year
    captured warmth and honest innocence with such labored craftsmanship. The Beach
    Boys redux vocals, gobs of reverb, saturated hand claps and milky dub reggae
    beats reach a state of classic pop mantra. Layers upon layers of thunderous
    field recordings fade in at pivotal moments throughout the album to heighten
    its themes of friendship, not thinking too much and being comfortable. Delayed
    melodies bubble into the foreground and disappear just as quickly. By the
    record’s end, we’ve forgotten that it was made by one person on a computer,
    fully immersing ourselves in the playful, sentimental wall of sound. All our
    worries melt away.

    2. RadioheadIn Rainbows

    Finally Radiohead muster up the courage not to hide behind
    lumbering electronics, instead embracing their accumulated musical wisdom to
    craft a naturally gorgeous record, stripped to its bare essence. It seems the
    Oxford five-piece laughed about heavy next-album pressures, had themselves a
    tea break, and got down to the creative process. In Rainbows is more about
    collective groove than singular virtuosity; guitar noodling is largely put on the
    backburner, save for “Bodysnatchers,” and instead the band members lose their
    defined roles in an effort to emphasize tension and mood, crescendos and
    murmurs. Honed orchestra sweeps and organically toned arrangements take the
    edge off the impending dread detailed in Thom Yorke’s lyrics. The paranoid
    Brits may have finally settled down.

    3. DeerhoofFriend Opportunity

    The fearsome Hoof trio melds computer wizardry with the raw
    power of classic guitar blasts; sometimes on Friend Opportunity they forgo stringed
    instruments altogether for summoned beat orchestras and sailing synth pads,
    blanketing their experimental backgrounds onto the three-minute pop formula.

    Greg Saunier’s spastic jazz-improv drumming is always
    brilliantly on and off the beat simultaneously, and while Satomi Matsuzaki’s
    shrill singing will turn some people off immediately, those who enjoy her
    chirpy range will find much more to love in the group. The 12-minute suite
    “Look Away” closes the record, originally composed as a film soundtrack but now
    a perfect experimental jab of noise to punctuate an otherwise concise series of
    intricate pop baubles.

    4. BattlesMirrored

    Don’t call it math rock, call it a space jam. Battles manage
    to intertwine barbed instruments in complex layers without any numbing
    technical wankery — no eight-minute prog keyboard solos here, only military
    precision. Thanks to effects pedals, Tyondai Braxton can warble like a chorus
    of gifted chipmunks and it doesn’t seem absurd, just unapologetically modern.
    On standout track “Atlas,” sharpened, lightly distorted keys duel over
    rock-steady clacks, building to a catchy, charming, and prophetic uproar.

    5. No AgeWeirdo Rippers

    Dudes, thanks for growing up the punk scene. Dean Spunt and
    Randy Randall introduce the perks of the ambient drone world to the fuzz-zone
    of Husker Du with an L.A. skate-rat mentality. It’s like the first time you ate
    a peanut-butter-and-Nutella sandwich. Weirdo Rippers alternates between
    ethereal instrumentals and harrowing anthems from a pair of best friends who
    grew up with the Smell, a downtown L.A. club staple. As poster children for
    that scene, they are the first to break into greater fandom, and deserve props
    for their tone-deaf yet euphoric tinkering.

    6. M.I.A. — Kala

    Where else this year could you find a Bollywood throwback,
    aboriginal Australian kid rappers, London grime, and gunshot choruses on one
    album? Maya Arulpragasam succeeds wildly with third-world beats and politically
    charged club phrases, operating in her own post-everything global war zone of
    culture. She bounces around like a spunky kid when addressing controversial
    subjects like being refused a U.S. visa, and celebrates interracial musical
    commingling. Nothing is off limits, and her approach is liberating.

    7. Of MontrealHissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

    “Most Openly Depressed Album of the Year” goes to Kevin
    Barnes’ opus Hissing Fauna, a record dressed in disco glitz that wants to lose
    it on the dance floor, but has personal issues to deal with first. Insect
    synths and a pristine production contrast with Barnes’ lyrical catharsis,
    tackling subjects like antidepressants, lost love and a desire for the divine
    marred by logic. It culminates with the 12-minute stream-of-consciousness “The
    Past is a Grotesque Animal,” where Barnes’ psyche and the listener reach a
    voyeuristic intimacy.

    8. Animal CollectiveStrawberry Jam

    Prepare to be psyched — the Collective has returned with
    far-flung sample constructions and newfound vocal bite. In contrast to the
    group’s previous work, Jam shines like a precious metal, with each element
    popping out of the mix in Technicolor. Noah Lennox further proves his
    wholehearted songwriting chops with the strongest tracks on the record;
    “Chores” revisits bouncy tribal ground and “Derek” bookends the album with a
    sweetly shifting ode to a canine.

    9. Sunset RubdownRandom Spirit Lover

    The “Dense but Rewarding” award is left for Spencer Krug’s
    (also of Wolf Parade) other outfit, where the songsmith has free reign to
    prance around like a Renaissance fair balladeer. Very few moments on the album
    allow for breathing room, as the foursome tend to pack as many yodels, keyboard
    flourishes and tuneful guitar exercises in a single song as possible just
    before they reach freak overkill. After listening to so much mythical indie,
    you may want to go live near a great kingdom and fight wicked beasts yourself.

    10. Jens LekmanNight Falls Over Kortedala

    Jens, don’t be sad. You came out with one of the year’s
    snappiest indie-pop collections, filled with witty quips and pillaged snippets
    from old vinyl. From the hilarious lesbian cover-up “A Postcard to Nina” to the
    soulfully awkward crush in “Kanske Ar Jag I Dig,” Jens managed to mix the right
    amount of wry sweetness with a palette of finely aged samples. Sweden ought to
    be proud.

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