Sunday, December 23, 2007

26. Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This

This album came out in the same month as the latest from Okkervil River and The New Pornographers, so in spite of the fact that Architecture in Helsinki's previous album, In Case We Die, finished in my top 20 of 2005, this was only the third most anticipated release of August. I think I first listened to it while driving through Western New York on my summer road trip to Ohio. I was not blown away at first, but this one proved to fall into the infamous "rewards repeated listens" category...otherwise known as "a grower".

Call me crazy, but I hear a bit of B52's energy in a couple of songs on this album. Well, at least these Australian indie popsters share one thing in common with those Athens, GA natives...the fact that both bands are co-fronted by male and female members. There isn't necessarily one song that stands out on this album, but overall it's a solid collection of catchy indie pop you can dance to.

25. Sigur Rós - Hvarf/Heim

For long standing fans of Sigur Rós, this year's release may have been less than satisfying, but since I'm a bit of a newcomer, it filled a void that has existed since 2005 top 10 entry Takk... drifted from my regular rotation.

This is basically two EPs that, when combined, make for an hour-plus long affair. Hvarf is a collection of rarities, while Heim is a live-in-studio acoustic performance of some of their past favorites. Among the new material, the symphonic "Hljómalind" is the highlight, proving the slow build to powerful chorus as another style of song that I'm an absolute sucker for.

24. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala

The second Swedish contribution to this year's list, Jens Lekman is undoubtedly one of the most clever, funny and charismatic characters on the independent music scene...kind of the straight version of Stephin Merritt. To me, he has an unrivaled knack for writing and singing beautiful and catchy indie pop that somehow tows the line between being too serious and too silly. This sounds like a difficult task, but "A Postcard to Nina" is a perfect example. A hilarious song about meeting the father of his lesbian friend and pretending to be her boyfriend, it also delivers a not overly preachy "always be true to yourself" message.

23. Son Volt - The Search

By now, it should be apparent, if not perfectly clear, that I would side with Jay Farrar in any dispute between he and his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy. Despite this, there's no questioning the fact that Tweedy has proven to be more creative and versatile and has parlayed these talents into not only critical acclaim, but marginal commercial success as well. This year, however, is the first since the late 90's that I can honestly say that I like the direction Son Volt is moving in more than the path that Wilco has chosen. Maybe that's partly because Wilco's recent offering just didn't do it for me, but more importantly, Son Volt has followed their strong comeback album, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, with an even better effort. In fact, I consider The Search to be the second best album in the band's entire catalog, and that's saying something, considering #1, Trace, is one of my all-time favorites.

22. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

I enjoyed Beirut's debut, Gulag Orkestar, but it didn't quite inspire me to want to listen to it repeatedly. Still, it was good enough for the band to still be a spot on my radar. Then, when the Lon Gisland EP, which included the brilliant "Elephant Gun", was released earlier this year, I knew I was quickly becoming a fan. Brilliant might be over-stating may have just been the best Neutral Milk Hotel influenced song I'd heard in a long time, but you get the idea.

Beirut's overall sound is not as inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel as that one song, and despite my affinity for NMH, I consider that a good thing. I don't think there's enough room in this indie world for all of the artists who unashamedly wear Jeff Mangum's influence on their sleeves. While NMH is certainly an influence of theirs, Beirut's sound is distinctive enough to be considered their own. While one reviewer called the debut "a kind of Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-gypsy field recordings", The Flying Club Cup takes this sound to a new level, employing a beautiful amalgam of wind instruments, strings, accordions, keyboards and organ.

21. Interpol - Our Love to Admire

I've already discussed Interpol a little here, and I may have to admit that I've rated this album higher than just about anybody else this year...but so what. This is another case of being a relative latecomer, so I don't have the same reference point as other Interpol fans who think this album is clearly a notch below their prior two efforts. Who knows? This may be analogous to all those people who never heard Being There and now think Sky Blue Sky is some kind of masterpiece. The positive side of this, for folks in the latter camp as well as myself, is we both now have the uncharted territory of the back catalog of a truly great artist to explore.

1 comment:

  1. If you're into Sigur Ros try some Godspeed You Black Emperor. Really epic stuff without the Finnish. Nothing but long drawn out crescendos and decrescendos that can truly mold your mood and tell a story void of any words.