Posts Tagged ‘LCD Soundsystem’

Weekend Playlist

20 September 2010

“My earliest memory is shouting: at what and for what reason, I don’t know. Probably a tantrum; or I may have been rehearsing. I was always an early starter.” ~ Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band | Magnetic South

LCD Soundsystem | LCD Soundsystem

Whiskeytown | Pneumonia

M. Ward | Hold Time

Various Artists | I’m Not There Soundtrack

James Brown | Star Time

The Rolling Stones | A Bigger Bang

The Kleptones | A Night At The Hip-Hopera

Mark Lanegan | Whiskey For The Holy Ghost

Buzzcocks | Singles Going Steady

Kasabian | Kasabian

Daft Punk | Discovery

William Shatner | Has Been

The Pharaohs | In The Basement

Radiohead | In Rainbows

INXS | Listen Like Thieves

Motorhead | No Remorse

Andres Segovia | The Segovia Collection

The Isley Brothers | 3 + 3

Kruder & Dorfmeister | The K&D Sessions

Doubleshot Tuesday: Stop Making Sense/This Is Happening

31 August 2010

[Today: Back to the future…]

LCD Soundsystem’s latest album dropped at the end of May, and has been kicking around my collection since early July. Like their other two albums, This Is Happening hasn’t grabbed me right away, but will no doubt be one of my favorite albums by the end of the year. Group mastermind James Murphy has indicated that this will be LCD Soundsystem’s last album. If that’s true it would be a shame, because Murphy and Co. have mastered a combination of funky beats, anxious lyrics, hip humor and a totally urban point of view. Not coincidentally, that’s pretty much a paint-by-numbers description of Talking Heads, the last band to sound this stiff and loose at the same time.

There are plenty of similarities between these bands (NYC-based, synthesizer-based, be-suited frontmen, etc), but they represent two generationally different takes on the same character. Both Murphy and Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne play the outsider, but where Byrne’s outsider is an emotional drifter, a psycho killer who hangs bitterly on the fringes of society, Murphy is the ironic hipster – no less removed from the crowd, but with a totally different point of view about that remove. Where Byrne put on deranged, damaged or just plain odd masks in his songs, Murphy looks out coolly on a messed up world of drunks and emotional cripples.

While Byrne sings desperately about his girlfriend being better than everything, Murphy wryly counters with “…love is a murderer…love is a curse…love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry…” Byrne wants you to take him to the river and drop him in the water, while Murphy wants you to dance yourself clean. Byrne sings about slippery people – Murphy sings about drunk girls. Byrne sings about life during wartime, Murphy turns his fingers into toy guns and goes pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, knocking down hipster after hipster. Byrne’s characters carry the glint of paranoia and madness, the search for redemption in a wasteland, while Murphy’s characters have a fun-loving, prankster gleam, happy to be on the outside of whatever’s in…

Listen: Life During Wartime [Talking Heads]

Listen: Pow Pow [LCD Soundsystem]

Listen: Slippery People [Talking Heads]

Listen: Drunk Girls [LCD Soundsystem]

Video Break: All My Friends

6 March 2010

LCD Soundsystem >> All My Friends. This one’s for all my friends…

20 Songs For The 00’s

30 December 2009

I hesitate to call these the ‘best’ songs of the decade, although many of them have appeared on critical end-of-decade lists. Instead, this is a personal list of songs that, taken together, do a good job of defining the decade in music. As such, it includes vintage keyboards, sultry saxophone, saucy lyrics, international sounds, pleas for peace, a bit of debauchery, a hint of sadness, and some slammin’ hip-hop.

During the 00’s consumers became empowered to seek out their own favorite sounds, and for the first time in the history of popular music, there was no mass consensus. Whatever was on your iPod was what constituted the hit parade. This means you probably have your own batch of songs that provided the score for your 00’s. Here are 20 that did the trick for me…

Gorillaz – ‘Dirty Harry’ (from the album Demon Days) – This song has a little bit of everything – funky keyboards, a children’s choir, a catchy hook, and some bad-ass rhymin’. That kind of four-spice recipe just didn’t exist before this decade, but now seems perfectly reasonable.

Listen: Dirty Harry

LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’ (from the album Sound Of Silver) – Both this and ‘Losing My Edge’ (from LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut) perfectly capture the inner monologue of an aging, angsting hipster. The fact that both songs were smothered in delicious post-electronica beats made them as iconic as they are ironic.

Listen: All My Friends

Pink Mountaintops – ‘Cold Criminals’ (from the album Axis Of Evol) – From Bernie Madoff to Dick Cheney, this decade was full of cold criminals…

Listen: Cold Criminals

MGMT – ‘Electric Feel’ (from the album Oracular Spectacular) – A slithery keyboard line leads full charge into this hooky, new-age funk spectacular. In the 00’s, it seemed that all musical pasts were present…

Listen: Electric Feel

Kanye West – ‘Gold Digger’ (from the album Late Registration) – My enduring memory of this song is hearing it played on the PA between sets of a totally unrelated concert at The Fillmore. What made it memorable was that the nearly all-white crowd started shaking its collective thing…

Listen: Gold Digger (Featuring Jamie Foxx)

The Strokes – ‘NYC Cops’ (from the album Is This It) – After the World Trade Center towers fell in 2001, the country needed a reminder of the snotty, punk attitude that made New York so great in the first place. The Strokes delivered the snot…

My Morning Jacket – ‘Wordless Chorus’ (from the album Z) – I bought this album shortly before a visit to NYC, and ‘Wordless Chorus’ will always remind me of sitting high above Times Square, watching the Big Apple flow…

Listen: Wordless Chorus

Eminem – ‘Lose Yourself’ (from the 8 Mile Soundtrack) – Whether I needed to get myself pumped up to beat a deadline, go for a run or dig up a fencepost, this single by Eminem provided a ready shot of adrenaline…

Ray LaMontagne – ‘How Come’ (from the album Trouble) – Ugh, the Bush years…

Listen: How Come

Gnarls Barkley – ‘Crazy’ (from the album St. Elsewhere) – Sure it got over-played, but perhaps no other song of this decade better captured the feeling of trying to find grace during strange times…

Listen: Crazy

Outkast – ‘Ms. Jackson’ (from the album Stankonia) – For a few years in the early 00’s, Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin seemed hell-bent on proving that hip-hop had room for topics well beyond guns, bling and ho’s. His mea culpa to his ex-mother-in-law was a surprise hit that rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and helped expand the scope of an entire genre.

Listen: Ms. Jackson

The Coup – ‘Wear Clean Draws’ (from the album Party Music) – Boots Riley’s feminist-leaning words of wisdom to his daughter reflect some of the maturation that hip-hop enjoyed during the decade.

Listen: Wear Clean Draws

Beastie Boys – ‘All Lifestyles’ (from the album To The 5 Boroughs) – Gay rights amendments have recently been shot down in several states, but gays and lesbians were welcomed into the mainstream during this decade, and it seems a foregone conclusion that their day at the alter is soon coming…

Listen: All Lifestyles

Amadou & Mariam – ‘La Réalité’ (from the album Dimanche à Bamako) – Is it just me, or did the world shrink by about 50% during the 00’s? As music becomes more multi-national, it also gets more colorful…

Listen: La Réalité

Lyrics Born – ‘Do That There (The Young Einstein Hoo-Hoo Mix)’ (from the album Same !@#$, Different Day) – Jay-Z got the respect, Kanye West got the publicity, and ‘Lil Wayne got the sales, but Lyrics Born was as dynamite and consistent as any of them. Listen to the man go off…

Listen: Do That There (The Young Einstein Hoo-Hoo Mix)

The White Stripes – ‘Seven Nation Army’ (from the album Elephant) – If you put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite song of the decade, this might be the one. Simply pulverizing…

Listen: Seven Nation Army

Air – ‘Playground Love’ (from The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack) – A sultry, smoky tune that will always remind me of my wedding day – best day of my decade, and the best day of my life.

Listen: Playground Love

Flight Of The Conchords – ‘Business Time’ (from the album Flight Of The Conchords) – Much-needed comic relief for a decade that could have used more of it…

Listen: Business Time

Iron & Wine – ‘Boy With A Coin’ (from the album The Shepherd’s Dog) – Dark times produce subdued art, and this stands in for a host of hushed masterpieces by artists like M. Ward, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Ryan Adams and Cat Power.

Listen: Boy With A Coin

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ (from the album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not) – This spiteful little ditty reminds me of a whole decade’s worth of real tales of San Francisco…

Listen: Fake Tales Of San Francisco

Weekend Playlist

14 December 2009

“Par is whatever I say it is. I’ve got one hole that’s a par 23 and yesterday I damn near birdied the sucker.” ~ Willie Nelson

The Doors | Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

LCD Soundsystem | LCD Soundsystem

Radiohead | Kid A

Dean Martin | For The Good Times

Dave Alvin | Public Domain: Songs From The Wild Land

Les Claypool & The Holy Mackeral | High Ball With The Devil

The Jimi Hendrix Experience | The Jimi Hendrix Experience [Box Set]

DJ Shadow | The Private Press

My Morning Jacket | It Still Moves

Willie Nelson | Stardust

Steely Dan | Gaucho

Elvis Presley | The Sun Sessions

Massive Attack | Protection

Los Lobos | Kiko

Neko Case | Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Hank Williams | The Complete Hank Williams

Led Zeppelin | Physical Graffiti

Various Artists | Break N’ Bossa

Pixies | Complete ‘B’ Sides

Jerry Garcia Band | Jerry Garcia Band

Doubleshot Tuesday: Room On Fire/Favourite Worst Nightmare

25 August 2009

[Today: Decade of the sophomore slump…]

The Strokes | Room On Fire
Arctic Monkeys | Favourite Worst Nightmare

This decade has seen an almost yearly touting of THE NEXT BIG THING in music. The NBT list is impressive: The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, 50 Cent, The Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Magic Numbers, Arctic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, and more – a nearly unending string of super-hyped acts. To be sure, this is part and parcel of the music business, but one thing many of these artists have in common besides busy publicists was their tendency to lay an egg on album number two. LCD Soundsystem and Kings Of Leon avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, but their like has been the exception to the rule during the 00’s.

Make no mistake, following up a hit debut album is difficult in any era, and the sophomore slump wasn’t invented after Y2K. Artists have their whole lives to write the music for their first album, but the creative process is compressed into a matter of months, while the pressure is ratcheted up considerably, on the second. Add to that the fact that many bands are too busy touring (probably) and enjoying the spoils of the first blush of fame (definitely) to spend much energy considering their followup album, and you have all the makings for a letdown.

In the spirit of discovery, I’m pulling out and re-evaluating two dusty sophomore albums that disappointed me on arrival: Room On Fire by The Strokes and Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys. These bands released two of the most critically celebrated debuts of this, or any, decade – Is This It and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, respectively. They also fomented the kind of insta-backlash that’s become typical of late – “I like this band so much that I hate them!”

Room On Fire has some good moments, but it’s a far cry from its predecessor. Is This It crackled with a mad energy that drove it from start to finish – by contrast, ROF plods in stretches, features a couple of wanky guitar solos and an ill-advised ballad, and places an unwelcome emphasis on synthesizers. On their debut, The Strokes were able to miraculously pump some life into the corpse of the pop punk practiced by the likes of The Cars and The Knack, but by its end, this 33-minute followup feels DOA.

While Favourite Worst Nightmare doesn’t match up to the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, it’s hard to call it a sophomore slump. If anything, the guitars here have even more bite, and frontman Alex Turner still sings songs dealing with fucking about and slagging off, but the whole thing feels more contrived and less inspired than Whatever You Say I Am…. It sounds like the difference between a band that was eager to get an album out and a band that was on a forced deadline. In one telling stanza, Turner sings “I don’t know what they want/But I haven’t got it to give.” Not bad, but hardly memorable.

And so it goes in the 00’s. Fleet Foxes are currently working on the followup to their hit debut album from last year. Fingers crossed, everyone…

Doubleshot Tuesday: Meddle/LCD Soundsystem

12 May 2009

[Today: Top O’ The Mornin’ to you…]

Pink Floyd | Meddle
LCD Soundsystem | LCD Soundsystem

I’ve never been a morning person, and that’s putting it mildly. Leaving the warm cocoon of my bed behind has always been a battle for me – one that I’d generally prefer to surrender for another half hour of precious sleepy time. When I was a kid I had a paper route that for years required me to be up at 5am on Saturdays and Sundays. During college I had a summer job at a plywood mill that set the alarm jingle-jangling at 4:30am each day. I know people who are rise-and-shiners, but for me, those early mornings were like climbing out of a coffin and rising from the dead. ‘A Pillow Of Winds’ (from Pink Floyd’s 1971 album Meddle) and ‘Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up’ (from LCD Soundstystem’s 2005 self-titled debut) are two songs that could soundtrack my slow-as-molasses mornings.

LCD Soundsystem has been making frenetic, fun-loving electronic music for the last few years, but each of their albums contain one or two down-tempo numbers that sound like a hangover. ‘Never As Tired…’ is either one of the strangest come-ons in rock history, or a clever excuse for not having sex – hard to tell which it is, but vocalist James Murphy sings like a guy who’s just been dredged up from the deepest of sleeps. The song is dialed into the same groove as side one of Meddle, which was the last Floyd album to bear the aural influence of Syd Barrett. The songs on Meddle play out like a series of dreams, each distinct but all blending together and floating along under their own strange steam. The album is serene but somehow unsettling – a mood exemplified by ‘A Pillow Of Dreams’.

A muddled morning is a strange place for these two bands to connect (Dark Side Of The Moon would have been the more obvious place), but these songs are uncannily reminiscent of one another and convey how I feel in the wee hours. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to take a nap…

Listen: A Pillow Of Winds [Pink Floyd]

Listen: Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up [LCD Soundsystem]

Weekend Playlist

10 November 2008

Here’s our playlist from the weekend that was. ‘Twas a schizophrenic weekend of weather in the Bay Area, with rain and cold on Saturday and sunshine and smiles on Sunday. I started a post of ‘Albums For Autumn’, but the nice weather yesterday convinced me to save it for another time. Until then…

Calexico | Carried To Dust
Calexico | Carried To Dust

Raphael Saadiq | The Way I See It
Raphael Saadiq | The Way I See It

Donny Hathaway | Live

The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet
The Sir Douglas Quintet | The Best Of

Betty Davis
Betty Davis | Betty Davis

Brass Construction IV
Brass Construction | Brass Construction IV

LCD Soundsystem | Sound Of Silver

Howlin’ Wolf | Howlin’ Wolf

Tom Waits | Rain Dogs

Radiohead | In Rainbows

U2 | Joshua Tree
U2 | The Joshua Tree

Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin II

AC/DC | High Voltage

Ray Charles | Live In Concert
Ray Charles | Live In Concert

Mother's Finest
Mother’s Finest | Another Mother Further

Zapp | Zapp
Zapp | Zapp

Funkadelic | The Electric Spanking Of War Babies
Funkadelic | The Electric Spanking Of War Babies

The Meters | Fire On The Bayou

The 12 Best New Artists Of This Decade

25 June 2008

This topic was suggested by reader “kicknz” and I thought it was a great idea. Like Z, I find myself listening to the old-reliables more and more, while it gets harder with each passing year to suss out the great new bands from a sea of chaff. But I’ve been keeping one ear to the ground, one eye on the music mags, and I’m never afraid to ask friends and acquaintances about music – so I actually have an opinion on this…

The ground-rules were pretty simple: to qualify, the artist must have released their debut album after Jan 1, 2000 (I made one noted exception). There are plenty of artists who emerged during this decade, but didn’t technically debut, most notably My Morning Jacket, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Coup, The White Stripes, and Spoon. If your favorite new artist isn’t listed here, I urge you to consult a trusted record almanac for release dates before ripping me a new one.

The Strokes exist in a unique category. They just don’t really belong here, because it seems like their career arc has already played out. Nonetheless, their debut album Is This It appeared in 2001 and love ’em or (more likely) hate ’em, it stands as one of the best albums of the decade. It was tempting to include them here, but more fun to talk about why I didn’t. Alas…

Ditto Amy Winehouse, who has crammed 10 careers worth of disheveled photo opps, bad tattoos, drug busts, and bustiers into a scant couple of years. Back To Black is a brilliant album, and hopefully not the last we’ll hear from her, but I’d like to discuss artists whose careers are on an upswing. So Amy, please have a seat in the green room with The Strokes.

Here then, in no particular order, are a dozen of the best new artists since Y2K:

Josh Ritter - album
Josh Ritter (recommended album: Golden Age Of Radio)

Ritter technically shouldn’t be on this list – his debut appeared in 1999. But 2002’s Golden Age Of Radio just may be the best album of the entire decade, and yet he remains relatively unknown, earning a waiver into this discussion. His followups haven’t been quite as powerful as Golden Age, but there’s no denying that Ritter is a talented singer-songwriter with a bright future.

Listen: Me & Jiggs

LCD Soundsystem - album
LCD Soundsystem (recommended album: LCD Soundsystem)

Clever beats, sly humor, superb music. But like a dude moonwalking around the room in a disco suit, it’s hard to tell if LCD Soundstystem’s James Murphy is just wildly kitschy, out for some laughs, or completely on the level. I suspect it’s a bit of all three.

Listen: Losing My Edge

Lyrics Born (recommended album: Same !@#$, Different Day)

East Bay MC supreme Lyrics Born (aka Tim Shimura) has mad flow, can sing like a 70’s soul star, and has put together a great live band. A longtime part of the Blackalicious/Quannum posse, LB has made a number of high-profile guest appearances recently, suggesting his career is on the upswing. He’s also a gentleman: The P and I spotted him at an Oakland taqueria and he was as polite as could be.

Listen: Do That There (The Young Einstein Hoo-Hoo Mix)

M. Ward - album
M. Ward (recommended album: Transfiguration Of Vincent)

Matt Ward has only spent this decade making one great album after another, touring relentlessly solo and with a variety of musicians, and establishing himself as one of the great ones. A once-in-a-generation talent, Ward has the voice of a 65 year old blues singer, the guitar stylings of a John Fahey disciple, and the courage to take chances.

Listen: Helicopter

Bon Iver - album
Bon Iver (recommended album: For Emma, Forever Ago)

Jeff Buckley proved that sometimes one album is all it takes to achieve greatness. It doesn’t happen often, but Bon Iver’s (aka Justin Vernon’s) debut found aching, haunting and beautiful new terrain to explore within song. Like the best albums, For Emma, Forever Ago is utterly original, yet suggests dozens of musical references. It’s a work of art that lives in a time and space of its own devising, and it marks Bon Iver as a major talent.

Listen: re: stacks

Kings Of Leon (recommended album: Youth & Young Manhood)

Kings Of Leon came roaring out of Tennessee with their 2003 debut Youth & Young Manhood. Reviving the best aspects of 70’s Southern Rock, this group makes Lynyrd Skynyrd-sized songs that feature plenty of guns, girls and good times. Their recent albums have become more experimental, but this is still the sound of a hot summer night down South.

Listen: Red Morning Light

The Black Keys (recommended album: Thickfreakness)

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have been so amazingly prolific and consistent that it’s hard to believe their debut album appeared in 2002. This year’s Attack & Release saw them move beyond raucous blues and develop a more layered sound without compromising their core principals. It’s an album that proves there is still some exciting unexplored territory left within the blues.

Listen: Thickfreakness

Iron & Wine - album
Iron & Wine (recommended album: The Shepherd’s Dog)

With his 2007 release The Shepherd’s Dog, Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) fully realized his potential as a songwriter and music-maker. I&W’s previous albums were incredibly spare – just Beam and guitar – but Shepherd’s Dog added a host of textures, instruments, and sounds to the mix. With baroque lyrics laid against shimmering electronica and acoustic guitars, it’s an album that’s both retro and futuristic – a modern masterpiece from a musician coming into his own.

Listen: Lovesong Of The Buzzard

TV On The Radio - album
TV On The Radio (recommended album: Return To Cookie Mountain)

Good luck figuring out who influenced these guys. TV On The Radio sound like they sprung fully formed from thin air, without hearing any modern music whatsoever. This formula is wildly imprecise, but TVOTR = (Prince + Doo Wop + Peter Gabriel + No New York) with a splash of Jamaican dub and Curtis Mayfield. It looks like a train-wreck on paper, but it’s actually powerful stuff. Bonus points for the fact that their major label debut (Cookie Mountain) is also their most challenging album…

Listen: Wolf Like Me

The National - album
The National (recommended album: Boxer)

Because Matt Berninger’s deep vocals are full of resignation, this group has found itself repeatedly compared to Leonard Cohen, of all people. As Berninger explained to in 2006, “A lot of the lyrics are little pieces of embarrassing inner dialogue with a mixture of awkward melodrama and overconfident swagger.” The group’s last two albums (2005’s Alligator and 2007’s Boxer) are a pair of gems that successfully strip-mined beauty from loneliness and despair.

Listen: Mistaken For Strangers

Black Lips - album
The Black Lips (recommended album: Good Bad Not Evil)

Atlanta’s Black Lips (not to be confused with Akron’s Black Keys) make glorious music that sounds like it was conceived in a garage in 1967. Most of their catalogue could easily be mistaken for songs that just missed making the cut for Lenny Kaye’s legendary Nuggets compilation. In other words, loud, raw, and fully addictive. Their album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo (reportedly recorded in Tijuana) just might be the best live release of the decade.

Listen: It Feels Alright

Cee-Lo - album

Cee-Lo Green (recommended album: Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine) Danger Mouse (recommended album: The Grey Album)

It would be easy enough to whang Gnarls Barkley in here and call it good, but you deserve better. Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse may have become well-known under Gnarls, but their individual work is much more interesting. Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine is the rarest kind of hip-hop classic – an album that sounds better as time passes. Meanwhile, Danger Mouse has been involved in many high-profile projects, including his landmark mashup The Grey Album, and production work for Gorillaz and The Black Keys. Regardless of the duration of Gnarls Barkley, Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse will be making good music for years to come.

Listen: Living Again [Cee-lo Green]

Listen II: My 1st Song [Danger Mouse]


Honorable Mention…

Arctic Monkeys
Black Mountain
The Kleptones
Living Things
Girl Talk
Spank Rock
Kanye West
The Arcade Fire
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah


Obvious Question #1: Who did I miss??

Obvious Question #2: Got any suggestions for future articles?

2007: The Year In Music

31 December 2007

“Not good.” Any serious reflection upon the year in music naturally leads towards that two-word assessment. Another blurb that summarizes the direction of music during this year is “digital download.” This wasn’t the year that MP3s finally outsold CDs, but it did become increasingly apparent that downloads are affecting the way artists approach the creation of albums. Does the death of the compact disc signal the death of the full-length album? It certainly seems that more and more releases feature a few good songs, surrounded by a whole lotta nothin’.

A few bands – most notably Arctic Monkeys – have made noise about forgoing albums altogether and simply releasing their music as a series of singles. In a digital download world where most listeners never even purchase tracks 8 or 9, why spend the time and money to create them? This model makes even more sense as it becomes increasingly clear that album sales aren’t the golden goose they used to be. Madonna and Nine Inch Nails recently signed high-profile deals based around touring and merchandising. Radiohead used digital downloads to essentially give their new album away to fans and allow those fans to determine the value of the album. What’s an album worth in 2007? If you spent much time with your ear to the ground this year, you know the answer is “not much.”

Here are some albums that defied the prevailing trend, and rocked from start to finish…

The 20 Best Albums of 2007

Battles - album
20) Battles * Mirrored – An album of titanium-tipped beats that blast at the very structure of your skull, Mirrored is the work of a supergroup of musicians that includes longtime Helmet drummer John Stanier. While most bands are using technology to make their instruments more musicial, Battles are busy using their instruments to make their music sound more technological – and creating songs that don’t sound remotely like anyone else.

Listen: Atlas

Jay-Z - album
19) Jay-Z * American Gangster – As head of Def-Jam records, it’s amazing that Jay-Z has time to make any album, let alone a stone classic like American Gangster. Inspired by an advance screening of the Denzel Washington movie of the same name, Hova rips through a series of bumping rhymes that nod to blaxploitation-era Curtis Mayfield, while staying within his well-worn philosophy. Slinging bags and slinging albums? It all comes down to handling the delivery.

Listen: Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)…

Budos Band - album
18) The Budos Band * The Budos Band II – The best-kept secret of 2007 came blasting out of Staten Island with a series of funked up instrumental jams that just don’t quit. This 11-piece band builds funky groove after funky groove, working an afro-soul vein that yields plenty of wicked pleasures. Budos Band II is the instrumental album that the Beastie Boys wish they’d released this year.

Listen: Chicago Falcon

Black Francis - album
17) Black Francis * Bluefinger – Charles Thompson/Frank Black/Black Francis has been softening up over the course of his last several albums, taking a detour through Nashville, and creating plenty of adult comtemporary pop. So it’ll be a big relief to Pixies fans to hear his latest effort – an all-out return to the knife-edge histrionics that made his former group so compelling. Bluefinger doesn’t all kill, but what does is dangerous stuff indeed.

Listen: Captain Pasty

Black Lips - album
16) Black Lips * Good Bad Not Evil – These buzzing fuzzologists created one of the best trips of the year. The only question is, what year? Complete with swirling guitars, backward masking, and shouted vocals, the entirety of this album sounds like it was lifted from the legendary Nuggets compilation. Far out and right on…

Listen: It Feels Alright

1990's - album
15) 1990’s * Cookies – This Scottish trio kick out the jams on their infectious, fully-realized debut Cookies. Combining a propulsive post-punk sound with a series of catchy hooks and choruses, this is an album good enough to have you pumping your fist in the air on the first listen. All it needs it just a little more cowbell…

Listen: Is There A Switch For That?

Rilo Kiley - album
14) Rilo Kiley * Under The Blacklight – Right down to its name, this album is a blatant tribute to the sounds of the 70’s. Rilo Kiley has wrapped confessional tales of heartbreak and excess in so much aural cotton candy that you can’t help but tap your toes and sing along. No wonder they keep getting compared to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac.

Listen: Silver Lining

White Williams - Smoke
13) White Williams * Smoke – If Generation X found itself trapped in that creepy hotel from The Shining, this would be the ballroom soundtrack. The loping beats and off-kilter lyrics are reminiscent of Midnite Vultures-era Beck – it’s electronica tarted up with guitars, vintage synthesizers and plenty of smart attitude. Joe Williams may be white, but there’s nothing vanilla about his sound.

Listen: Going Down

Spoon - album
12) Spoon * Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – This is the album Spoon has been building steadily towards over the last decade. There have been a lot of great individual moments on their past albums, but here the group revels in horns and handclaps, sounding like a Stax/Volt reincarnation, and creating nothing less than the best blue-eyed soul album of their generation. At this point Spoon is a major label band merely masquarading in Indie clothing.

Listen: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb

Era Vulgaris
11) Queens Of The Stone Age * Era Vulgaris – Like the worn record ring on the album cover, QOTSA are an anachronism from another age. In 2007 hardly anyone plays straight-up Rock&Roll, but Josh Homme is a true believer, and keeps pumping out great riffs with regularity. ‘3’s & 7’s’ ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’ and ‘Make It Wit Chu’ prove that you don’t have to accept Rock that’s been watered down with a bunch of hyphens.

Listen: Make It Wit Chu

Raising Sand - album
10) Robert Plant & Alison Krauss * Raising Sand – Plant & Krauss weave their voices together in a tapestry of sound that is filled with warmth and heart. T-Bone Burnett’s flawless production wraps their voices in digital effects and plenty of space, creating an atmosphere that is at once eery and comfortable. Plant is forgoing a tour with his former bandmates in Led Zeppelin so that he can tour with Krauss. Which sounds crazy, until you have a listen to the graceful melodies of Raising Sand.

Listen: Rich Woman

Paolo Nutini - album
9) Paolo Nutini * These Streets – On his debut album, this 19-year old Scot showed he’s got the voice of a man. In spots his lilting brogue calls to mind an early 70’s Van Morrison, even if his songwriting abilities aren’t quite yet up to that comparison. The upbeat songs are the highlights here, but Nutini shows a deftness of touch and feeling on ballads like ‘Autumn’ and ‘Alloway Grove’ that belies his youth, and bodes well for the future.

Listen: New Shoes

Pink Martini - album
8) Pink Martini * Hey Eugene! – Pink Martini may not garner rapt critical attention, but make no mistake – this is a band that has arrived. This 15-piece, self-dubbed “little orchestra that could” features the blazing talent of lead singer China Forbes, who holds forth with an incandescent voice that is part torch-singer and part torch. On Hey Eugene!, the band moves through many instruments, languages and styles, creating a sound that is at once completely retro and totally fresh.

Listen: Hey Eugene!

LCD Soundsystem - album
7) LCD Soundsystem * Sound Of Silver – Party on, Garth!

Listen: All My Friends

Radiohead - album
6) Radiohead * In Rainbows – The “choose your own price for the download” method of delivery netted the band more than two million dollars and untold notoriety, but it’s the songs that really count here. A solid album from start to finish, In Rainbows avoids much of the recent experimental noodling that has put off more casual fans of the group. While not necessarily a return to the form of OK Computer or Kid A, it’s certainly the most accessible album the group has made since either of those masterpieces.

Listen: Jigsaw Falling Into Place

The National - album
5) The National * Boxer – In 2007, the finest proponents of Brit-Pop came from Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati, OH. The National’s fourth album finds the group building on the momentum of 2005’s excellent Alligator without losing any of the existential dread that made that album so memorable. Matt Berninger’s lyrics are cryptic and intensely personal slices of melancholy, set against musical vistas that are as wide as the Manhattan skyline. Boxer is a monumental album built from a million and one nagging cares.

Listen: Mistaken For Strangers

Iron & Wine - album
4) Iron & Wine * The Shepherd’s Dog – The first several notes sound like they’re coming through a tinny radio, teasing at Sam Beam’s lo-fi, man and a guitar sound. Then The Shepherd’s Dog bursts into full bloom – awash in sonic flourishes that enhance Beam’s sound and purpose. Definitely not the kind of album that Sub Pop cut its teeth on, this is carefully crafted psychedelic folk that is both beautifully lush and soulfully spare.

Listen: Boy With A Coin

Amy Winehouse - album
3) Amy Winehouse * Back To Black – In an era of pitch-corrected and overly digitized music, Amy Winehouse is a welcome throwback. Her songs reflect her real life struggles with life and love, and she’s been an irresistable train wreck for tabloids everywhere, but that sideshow shouldn’t overshadow the music on Back To Black. A timeless collection of songs that sound better with every play, it shows Winehouse to be a diva in every sense of the word. The question isn’t whether this woman has skills, it’s whether her dangerous liasons will dim her bright talent before she can make another classic album.

Listen: Back To Black

I'm Not There - Soundtrack
2) Various Artists * I’m Not There Soundtrack – Where Bob Dylan cements his status as the most influential musician of all-time. Sure, the argument’s been out there for some time, but hearing 33 covers by a variety of contemporary artists brings home that Bobby D. will have sway over musicians for as long as song continues. Sonic Youth, Iron & Wine, Mark Lanegan, Jim James, Cat Power, Antony & The Johnsons, Los Lobos, and many more don’t so much cover Dylan as he covers them, encompassing all of their styles within the breadth of his ouvre. In this context it’s easy to see how far the onetime Robert Zimmerman’s influence really reaches – to the horizon of music. The fact that Richie Havens and Willie Nelson nearly steal the show only adds to an incredible package.

Listen: Tombstone Blues [Richie Havens]

Zeph & Azeem - album
1) Zeph & Azeem * Mixed Messages (official ‘Rise Up’ mixed tape) – Poetry slam champ and former Spearhead protege Azeem deserves a new handle: most underappreciated rapper in the world. Released as a promotional add-on to Zeph & Azeem’s new album Rise Up, Mixed Messages collects B-sides, remixes, outtakes and more onto perhaps the finest hip-hop album of the last decade. This tour-de-force features a buffet of tasty samples, including Latin horns, disco strings, and Pink Floyd. Throw in Azeem’s world class rhymes, which touch on everything from global tourism to the Illuminati, and you’ve got a monster album that flows from top to bottom like the Mississippi river, and demonstrates how relentlessly inventive hip-hop might sound in a world without overly restrictive copyright infringement laws.

Listen: Don’t Quote Me (Xclusive)

Listen II: What If (Xclusive Remix)


The next 10…

Neil Young * Chrome Dreams II
Ministry * The Last Sucker
Justice * †
Kanye West * Graduation
Digitalism * Idealism
Band Of Horses * Cease To Begin
Arctic Monkeys * Favorite Worst Nightmare
The Hives * The Black & White Album
Andrew Bird * Armchair Apocrypha
Ween * La Cucaracha