Best Albums of 2007 (10 through 8!)

January 16, 2008 at 4:31 am (Best-of lists, cool band alert, reviews, rock and roll)

10. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky.
Color me a bit stunned by the number of folks out there who not only missed the point of this album, but who also missed the context. Throughout his career, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has shown a rather graceful ability to have his music informed by his influences without standing totally beholden to them. As such, Tweedy’s done the punk thing, the noise thing, the Petty thing, the Neil Young thing…

…so why is it particularly surprising that he’s decided to do a Dylan meets Astral Weeks thing with Sky Blue Sky? I suppose the real surprise is that he didn’t do this album sooner–but then I suppose you can argue that the musical strengths of his current band made it a little more possible for it to happen now.

Getting the sound nailed would matter little if Tweedy’s songs were as week as the songs on Ghost, but this disc finds him returning to the fine form of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth. “Either Way” opens the album with a beautiful acoustic hymn with a lovely guitar figure that recalls Emmit Rhodes’ “Lullabye”. “Side With The Seeds” will make you think of George Harrison’s “Oh Darling”, without necessarily sounding all that much like that song, and “Please Be Patient With Me” is one of the most heartfelt songs in the Wilco catalog. If Sky Blue Sky isn’t perfect (there are a few patches where things are just too delicate and precious for a Wilco album), it shows the band ably working their way out of the corner that Ghost had painted them into.

“Either Way”
“Side With The Seeds”
“Please Be Patient With Me”

9. Future Clouds & Radar, S/T

It hardly seems as if a decade has really gone by (and indeed, really it’s only been 10 years…)since Cotton Mather’s too-brilliant-for-words CD Kon-Tiki established Robert Harrison (the group’s frontman) as one of the most gifted and original indie-pop songwriting craftsmen on the planet. Cotton Mather never really got off the ground–despite Kon-Tiki being recognized and hailed universally (and despite Noel Gallagher proclaiming it the record of the decade before enlisting Cotton Mather on a UK tour to open for Oasis). The band members split after a 2001 disc got zero distribution. Shortly thereafter, Harrison suffered a debilitating back injury that left him bedridden for a year.

During his convalescence, Harrison’s daughter gave her pop a ukelele (a guitar was too heavy for him to hold) and legend has it that Harrison wrote a gajillion songs on it. Fully recovered now and ready to record, Harrison put together a new band, Future Clouds & Radar, and recorded this self-titled debut double CD–27 songs in all. Proclaiming that with this new disc, he wanted to try something different than his approach with Cotton Mather, Future Clouds And Radar ends up all over the map when taken on the whole…

….but frankly, the damn thing works more often than not, and even when it fails, it fails not for a lack of ideas, but rather perhaps just failed execution. And when it works? I’ve listed a lot of songs in this list to get to this record, but there is a moment on FC&R’s “Hurricane Judy” that wins that song the best song of the year award. You can’t miss it–just after the first chorus, Harrison pops a guitar figure in place of the second verse that sounds like a solo played by that other guy named Harrison…and then when we finally get back to the vocals, they’re punctuated by a blatting, wonderful horn (fake horn?) section that will have your mind’s eye seeing Yellow Submarines floating down Penny Lane to Strawberry Fields. Harrison can’t seem to help his vocal resemblance to John Lennon, so rather than run away from it, he uses it as a strength on a song like the slick but winning “You Will Be Loved” which will give you a good idea what kind of song John would’ve written had he lived into this decade.

To be sure, there’s a ton of electronic experimental noodling all over this CD, but much of the time it works (“This Is Only A Book” and “Drugstore Bust”). There’s a part of me that thinks that this wonderful double-cd would’ve worked better had about 12 songs been trimmed from it…but on the other hand, I’m left exquisitely happy that a fellow like Robert Harrison is willing to share even his interesting failures with the rest of the class.

“Hurricane Judy”
“Drugstore Bust”
“Green Mountain Clover”(Video; gorgeous heart-tugging song alert.)
“This Is Really A Book”(Video)
“Holy Janet Comes On Waves”(Video)
“Build Havana”(Video)

8. The Bees, Octopus.
I’ll come totally clean on this: I may have dramatically over or underrated this record; I honestly can’t get remotely close to objectivity on it. More than any other disc this year, Octopus invariably put me into a gloriously happy mood, and while that isn’t particularly edgy or hip…it’s something worth saluting, right?

The Bees (or Band Of Bees as they’re known in the States) are a group of multi-instrumentalists who are probably have better record collections than I do. They certainly have a grasp of various rock and soul genres, and manage to bring ’em all to the party on this wonderful, silly, giddy record. There’s the gut-bucket slide guitar on the jugband opener “Who Cares What The Question Is”, and then the rustic Byrds-y harmonies and swirl of “Love In The Harbour…which gives way to the old-school Jamaican rhythms of “Left Foot Stepdown” on into the funky Ides of March horns and soul stomp of “Got To Let Go”, which takes us right into the Sam Cooke-sounding “Listening Man”.

That five song opening salvo is just awe-inspiring, and it makes the second half of Octopus all the more disappointing. As much as I’d like silly songs like “The Ocularist” and “End Of The Street” to work, they just end up being jarring and taking you out of the glory of this disc. Even with those distractions though, Octopus‘s high points are so ridiculously high and wonderful that it spots this disc in the top ten for the year. The Bees sell a ton of records in England. There’s a reason. This is the happiest, sunniest disc of the year.

“Got To Let Go”
“Left Foot Stepdown”
“Listening Man”(Video that will be impossible to resist smiling ear to ear at by the end of)
“Who Cares What The Question Is?”(Video)

1 Comment

  1. Leah said,

    You’re wrong. The Wilco album was BORING. Period. that’s it. Not lovely, not graceful – BORING. See you at the Future Clouds & Radar show this Friday— oh, I guess I won’t see you. SORRY. When I figure out how to get more obnoxious, I’ll be sure and post another comment.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: