Best Albums of 2007 (4 and 3!)

January 16, 2008 at 4:39 am (Best-of lists, cool band alert, reviews, rock and roll)

4. Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It.
(Penalized 3 slots by being released in Canada and Europe in October of 2006, but not in the US ’til 2007.)
Get me wound up about Canadian rock band Sloan, and I’m likely to babble your ear off until you’re sorry you asked. Suffice it to say that Sloan might be the greatest rock band Americans have never heard of, an anonymous bunch of good-hearted lads who in the Great White North are arena-rocking superstars. I would happily admit that they might be my favorite band on the planet right now.

…and over their last two discs up until Never Hear The End Of It, I was sort of having to tell myself “Self, those Sloan boys are running out of gas, and quickly.” I’d find maybe one or two songs on those previous Sloan albums to embrace, and the rest was just filler. When I heard that they were coming back from a 2-year break from releasing new music with the 23-song opus here, I was more than a bit skeptical.

Putting the band on a temporary hiatus to raise families and bask in a career well-done did these fellows good. In particular, drummer Andrew Scott emerges from a dry spell to be primary songwriter on a solid chunk of the disc. Guitarist Jay Ferguson also deserves kudos for writing his best songs in nearly a decade (“Who Taught You To Live Like That” especially). If bassist (and Sloan’s heart and soul) Chris Murphy and guitarist Patrick Pentland have stepped back a bit, to be sure they provide two of the albums highest high points–Murphy on “Live The Life You’re Dreaming Of” and Pentland on the arena-shaking “Ill-Placed Trust”. To be sure, there are a few moments in this double-cd that don’t quite click (not sure what they were thinking with “Golden Eyes”) but that’s just quibbling really. Never Hear The End Of It is a stunning, brilliant high-water mark for the band, and hence for guitar-based rock in general.

“I’ve Gotta Try”(Video, and yes drummer Andrew Scott is playing guitar and singing while bassist Chris Murphy is on drums…They do that a lot.)
“Set In Motion”
“Who Taught You To Live Like That?”
The whole album is streamed here. Try “Fading Into Obscurity”, “Ana Lucia”, “Someone I Can Be True With” (pay special attention to the lyrics in the second chorus if you want to laugh your ass off), “Live The Life You’re Dreaming Of” and “Ill-Placed Trust” to start with.

3. Grand Champeen, Dial T For This.

So yeah, an Austin band of critic’s darlings made a tremendous guitar rock album this year drawing on a variety of genre-bending idioms and playing havoc with listener’s expectations…

….but I ain’t talking about Spoon. Grand Champeen pretty much out-Spooned Spoon in every way imaginable this year on Dial T, and if this wonderful disc had come out just about any other year, it’d be numero uno.

Champeen has always been dogged by comparisons to legendary indie rockers Superchunk, and listening to GC’s prior output, I suppose that’s a fair criticism. Spending over two years in the recording process, this 2007 effort is a quantum leap forward for them. Shedding the sloppy production of previous albums, Dial T For This spins out like a 13-song tour through guitar-based indie rock of the last 20 years. Starting with the Spoon-ish nod of “What It Beats” and “Different Sort Of Story”, they recall The Jayhawks and Replacements within “Nice Of You To Join Us”, while melding Superchunk to Cheap Trick on “Wounded Eye”. The keyboard flourishes that carry “Cities On The Plain” recall legends like The Great Plains and Get Smart, while “To The Ides” (perhaps the best song on the disc) opens with a Game Theory feel before turning into a vintage (circa 1987) Soul Asylum-flavored romp.

Grand Champeen are the kind of band the world needs more of; they play with a wide-eyed joyful sincerity that slays just about everyone else doing the rock and roll thing. These guys have made an incadescent, thrilling, joyride of a rock and roll record with Dial T For This.

“To The Ides”
“Wounded Eye”
“Cities On The Plain”
“Songs You Want To Hear”

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