The Bestest 2007, Tunage

Tunage

Despite the relentless negativity and uncertainty that surrounds the current state of the music business the artists and the art that emerged in 2007 were nothing less exceptional. More and better records seemed to ooze from every pore of the digital underbelly. The long tail is officially alive and well, and thanks to the success of iTunes, and the even better, eMusic service, it is now possible to deliver instant gratification to music lovers and readers of this list. In addition to that there is a wonderful real time environment for discovery and taste matching through sites like imeem, Mog, and metacritic.com. All of this makes finding and distilling a list down to even twenty must-haves near impossible. Alas, here are the records that made 2007 that much better for me. I hope you take in this list and then trust your own ears. 

1.            Midlake - “The Trials of Van Occupanther” (Bella Union)

Technically this is a 2006 record, but I didn’t find it until this year, and it was far and away the one record that meant the most to me this year. I didn’t like the name. I was suspicious about all the references to 70’s Americana. But 30 seconds into the “The Trials”, I was swept away. This is one of those rare albums that require no work whatsoever to fall hard and fast for. The breezy summer day sound is both bright and thoughtful, and does, I suppose, seem somewhat reminiscent of a genuinely American sound from some ambiguous time and place. Not so much rock like The Band, but more like only the best parts of Fleetwood Mac “Rumors”; cool and silky without any of the distinctive quirks that sometimes get tired after a while. But to suggest that the record is merely  A straight forward guitar, bass, and drums idea, is to overlook the robust instrumentation (flute, strings, brass) along the way. Somehow this record went overlooked last year, so thank goodness it is so timeless.

2.            Okkervil River “The Stage Names” (Jagjaguwar)

Far too few people will ever hear this record, I know it. This is rock balladry in its most modern finery, sung with the earnestness of a Springsteen or Tweedy, but thinner and slightly more warbling like Bright Eyes, with music as authentic and warm as “The Last Waltz.” On “The Stage Names,” the Texas band’s third album, the band has peppered their onetime sparse flavor of alt-country with billowing strings and piano such as on the epic “A Girl In Port,” or more upbeat and danceable tracks like “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene”, and precious orchestral ditties like “Savannah Smiles.” Don’t get me wrong, this record isn’t so much a derivative of something else as it is conscious of all of the great under-appreciated music that has informed it. This is a major minor masterpiece, accessible yet specific enough to charm indie zealots and Coldplay posers alike. If not for the tragically overlooked Midlake at #1, “The Stage Names” made the first and most potent impact on me in 2007 featuring some of the finest songwriting of the year. Don’t live without it.

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The Bestest 2007, Filmmage

Filmmage

Despite the greedy, bickering, and seemingly unsolvable problems that have managed to suck much of the air out of the this year’s awards season, 2007 is beginning to feel like one of the strongest movie years of the decade: A happy split between genuinely mass audience popcorn epics, and smallish indie movies that focus on perfectly drawn characters moving through everyday life. As usual, ten films seem like an arbitrary number, so this list will include quite a few more … why not? In any event, most of these movies are already rentable, and the ones still in the theatres should be seen on a big screen without interruption or a pause button, if at all possible.

1.             Once - Dir. John Carney (Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová)

“Once” is an instant classic, transforming the simple story of a scruffy Irish street singer and beautiful Czech immigrant into a kind of kindred musical and spiritual collaboration whose narrative is told largely through lyrics and whose tone is set by the natural chemistry between Hansard’s guitar and Irglova’s piano. It is that rare jewel of a film that not only dares to reinvent the genre but does so using novice actors (although Hansard did play one of the Commitments in the 80’s film and has been leading his own band, The Frames, for over a decade)  and music that has disappointingly eluded the mainstream for years. Watching this film made me somewhat envious of the kind of language and relationship that only music can bring out between a man and woman who learn to love through an unspoken musical language- a kind of romantic groove. If there is any justice in this world, Hansard and Irglova, will win the Academy award for best song, vaulting The Frames into a much deserved wider audience, much like Elliott Smith did with “Good Will Hunting,” and “Once” will become 2007’s little indie that could, accumulating awards and a more visible place in the history of independent film. This film will choke you up repeatedly.

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The Bestest 2007, Bookishness

 Bookishness: or more accurately two great books

Absurdistan: A Novel – Gary Shteyngart

The second book by master satirist gary Schtenygart is, almost inexplicably, even funnier than his astounding debut novel, “The Russian Debutants Handbook.” In it, a spoiled but oddly lovable Russian trust fund twenty-something, is exiled from the states after a joyous existence through college at an Oberlin-like liberal arts college, and a moveable feast in New York city upon graduation, and has to go back to Russia after his quasi mobster father is accused of murdering a small time crook in New Jersey. Trapped in bland post war Russia, despite a lush existence partying with a sea of American expats and living off the fruits of his father’s slightly crooked business exploits, he dreams of leaving the dreary Soviets skies and embarks on one of the funniest journey’s you are likely to read. Schentgart is a comic genius and his characters are ripped from the diaries of early Woody Allen.

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More – Chris Anderson

For those who haven’t read the indisputable economic theory deemed the Long Tail, but do conduct the commerce of your life on the web, or who are now able to more easily maintain a particularly niche passion leveraging the internet, this is a must read. Although Wired editor Chris Anderson tends to beat you over the head with the logic and applicability of his theory, the simple and elegant articulation of how niche tastes when applied to a global market make the simple business economics work is nothing short of exceptional. My life spent combing the globe for small hard to find cultural gems, is validated in some ways in knowing that all of these artists who had formerly toiled in poverty creating for a few arrogant souls like me, now have a global audience that can access their work. The Long Tail is easily the most readable economic book you will ever find.

control freak. This is muckraking fun for indie film zealots.