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.