I'm really not ready for 2007 to end. Any year that starts out in January with garage-punk great Jay Reatard smashing a clock with his face at the Hemlock is gonna be one for the books. But this year has offered so many time-stopping memories. Great new music hit the shelves from locals like Scissors for Lefty, Rogue Wave, Arp, Citay, Greg Ashley, Wooden Shjips, High on Fire, and Rademacher (from Fresno, but hey, they played here all the time). Noise Pop and Another Planet shipwrecked indie-rock fans on Treasure Island with the likes of Spoon, M.I.A., and Modest Mouse for a successful festival with zero hassle. Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders defined spiritually uplifting music with a moving performance at Grace Cathedral during the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Of course, not every show went off without a snag. One glaring example: Vincent Gallo's RRIICCEE show at Mission Creek Music Fest, which featured no opening act, no small talk, and no fun banter from the previously charming, always egotistical entertainer.
But hey, if I'm forced to let go of lucky number seven year in this new millennium, here is a list of my most favorite discs coming with me into 2008.
Emily Jane White, Dark Undercoat
A stunning debut from a local chanteuse whose voice steels against an ex-lover's metaphorical knives with understated confidence and melancholy beauty. Songs range in subject matter from an homage to Bessie Smith to the title track for indie flick Wild Tigers I Have Known. White's delivery adds delicate sweetness to the most bitter-tasting situations.
Devendra Banhart, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
There was a time when Banhart sounded too artsy-folksy for my tastes. But on Smokey Rolls the songwriter has grown up and is tapping into other genres, propelling this disc to the top of my list. From the snickers he induces with the star-crossed subjects of “Shabop Shalom” to the Doors grandeur of “Seahorse” to the honest laments of “Bad Girl” and “My Dearest Friend,” Banhart proves he doesn't have to be such a fragile drama queen to offer music without any dull moments.
The dance beats sizzle with grit. The bass alone could knock down concrete. This French duo won the race for 2007 club anthems hands down, using meaty hooks, sci-fi effects, and an affinity for making every track on nothing less than epic.
Black Lips, Good Bad Not Evil
I'll always be a garage-rock gal at my core, in part because it's a subset of rock 'n' roll that retains a hearty sense of adolescent humor. Black Lips mix the sass (“O, Katrina!”, “How Do You Tell a Child”) with the grass (“Bad Kids”) for a record that shows these boys tightening their songwriting skills as they loosen up punk-rock rigidity.
Caribou, Andorra; Miracle Fortress, Five Roses; Panda Bear, Person Pitch
These breezy bedroom-pop discs twirl upbeat melodies like pinwheels. Any of these three artists offers the cure for a gloomy afternoon, with multiple layers of electronic instrumentation glowing in warm harmony. Of this list, Panda Bear is the most experimental: His walls of sound involve human hums and the meditative rolls of a skateboard. As a solo act, Panda Bear outshines the most recent collective work of his other project, Animal Collective.
Cheeky Britpop made by a trio of Scots. The songs are compact and punchy, punctuated by droll puns and exuberant energy. Brazen lines like “My cult status keeps me fucking your wife” are trashy as they are catchy.
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Years back this band made my year-end list for putting on the most uneventful live shows. But guess what? The Austin group wrote an impeccable album that's anything but staid. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga you hear bits of Thin Lizzy lite and the balls Spoon had yet to grow (“Don't Make Me a Target” and “The Underdog” intelligently put haters on guard). The astute double entendres keep fans on Spoon's payroll, and the horn sections seal the fun into their deal.
Beirut, The Flying Club Cup
Beirut is precious, precocious, and totally on point. The Flying Club Cup sounds like a bunch of kids from the music academy celebrating spring's arrival with eclectic instrumentation from the band room. The songs here soar with ringleader Zach Condon's trembling, drama-major vocals.
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Two years after “Losing My Edge” did just that, LCD Soundsystem came back with an album that didn't wield irony as such a blunt instrument. Even the sound of James Murphy's chin scratching is infectious: “Someone Great” is a moody ditty about a relationship's demise; “All My Friends” celebrates growing wiser without being a wiseass; and “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” is 2007's cleverest ballad — a love song to a city that's bulldozed its skid-row charm.
Alicia Keys, As I Am
Compared with other pop divas, Alicia Keys possesses skills, personality, and class in spades. The singer and pianist doesn't waste her breath belting out banalities about body parts; instead, she charms her lovers (“No One”) and channels Prince (“Like You'll Never See Me Again”).
Elliott Smith, New Moon
This posthumous record cracked my heart into a million pieces on the first listen. New Moon captures Elliott Smith from such a prolific era — the mid-'90s, when the songwriter's vocals carried both a grim chill and a chance for things to get better. The spare recordings collected here carry the weight of fragile and doomed relationships. (A perfect example from “Half Right”: “Would you say that the one of your dreams, got in you and ripped out your seams?”)
Cryptogram's “Spring Hall Convert” is an instant nitrous hit, beginning with the sound of a deep inhalation and blooming into a deliciously hazy post-punk cloud that turns your insides into candy. I kept this song on repeat for an hour straight the other afternoon, addicted to the way the distorted vocals and coasting melodies melt into such a damn sexy single.
If Miami Vice were soundtracked by a French band schooled in Brian Eno and Hawkwind, you might have something like A. This is to say the disc is both stylish and psychedelic. In an ideal world, proof of purchase would entitle each listener to a live Turzi performance in a planetarium with a master laser-light technician.