The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

The Best Albums & Singles of 2007


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When it rains, it pours. Rihanna’s third album in just over two years spawned her biggest hit to date, the ubiquitous “Umbrella,” a track that eschews the typically materialistic tone of so many of today’s popular hits and which was our indisputable pick for Single of the Year in a very strong year—so strong, in fact, that we’ve included 50. The year may not have been quite the hip-hop wasteland that 2006 was, but the genre’s biggest commercial successes were still, by and large, artistic dead-ends; a handful of late-year releases, including albums from Jay-Z and Ghostface Killah, partly made up for the likes of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Ayo Technology,” but it’s Aesop Rock’s much lower profile None Shall Pass that stands as the year’s most compelling hip-hop record. Over in the country world, we think Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is simply the finest album that Music Row has produced so far this decade, both a triumph of genre form and an example of how awareness of self and craft can be used to earn the label of “artist.” It’s Patrick Wolf, however, who earns our pick for Album of the Year for following two impressive records with one that’s even more extraordinary. Of all this year’s revelations, though, the biggest was that Hilary Duff is capable of recording a halfway decent album—but no, it didn’t make our list. Nor did Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, or Colbie Caillat, three artists who owe their success almost entirely to that little pedophile playland Tom calls MySpace, which has officially joined iTunes in becoming a bona fide hit-maker. Sal Cinquemani


The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

1. Patrick Wolf, The Magic Position

As David Bowie, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos taught us, genius often comes wrapped up in a little indulgent kook. Those and other artists also taught us that evolving is essential to personal, professional, and creative survival, and The Magic Position is a decisive move away from both the avant-garde indie-rock of Patrick Wolf’s debut and the slightly more accessible but still dour Wind in the Wires. The first words on the album, “It’s wonderful what a smile can hide,” might sound cynical, but Wolf goes on to ask “Don’t you think it’s time?” with all the wide-eyed optimism of someone ready to embark on life for the very first time. Right down to its cover art and title, The Magic Position is a blistering, unabashedly gay pop record. Sal Cinquemani

2. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

From the economy of her language and her willingness to toy with rhyme and meter to emphasize a point to her use of first-person details in spinning fictions that blur the line between private life and public persona, Miranda Lambert just gets it. And it’s in that regard that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend positions her as an ascendant genre legend. The depth at which her carefully, purposefully constructed package are inseparable from the content of her songs draws legitimate parallels to the likes of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, even when the album suggests that Lambert has yet to hit her peak. Jonathan Keefe

3. The Pierces, Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge

The mythology concocted for the Pierces—a tale of kidnappings, gypsy dance troupes, narrow escapes, business suit-clad villains, and a knight in shining armor—would make for a fancy Tim Burton movie. Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge is the sound of a pair of sisters who have been exposed to a wide spectrum of musical styles and cultures—gypsy music, if you will. From pulsing new wave/disco to subtle country twang, it’s a sound that fits perfectly within the booming indie template of 2007. Cinquemani

4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

She looks like Polly Jean Harvey and sounds like Shirley Bassey, and her repertoire is comprised of songs like “Fuck Me Pumps” and “Rehab.” So it’s only fitting that Amy Winehouse’s rowdy public behavior would cause about as much of a stir in the tabloids as her music has among tastemakers. Back to Black evokes Stax artists like Carla Thomas, but Wino isn’t just a crafty revisionist; her edgy language and double entendres give her retro shtick a modern twist. Cinquemani

5. St. Vincent, Marry Me

St. Vincent’s Marry Me includes songs influenced by an Extraordinary Machine-like array of traditional genres, but it’s Annie Clark’s timely lyrical ideas—about war and revolution, love, fear, and faith—that linger long after the disc has ended, and her understanding of philosophy is just as well-versed as her musical prowess. Clark takes the bibilical and literary parables that have been long engrained in our culture and regards them through her unique and distinctly modern perspective. Marry Me isn’t quite a religious experience, but it’s unequivocally divine. Cinquemani

6. John Vanderslice, Emerald City

It’s the way John Vanderslice subsumes narrative voice into a structural framework characterized by its neuroses and self-isolation that puts his work somewhat at odds with so many singer-songwriters who mine well-worn confessional tropes and gives his songwriting a kind of critical fecundity that’s exceedingly rare and fascinating. But it’s the fact that he’s scaled back his ever-meticulous production and transferred his narrators’ twitchy, nervous energy into arrangements that actually rock out a little that makes Emerald City perhaps his most accessible work, even as his songs demand and reward heavier lifting. Keefe

7. PJ Harvey, White Chalk

And I quote: “In the context of PJ Harvey’s older material, the new songs [don’t] seem monotonous or academic at all. Quite the opposite, in fact: They’re meditative and precise, like something from an antique music box, but also primal and instinctive.” I think we can all agree that context is crucial with Harvey, but it’s no real surprise that White Chalk’s stark minimalist arrangements make for divisive work, even if it fits comfortably within her aesthetic of blues formalism. Keefe

8. Kristin Hersh, Learn to Sing Like a Star

Kristin Hersh has always been public about her struggle with mental illness, and her music—her starkly personal solo work, in particular—captures the often mad angst of adolescence. As a full-fledged adult, Hersh continues to forage her “fundamentally off” brain for poetic content on her seventh album, Learn to Sing Like a Star, which falls somewhere in between her typically spare acoustic solo outings and her harder-edged work with Throwing Muses. It’s her most coherent, consistently listenable record since Hips and Makers. Cinquemani

9. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

There’s just something about Animal Collective that’s off-putting at album length even when they’re making their most ingratiating indie-pop. But Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox), everyone’s favorite endangered species and Animal Collectivist, masters problems of scope on the sprawling Person Pitch, his second solo effort. The album’s de facto mission statement comes early, when Lennox sings, “Try to remember always/Always to have a good time” on standout single “Comfy in Nautica,” and the rest of Person Pitch goes out of its way to make sure everyone does just that. Keefe