Despite increasingly miserable mainstream hits (how can the radio get any worse?), 2007 was an excellent, indulgent, fulfilling year of music. Great music came from record labels big and small and across numerous genres. We’ve gathered some of our favorite releases of 2007 and presented them in alphabetical order.
Bad Brains: Build a Nation
With the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch on board as producer, these DC hardcore legends returned to the studio, for the first time in over a decade, to recapture their successful punk and reggae blend.
Reminiscent of their seminal early ‘80s records, Build A Nation opens with “Give Thanks and Praises,” which moves back and forth between head-banging and frantic hardcore riffs. “Jah People Make the World Go Round” keeps true to the original hardcore format (which they helped create) with fast verses — made more intimidating with Yauch’s bass-line production — and breakdown choruses. Several relaxed reggae tracks give the album a unique pacing.
Big Business: Here Come the Waterworks
After completing (A) Senile Animal with their other band, the Melvins, and finishing an exhaustive touring schedule including double sets every night, this Los Angeles duo released one of the year’s earliest masterpieces.
Taking cues from Queen, singer/bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis created a hard-rock epic. The journey begins with the tremendous “Just as the Day Was Dawning,” ends with the sludgey instrumental “Another Beautiful Day in the Pacific Northwest,” and pummels listeners with swampy, energetic bass riffs and explosive drum beats every step of the way.
Produced by Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Built to Spill), Here Come the Waterworks is a heavy hitter.
Hydra Head: www.hydrahead.com
Brother Ali: The Undisputed Truth
A powerfully crafted album, The Undisputed Truth is the year’s best hip-hop release. There were other solid efforts (I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by El-P) and a plethora of great singles, but The Undisputed Truth deals with, in great balance, the three elements of angst-fueled music: righteous and rebellious lyrics, the inducement of fist pumping, hand throwing, and head banging, and enormous egos that carefully bob from insecure to forcefully inflated.
The album opens with a thumping beat on “Watcha Got,” and the opening lyrics “I came in the door, 1984” are likely to become this generation’s “bring the motherfucking ruckus” as rapped on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring Da Ruckus.”
Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All from Somewhere Else
The inaugural Exploding Star Orchestra album is the brainchild of Rob Mazurek, a tireless composer/cornetist/collaborator and the man behind Thrill Jockey’s Chicago Underground collective. With a stellar ensemble, his work on We Are All from Somewhere Else is a dense, serpentine concoction of cross-metered jazz.
Looping rhythms, typically played by upright bass, vibraphone, and brass or woodwind instruments, set the foundation for runs and improvisations by Mazurek and the other players on trombone, saxophone, flute, clarinet, and piano. At times, the album is evocative of composer Leonard Bernstein’s work. Its compounded melodies and droning roots make We Are All from Somewhere Else one of the year’s finest albums.
Thrill Jockey: www.thrilljockey.com
A side project for Nick Cave and Bad Seeds members Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey, and Jim Sclavunos found the foursome embracing rock ’n’ roll at its rawest, resulting in an album akin to The Stooges or Cave’s The Birthday Party without being merely a revival act.
Whether crooning or screaming, even at age fifty, the sound of Cave’s voice is enough to inspire listeners to do naughty things with the one they love, or at least the one they lust. The snarling “No Pussy Blues,” with Ellis’ wild psychedelic guitar fills, is infectious and unforgettable.
Fun and intelligent rockers such as “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)” and “Depth Charge Ethel” are balanced by the more subdued “Man in the Moon” and silky “Electric Alice.” Hopefully, the success of Grinderman’s debut will lead to a follow-up in the not-so-distant future.