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Top 20 Albums of 2007

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10. New Buffalo 'Somewhere, Anywhere'

New Buffalo 'Somewhere, Anywhere'
Arts & Crafts
Sally Seltmann gained more recognition this year as the songwriter who gifted Feist her irrepressible “1234,” than she did for releasing her own LP. But being known for giving-away runs counter to her musical persona. The Melburnian songstress composes sweet, sad-hearted, perfectly-penned pop-songs that exist in a perpetually vulnerable state, from their frail emotional tenor to the starlet's tentative singing voice. Even if Somewhere, Anywhere moves on from the confessional convalescence of her luminous debut, 2004's The Last Beautiful Day, its narrative tales are impossibly personal; Seltmann playing each tune so tenderly it sounds as if she's almost hesitant to share them. For her, it seems, parting with a song brings such sweet sorrow.
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9. Feist 'The Reminder'

Feist 'The Reminder'
Arts & Crafts
When you start a year best known as a sometime Broken Social Scenester, and finish it sporting multiple Grammy nominations, you'd have to say it was a good one. Canadian songbird Leslie Feist became, at the tender of age of 31, pop-music's '07 'it' girl, selling millions and charming legions. But, beneath all the unit-shifting statistics still beats the heart of an indie album; The Reminder's accidental success born from a tender celebration of shared melody. Not only do the disc's more commercial(ly)-friendly numbers stay far away from over-glossed corporate-radio sheen, but hushed ballads “The Park” and “Intuition” are stark naked demos. Constantly reminding listeners of its heroine's faults, The Reminder finds strength in imperfection.
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8. Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors'

Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors'
Constellation
Sandro Perri spent years, as Polmo Polpo, making instrumental music. Now that he's found his voice, he should be fined if he ever makes another album sans singing. In debt to Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley, Skip Spence and Skip James, Perri's solo LP evokes singer-songwriters from before a time when “singer-songwriter” was an epithet; showcasing a honeyed voice, lyrical charms, wooded instrumentation, and glowing arrangements. To merely listen to Tiny Mirrors feels like a romantic undertaking; Perri's (photo) album a flickering showreel of precious memories, summoning that happy/sad feeling of remembering in every loss-tinged love-song. It's a record steeped in the sadness of time passing, a record beautiful in complex, unexpected ways.
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7. Sunset Rundown 'Random Spirit Lover'

Sunset Rundown 'Random Spirit Lover'
Jagjaguwar
If anybody could've conceivably still considered Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown a “Wolf Parade side-project” after 2006's mighty Shut Up I Am Dreaming, then Random Spirit Lover was the silencer. Going way beyond where his other, more-famous outfit would ever dare, Krug's third Sunset Rubdown LP is ambition laid upon ambition; a mad tangle of off-kilter guitars and smashed keyboards in which he eagerly slathers on idea after idea. Such musical complexity is matched by Krug's literary lyricism, which —via verses like “think of the scene where a washed-up actor/wipes the make-up off his wife and says/‘morticians must’ve took you for a whore’”— summons a theatrical world in which every word or deed, on stage or off, is a performance.
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6. Of Montreal 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?'

Of Montreal 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?'
Polyvinyl

Of Montreal were once the twee-est jamboree in Elephant 6's prized patch of retrophonic flower-children. 11 years and eight albums in, Kevin Barnes has shelved the old-timey imagery and archaic idioms, radically rewriting Of Montreal as tense electro-funk outfit rife with simmering sexual tension. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? is the band's landmark longplayer, a colossal epic in which Barnes ditches the fanciful and whimsical for the hysterical and confessional. Its centerpiece, the krautrock-ish 12-minute workout “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal,” finds him rambling in free-association, his ever-increasing agitation making it seem like so much psychotherapy. It's neurosis on the dancefloor, and Barnes dares not kill the groove.

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5. Dirty Projectors 'Rise Above'

Dirty Projectors 'Rise Above'
Dead Oceans

Dave Longstreth had been making criminally-ignored, conceptually-amazing, continually-adventurous albums for years, but the Grizzly Bear-produced Rise Above was the one to, finally, put D-Lo and his Dirty Projectors on the map. Its calling card was a quirky conceptual bent: Longstreth deciding to “reimagine” Black Flag's 1981 punk benchmark Damaged as it existed in his memory. Which was, apparently, tangled up beyond recognition; the original four-to-the-floor screamers lost in an art-school cacophony of highlife guitar licks, modern-classical vocal cascades, and math-rock meters. An exuberant belter ever since his early days, Longstreth rises to the fore with his crazy croon, ably aided by his newfound guitar/vocal foil, Amber Coffman.

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4. Celebration 'The Modern Tribe'

Celebration 'The Modern Tribe'
4AD
Baltimore's amazing Celebration have been dubbed “the greatest band in the world” by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek. Of course, given he's produced both Celebration LPs, he's hearing them with jaundiced ears. Good thing I can objectively say: The Modern Tribe is '07's most thrilling, soulful, scandalously-unloved rock record. The stripped-down trio make the scant sound mighty: David Bergander's nimble-limb'd percussion all tumbling-over, propulsive momentum; Sean Antanaitis' fevered organ stabs eerily delirious; Katrina Ford's untamed caterwauling pirouetting in and around these insistent rhythms. It's dance music for the out-of-step; a party lighting up the shadows; a celebration of living through dark times. It is, indeed, undoubtably great.
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3. Meg Baird 'Dear Companion'

Meg Baird 'Dear Companion'
Drag City
Amidst these grandstanding, radical, feelgood pop epics, Meg Baird’s Dear Companion may seem a slight prospect: a solo debut for one of the ladies of Philadelphian acid-folk outfit Espers, recorded in less than 24 hours by one of her bandmates, made up mostly of folk standards. Yet, one listen to Baird's rendition of “Willie O'Winsbury” will have any freak folk fan crying salty tears into their lusty beard. Baird performs with a purity reminiscent of folk-revival heroine Anne Briggs, her fingerpick’d guitar and honeycomb voice of such uncontrived, near naïve beauty that her songs seem truthful, transcendent. Whilst less acclaimed than others here, Dear Companion is the most perfectly-formed disc on this list.
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2. Panda Bear 'Person Pitch'

Panda Bear 'Person Pitch'
Paw Tracks
Panda Bear's second record, 2004's sparse Young Prayer, was shocking in its intimacy: one long poem whispered into the ear of a dying father. Three years on, with father gone, and new wife and child by his side, Sweet Panda wanted to shed that heaviness, and just feel the joy. Borrowing from the Beach Boys and Basic Channel techno records, the two-years-in-the-making Person Pitch heaves with these good vibrations, exemplified by “Comfy In Nautica”’s exhorted chorus: “try to remember, always/always to have a good time.” Yet, it's more complex than a mere good time: bursting with happiness yet tinged with sorrow, immediately accessible yet distant and mysterious, gloriously summery yet sounding like a soft, slow snowfall. It's incredible.
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1. Animal Collective 'Strawberry Jam'

Animal Collective 'Strawberry Jam'
Domino
For all the praise heaped upon 2004’s Sung Tongs, it seems slight in retrospect; the hesitant promise to Strawberry Jam's thrilling delivery. It's the logical conclusion of Animal Collective's evolution from insular, mumbling ensemble, lost in daydreams and scattered sounds, to crack combo in full voice, functioning at fever pitch. Logic is, of course, the least of its qualities; the record finding the band projecting their sense of shared joyousness outwards, a communion of screeching voices and delirious percussion bordering on shamanist ritual. It's musical futurism with a tribal heart, pop gone gonzo, a disc as big and crazy and amazing as life itself. Strawberry Jam is Animal Collective's valentine to the sheer joy of being alive.
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