Favorite edition 2007: Quarter final

If there’s anything interesting hitting stores in December, I’m deferring it for the Favorite Edition list of 2008. I’ve settled on my favorite 10 albums of the year.

For me personally, 2007 is the year classical music exerted its strongest influence in a long time. When I was in college, I had a healthy diet of classical music since it was part of my curriculum. After college, classical was sidelined by indie rock and Japanese music.

In the past, my disposable income — what little there was and is — determined how I prioritized my listening habits. I could only listen to what I could buy, and I wanted to make sure those purchases mattered. Then the one-two punch of digital audio and the Internet made music extremely portable, and the barrier to access was lowered dramatically.

So I’ve made room for a lot of catalog, music I didn’t get a chance to check out at the time it was released. And classical — I could finally play catch up with all the pieces I’ve been meaning to listen to.

Of course, too much choice makes the bell curve of appeal all that more severe. In other words, things that get my attention have to be really good to emerge from all the ways I can get music. It’s almost to the point where 10 spots is actually too many.

And now the list:

  1. Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone Explosions in the Sky went back to the rougher performances of its second album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, but the band also maintained the architecture that held The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place together. There’s a real sense of direction on All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, bolstered by some of the most passionate playing Explosions in the Sky has set on record.
  2. UA, Golden green UA spent the first half of the past decade on a wildly experimental trip, and her return to pop music doesn’t trade in any of that adventurousness.
  3. Björk, Volta Björk, too, spent the last few years experimenting, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Volta brings back the beats missing from the last two albums and with them the hit appeal of her idiomatic work.
  4. unkie, the Price of Fame This album rocks hard.
  5. Nico Muhly, Speaks Volumes This album may be filed in the classical section, but it sounds fairly indie rock to me. Muhly has worked with Antony and the Johnsons and Björk, so it’s incredibly easy to hear his imprint on their music. If forced to make a comparison, I’d say Speaks Volumes is the album Björk has been trying to make for the last six years.
  6. Once, Music from the Motion Picture My favorite film of the year, which isn’t saying much since I don’t watch very many movies.
  7. Smashing Pumpkins, Zeitgeist I went into Zeitgeist thinking I’d have fodder for ridicule, and Billy Corgan shut me the hell up. I only wish the Pumpkins were this hard and focused when they were at their peak. I tend to compare all of the Pumpkins’ albums to Gish, but this time, it feels like apples and oranges.
  8. Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars Poses and Want One are probably better albums, but "Going to a Town" is hard to resist.
  9. Sasagawa Miwa, Mayoi Naku Sasami is a specialist in the introspective ballad, so it’s nice to see her emerging from the shell of the soft song to record her strongest, loudest album so far.
  10. Tokyo Jihen, Goraku (Variety) Shiina Ringo stepped back and let her bandmates handle the songwriting for this album, and Goraku (Variety) does deliver on its title. The guys may not have the melodic knack of their frontwoman, but letting them chip in was vital in establishing Tokyo Jihen as its own entity and not just another aspect of Ringo, Inc.

The albums that didn’t quite make it into the favorite 10:

  • Tommy heavenly6, Heavy Starry Heavenly I just dig the fact Tommy heavenly6 is far more commercial than the brilliant green but many times harder.
  • Chara, Union I’m more of a fan of her singles than her albums, but this one caught my attention.
  • Ore wa Konna Mon Ja Nai, 2 Like unkie, it’s improvisatory indie rock but edging much closer to jazz.
  • Voxtrot, Voxtrot Sometimes, I’m glad I live in Austin.
  • Synapse/Elliott Cole, The Oracle Hysterical I have to give mad props to a hip-hop project that can tame the rhythms of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Best part? Free!
  • Stephen Sondheim, Company (2006 Cast Recording) This musical may have been written in 1970, but it’s prescient today. Also, Raùl Esparza? TEH HOT.
  • Hem, Home Again, Home Again I don’t care how sappy those Liberty Mutual commercials are — I love me the Hem. The last album could have afforded the kind of clarity of this EP.

Favorite catalog discoveries of 2007:

  • Uncle Tupelo, No Depression More of a rediscovery, since I owned this album before.
  • Throwing Muses, House Tornado I didn’t get Kristen Hersh’s songwriting when I was in high school, but today, it speaks to me.
  • Levi Kreis, One of the Ones Yep. I’m gay.
  • Steve Reich, Phases Music for 18 Musicians, Different Trains, Come Out and Drumming all for the low, low price of $40! And that’s not all …
  • Camper Van Beethoven, Telephone Free Landslide Victory Take the skinheads bowling, take them bowling!
  • Grizzly Bear, Horn of Plenty I like it more than Yellow House.

Favorite individual tracks of 2007:

  • Tokyo Jihen, "OSCA" "Asu kara mou yodooshi de doushite irareyou ka …" When you hear it, you’ll understand the italics.
  • Rufus Wainwright, "Going to a Town" I’m so tired of America as well, hon.
  • Kronos Quartet, "Flugufrelsarinn" Please may I have a CD release?
  • Jonathan Mendelsohn and Wamdue Project, "Forgiveness" Music with a Twist’s Revolutions compilation could have been better, but this track is strong enough to make me wonder when Mendelsohn will ever get signed.
  • Levi Kreis, "I Should Go" Yeah. I’m totally gay.

Favorite music book of 2007 (well, there’s only one):

  • Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise I can guarantee as you read through this engaging history of 20th Century classical music, you’ll be firing up your digital music vendor of choice and grabbing whatever Ross mentions.

And since I’m making a big deal of classical music this year, some pieces I finally managed to listen to (I’m not specifying performers because that’s a level of subjectivity I don’t want to get into):

  • Jean Sibelius, Tapiola I love what the strings do at the end.
  • Béla Bartók, all six string quartets Listen in conjunction with the 15 quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich.
  • Györgi Ligeti, String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 Very Bartókian.
  • Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians A terrible omission from my Reich listening history, yes, but finally rectified in 2007.
  • Anton Webern, Complete Works for String Quartet (Artis Quartett Wein) OK, there isn’t really a single work from this disc that grabbed me more than others — although I’m very familiar with the Six Bagatelles — but I liked finally hearing more from Webern.

At some point, I’m going to have to explore works from before 1900.