An eclectic mix again this year, encompassing rock, alternative, Americana, jazz, classical, and the avant-garde...
13. Daniel Bernard Roumain: Etudes 4 Violin & Electronix
Classical music meets world music meets trance/electronica in this genre-bending sonic hybrid from a highly creative Haitian-American violinist and composer. Features guest performances from Philip Glass (always at the cutting edge).
12. Beastie Boys: The Mix-Up
I don’t like rap or hip-hop, so I’ve always admired the boys (who are now in their 40’s) more for their activism and their Buddhism than for their music. This album, though, is all instrumental, and it’s an entrancing mix of jam-rock, jazz, and electric funk.
11. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
The name of the title track comes from the “other” novel written by John Kennedy Toole (author of A Confederacy of Dunces
), and this album, like Toole’s writing, is moody and brilliant. The band’s sound is sometimes described as “chamberpop.” At times this disc is a Springsteenish rock album, but then the band brings in elements like an Eastern European orchestra, pipe organ, hurdy gurdy, and a military choir. Favorite track: “Antichrist Television Blues.”
10. Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
Violin-infused alternative pop combining great music with highly creative lyrics that manage to be both whimsical and deep. How can you not like an album with song titles like “Imitosis,” “Heretics” (my favorite song on the album), and “Yawny at the Apocalypse”?
9. Golijov: Oceana, Tenebrae, Three Songs
Three diverse works by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov: Oceana
, a Latin and jazz infused work for orchestra, three guitars, harp, and voice; Tenebrae
, a haunting chamber piece performed beautifully by the Kronos Quartet; and Three Songs
, sung movingly by Dawn Upshaw with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
8. Ben Lee: Ripe
Catchy, high-energy alt-pop from a creative young Australian singer/songwriter. Favorite track: “Love Me Like the World is Ending.”
7. David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground
Sax-based jazz featuring long instrumental jams as well as two poems by Ishmael Reed, set to music and sung in appropriately sultry style by Cassandra Wilson. David Murray’s music is both contemporary – at times avant-garde – and solidly rooted in classic bebop jazz. Great music for postmodern beatniks.
6. Stile Antico: Music for Compline
A beautiful recording of liturgical choral works composed by Renaissance-era composers including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and John Sheppard, performed by a young British ensemble working cooperatively without a conductor. I first heard Stile Antico on NPR and fell in love with their sound, which is both intimate and transcendent.
5. The White Stripes: Icky Thump
I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by Jack and Meg White, but I am. Their music on “Icky Thump” (bad title for a great album) is energetic and infectious, whether they’re singing a bluesy rock song or a more acoustic ballad – or a psychedelic bagpipe prayer/poem like “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)”: “I’m moving backwards in ecstasy/Where are the angels?/I'm not in my home...”
One of our greatest singer/songwriters has moved from Nashville to New York’s Greenwich Village, and the move has served him well. He’s still just as musically vibrant and politically committed, but he’s a lot less angry. Alternative folk/blues/Americana at its very best.
3. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky
A truly great album at times reminiscent of John Lennon, at times the Eagles, at times the Grateful Dead (“Shake it Off”). Sky Blue Sky
has been nominated for Best Rock Album at the upcoming Grammys, and it definitely deserves the award.
Less experimental than the previous A Collision (and its acoustic follow-up B Collision), this is a great Christian praise album that is musically creative and joyful, and lyrically very inspiring and uplifting. Features guest guitar riffs by Ted Nugent, but don’t let that keep you from checking out this disc, the best Christian album of 2007. Best tracks: the very moving “Remedy” and the highly danceable “Can You Feel It.”
1. Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
My favorite CD of the year, this is an Americana-infused album of alternative pop-rock inspired by Cassadaga, Florida, a town known for its high concentration of psychics and “certified mediums” (who does the certifying? and shouldn’t that be “media”?). My favorite lines from the album: “I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
with a post-modern author who didn’t exist” – and “She went to see a mystic who made medicine from rain.”