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voices, pleasures, crimes, and reminders: the best albums of 2007 (30-21)
The slow unveiling continues; it is, of course, imperative that you read parts one and two of my top 50 before soldiering on. Now that you have, of course, we're in business.
30. "Version," Mark Ronson.
The producer at least partially responsible for the Stateside success of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse has his two British sirens in tow for his second solo album, but they're nowhere near crucial to the success of the project; coating Brit hits of the 90s and 00s in the thunderous clap of dance music and the brassy horns of Motown, Ronson crafts what sounds like it should be the most idiosyncratic, quirkiest covers record of the year. As it turns out, it's just awesome; thoroughly accessible and appropriately sunny, it's quite possibly the block-party record of the year. Remarkably infectious.
29. "The Reminder," Feist.
Speaking of infectious, 2007 was the year of indie darling Leslie Feist's transformation into commercial darling and pop princess; you could cut the snobbery with the knife were the source of Feist's morphing, the Reminder, not so damned wonderful. I don't suppose it's really complimentary to dub an artist "indie music that your parents will love", but I can't imagine any age out of "1234"'s considerable reach, or any head hesitant to bob to "I Feel it All". An exemplary album, bursting at the seams with memorable melodies and potential singles.
28. "Untrue," Burial.
Untrue was another of those records in 2007 that---much like The Field's From Here We Go Sublime---inspired devotion from pretentious reviewing websites and those who read them, and that's about it. I'm kind of surprised that critics reacted to Burial so passionately: it's not passionate music in the traditional sense, nor is it necessarily a "grower". Instead, the UK dubstep producer's mini-opus is potent but subtle, warm but ghostly, one of the best mood records of the year.
27. "The Scene of the Crime," Bettye Lavette.
Bettye Lavette's first post-comeback album, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, was undoubtedly a great set of songs, rising to collective consciousness through word-of-mouth and punk label Anti's backing; the Scene of the Crime supplies her with her own personal crackerjack backing band (an insanely soulful Drive-By Truckers) and an even better set of tunes. The results are fiery, personal, and deeply moving; witness the simmering groove of "the Last Time" or the devastating "Talking Old Soldiers" to sample the depth of Lavette's soul and versatility.
26. "Little Voice," Sara Bareilles.
I suppose it would be a bit reductive to spell out to everyone that the title to Sara's breakthrough album is meant entirely in jest, kind of the way that Robin Hood's sidekick was called Little John because that was one big bastard. Likewise is Sara's voice, a brassy, forceful belt that never sounds overcooked selling her own special brand of piano-pop. Norah Jones it ain't---Ben Folds with softer edges, perhaps?---nor is it particularly daring, artistically, but it's infectious, satisfying, and of superior acumen to her contemporaries, making the adorable Sara the thinking-boy's music crush since Jenny Lewis stopped making awesome records.
25. "New Wave," Against Me!
On paper, there's really very little appealing about semi-vet punk act Against Me!; complete with cutesy exclamation point in moniker, their lyrics are so literal, explaining every little aspect of the gem at hand with such awkward-looking thoroughness one could mistake the band for the rock equivalent of Dane Cook. But after spinning the record, the truth becomes abundantly clear: Against Me!, like an overambitious rapper, manages to squeeze all those words into something sublimely tight and catchy, and with a vocal/musical panache all their own. One of the most braid-tight records of the year, streamlined and shiny, with nary a wasted moment.
24. "Challengers," the New Pornographers.
There are those that would label the new New Pornos record a "grower"---in rock-critic speak, a record that doesn't really sound that good, but you can stomach once you get used to it---but just because the world's preeminent indie power-pop collective has embraced the lost art of subtlety doesn't mean their craft has in any way dulled. Challengers still sounds great from note one---and just in case it makes you pine for the New Pornos of old, there's songs like "Mutiny, I Promise You", still boasting all the bells and whistles and doodles of Electric Version. Which means there's something for everybody, and give the kids a damn break already.
23. "Pride," Phosphorescent.
Steady word-of-mouth thrust this record onto the musical radar; or, more accurately, the record kind of shuffled its way unassumingly into consciousness. As one of the best campfire records of the year, Pride sounds entirely intimate, but not in the Iron & Wine sense of words being whispered into your ear, or in the Damien Rice sense of a depressed soul baring more than you'd ever hoped. Nope, Pride is gorgeous, folksy, decorated with the kumbaya hum of overlapping voices. It's like the Harvest of 2007 in that way.
22. "Our Earthly Pleasures," Maximo Park.
Maximo Park don't embrace subtlety, really, but they _do_ do new wave really well. Good pop-rock, well-oiled, screws tightened, smartly executed---that's the niche that the MP boys shoot for, and they hit pretty much every time. Increasingly, I'm being drawn to albums simply willing to hit all the pleasure centers. That, and "Our Velocity" is one of the best singles in ages, a sentiment I've pimped elsewhere.
21. "Night Falls Over Kortedala," Jens Lekman.
Speaking of pleasure centers, Jens Lekman understands more than most about how to tap this particular vein; his albums are typically full of pleasant melodies and pretty music cut-and-pastes. Nights Falls Over Kortedala does this more than most, awash in disco strings and pretty chord progressions, all strung across Mr. Lekman's funny, ironic stories and pleasing baritone. Purely enjoyable.
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