From Wilco to M.I.A.: Will Hermes' Top Ten CDs for 2007

Writer and reviewer Will Hermes shares his favorite albums of the past year. Hermes is a frequent contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and writes for Spin magazine, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. He's also the co-editor of 'Spin: 20 Years of Alternative Music.'

More 2007 Top Tens From:

Bob Boilen, Tom Moon, Robin Hilton, Meredith Ochs

Listener Picks for 2007

From Wilco to M.I.A.: Will Hermes' Top Ten CDs for 2007

Cover for Sky Blue Sky

10.

  • Artist: Wilco
  • Album: Sky Blue Sky
  • Song: Hate It Here

One of a few releases by high-profile rockers (including Radiohead and PJ Harvey) who decided to quiet down their sound in 2007. Some high strung fans have balked, but Wilco---including hotshot guitarist Nels Cline, who helps conjure both the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan here---made a strong, deceptively pretty, acoustic-rock pastorale here. Is its haunted spirit informed by leader Jeff Tweedy’s rehab of a while back? Maybe. But hey, we all need a little therapy now and then.

Song: "Hate it Here"

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  • "Hate It Here"
  • Album: Sky Blue Sky
  • Artist: Wilco
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2007
 
Cover for Sound of Silver

09.

  • Artist: LCD Soundsystem
  • Album: Sound of Silver
  • Song: North American Scum

While Justice made great electronic music by cribbing from rock this year, James Murphy made great rock by cribbing from electronic music. Plus, his songs had a lot on their minds. “North American Scum” is a hilariously self-hating anthem for the Bush era, and “All My Friends” is a surprisingly poignant song about aging in the music scene. Extra credit for his disco mix/jogging soundtrack/John Cage tribute single “45:33”

Song: "North American Scum"

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  • "North American Scum"
  • Album: Sound of Silver
  • Artist: LCD Soundsystem
 
Cover for Reminder

08.

  • Artist: Feist
  • Album: Reminder
  • Song: I Feel It All

I don’t begrudge Leslie Feist her ad-driven fame; I mean, I was playing “1, 2, 3, 4” almost daily before that Apple commercial made everyone OD on it. But melodic charm, witty arrangements, and seductive delivery inform this entire set, from the homemade ‘80s radio rock of “I Feel It All” (which gets my vote for sexiest first verse of 2007) to the woozy cocktail metaphors of “Brandy Alexander” to the spunky, Nina Simone-inspired “Sealion.” She’s Norah Jones with a shot of odd---a perfect recipe.

Song: "I Feel it All"

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  • "I Feel It All"
  • Album: The Reminder
  • Artist: Feist
  • Label: Polydor
  • Released: 2007
 
Cover for Person Pitch

07.

  • Artist: Panda Bear
  • Album: Person Pitch
  • Song: Bros

If Brian Wilson had devoted himself to producing abstract psychedelia post-Pet Sounds, it might sound something like this collection by the man otherwise known as Noah Lennox. It’s as much sound-environment as song-set, with thick Van-Gogh-ish swirls of choral vocals, bells, school-yard melodies, and unearthly sound effects. Lennox’s band, Animal Collective, also made a very good record this year; let’s hope his partners aren’t peeved that he one-upped them.

Song: "Bros"

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  • "Bros"
  • Album: Person Pitch
  • Artist: Panda Bear
  • Label: Paw Tracks
  • Released: 2007
 
cover for untrue

06.

  • Artist: Burial
  • Album: Untrue
  • Song: Ghost Hardware

The second collection by this mysteriously-monikered South London producer combines floor-rattling dub bass pulses and sputtering drum programs with soul diva fragments that seep in to the mix like they’re being sung in a shower stall by the girl next door. The music is spooky and mystical and strangely soothing---especially considering that one of the guy’s primary musical influences is the sound of the motion tracker in Aliens.

Song: "Ghost Hardware"

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  • "Ghost Hardware"
  • Album: Untrue
  • Artist: Burial
  • Label: Hyperdub
  • Released: 2007
 
Cover for Shepherd's Dog

05.

  • Artist: Iron & Wine
  • Album: Shepherd's Dog
  • Song: Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car

With some help from the versatile members of Calexico (who also enhanced the great soundtrack to I’m Not There), Sam Beam’s hushed folk-art blossoms here into gently psychedelic country-rock that isn’t afraid to up the volume a bit or color its arrangements with noise. The lyrics---abstract impressions of love and war in a pious and bloodthirsty nation---are elusive, but they will keep you coming back.

Song: "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car"

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  • "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car"
  • Album: Shepherd's Dog
  • Artist: Iron & Wine
  • Label: Sub Pop
  • Released: 2007
 
Cover for Back to Black

04.

  • Artist: Amy Winehouse
  • Album: Back to Black
  • Song: "Me and Mr. Jones"

It’s always nice when one of the year’s best records actually becomes a smash hit, especially when it does it without compromise. The vintage soul-style productions by Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi are easy to love. But Winehouse lives hard inside these songs (she wrote or co-wrote them all), delivering roughneck lover testimonials with a voice---and a hairdo---that’s part Ronnie Spector, part Billie Holiday. We worry about her appetite for self-destruction; here’s hoping she’ll be making records this good for a long time to come.

Song: "Me and Mr. Jones"

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  • ""Me and Mr. Jones""
  • Album: Back to Black
  • Artist: Amy Winehouse
  • Label: Republic
  • Released: 2007
 
In Rainbows cover

03.

  • Artist: Radiohead
  • Album: In Rainbows
  • Song: Nude

Yup: an interesting internet sales strategy. But the music made it matter. From beginning to end, and notwithstanding the churning rock beast “Bodysnatchers,” it’s one of the prettiest-sounding records the band has made, a seamless integration of fleshy instrumentation and electronic production with Thom Yorke’s falsetto roaming the soundscapes like a troubled Shakespearean hero. Still the most engaging rock band in the world.

Song: "Nude"

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  • "Nude"
  • Album: In Rainbows
  • Artist: Radiohead
 
cover for I'm Not There

02.

  • Artist: Various
  • Album: I'm Not There (Soundtrack)
  • Song: Ballad of a Thin Man

It’s appropriate that the soundtrack to a film about Bob Dylan’s multiple acts of public self-creation collects cover versions of his songs by indie-minded artists who---like Dylan---follow idiosyncratic muses rather than marketplace dictates. Over the course of two generous discs, Sonic Youth, Cat Power, The Hold Steady, Iron, & Wine, Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Yo La Tengo, and others use Dylan songs as masks towards various ends. And on the rare, often-bootlegged title track, His Bobness does the same.

Song: "Ballad of a Thin Man" (performed by Stephen Malkmus)

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  • "Ballad of a Thin Man"
  • Album: I'm Not There (Soundtrack)
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: Sony
  • Released: 2007
 
Cover for Kala

01.

  • Artist: M.I.A.
  • Album: Kala
  • Song: Paper Planes

Sure, Kanye West made yet another great set in 2007. But this was my favorite rap record of the year, notwithstanding the facts that Anglo-Sri Lankan vocalist/visual artist Maya Arulpragasam doesn’t rap in any conventional way, and her beats---mainly collaborations with DJ innovators Diplo and Switch drawn from Brazilian ghetto funk, Indian bhangra, and elsewhere---are pretty weird by most pop measures. But the sense of invention is thrilling. And with the gunshot-and-cash register chorus of “Paper Planes,” Arulpragasam manages to critique and celebrate modern hip-hop in a single indelible line. She understands full well that in America, as in the world over, audiences love a charismatic outlaw.

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  • "Paper Planes"
  • Album: Kala
  • Artist: M.I.A.
  • Label: Interscope
  • Released: 2007
 

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