The methodology for I Rock Cleveland’s Top 25 Albums is a lot simpler than the system used to select teams for the college football championship game. There was only one person casting a vote, and no computers were used to calculate an albums strengths or deficiencies. Did I listen to it a lot? Check. Did I enjoy listening to it? Check. Was it new, different, or challenging? Not as important as questions one and two. Will adding this album make my list look cooler and give me more indie cred? Not as important as question three which itself wasn’t as important as questions one and two. More than anything, I wanted this list to represent what I enjoyed the most during 2007, regardless of prevailing opinions in the print media and other blogs. Don’t get me wrong. Pushing music forward to new and innovative directions is important, however, I’d be doing everyone a disservice if this list was littered with albums high on art, but low on listening, or if this list was conceived with the goal of scoring cool points with my peers. Hell, I’m surprised my list didn’t include more lo-fi, more noise, and more sick psychedelic jams, but I’m not about to put albums on the list for the sake of having more noise.
Well, I think that’s enough of the disclaimer. Have you heard that new disc by No Age? It’s really rad…
1. No Age
No Age are two dudes from LA and this joint called The Smell who made this wonderful album of lo-fi noise punk. Technically, it wasn’t even an album. Weirdo Rippers was a collection of limited edition vinyl singles and eps repackaged for wider release. We’re going to ignore that little factoid. While the noisy parts of No Age’s sound recall Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine in all their static splendor, their punk leanings are pure “1, 2, 3, 4” and “Hey Ho Let’s Go.” With Weirdo Rippers Dean Spunt and Randy Randall of No Age have taken punk rock out of the suburban shopping malls and put it back into the run down and rancid clubs on the wrong side of town where it belongs, and for that, they get the album of the year.
No Age – My Life’s Alright Without You [download]
2. Parts and Labor
Like a lot of people I expected this new century to include jet packs, robot maids, and music that sounded futuristic. Seven years in, I’m still driving to work on 480, cleaning my own apartment, listening to a lot of music that could have been made at any time in the past 30 years, and wondering if Hollywood has been telling me lies my whole life. Then, along came Parts and Labor’s Mapmaker. It sounded exactly how I expected punk to sound in the 21st century: other worldly bleeps and screeches roar from a wild collection of keyboards, guitars, switches, boxes, and wires hooked up like an electrical fire waiting to happen. The rhythms are fast, powerful, and complex. Yet, big punk choruses still manage to have themselves heard amid all the chaos.
Parts and Labor – Fractured Skies [download]
The opening track on Red State, “Fargo,” includes a laundry list of drugs that includes, but by no means is limited to, ephedrine, benadryl, drmamine, ketamine and ny-quil. I don’t want to say that drugs played a part in the vision and creation of Red State, drugs are bad, but what if they did? Then, all those wasted nights in the Midwest paid off big time with a gorgeous, engaging, and ethereal album of anti-folk and noise. Drugs are bad.
Gowns – White Like Heaven [download]
4. Nina Nastasia and Jim White
You Follow Me
A quietly captivating album of guitar, voice, and drums that is far, far, far (extra far used for emphasis) from your standard coffee house fare. What separates You Follow Me from its fellow folkies is the skill of the two musicians who made this album: Nina Nastasia and Jim White. Nastasia’s voice is breezy and comfortably confident, and her guitar work can be both elegant and weathered. White’s drumming is nothing short of amazing. His rhythms vary from slow, steady, and simple beats to the wild, and rumbling thumps of an awkward tumble down the stairs. They’re unpredictable, precise, and the perfect compliment to Nastasia’s songs.
Nina Nastasia and Jim White – Late Night [download]
I used up all my essential adjectives like brilliant, gorgeous, breath-taking, and essential when I reviewed Phosphorescent’s Pride the first time around, so I guess that leaves me with good old awesome. Look, I’m surprised as you are that I’ve used all my superlatives up on a folk album, but trust me, once you get into this mix of southern gospel and African tribal folk, and its hauntingly rapturous melodies you’ll be unpacking your favorite adjectives, too.
Phosphorescent – Wolves [download]
6. Two Cow Garage
It’s only Rock ‘N’ Roll by three dudes from small town Ohio that aren’t hip to the fact that no one plays Rock ‘N’ Roll Music these days, but I like it. I can’t remember where I read this, but my favorite description of Two Cow Garage called them John Cougar Cobain. There’s a definite rural element to their music that comes from growing up in places where there wasn’t sh*t to do, and there’s also loads of big rock ambition. It’s like The Replacements when they were young and rowdy, or, Wilco before they went mild, or, like the dude said, John Cougar Mellencamp meets Nirvana.
Two Cow Garage – Should’ve California [download]
The voice of Spoon’s Brit Daniel speaks only in cool, while his bandmates provide a minimal, rhythmic accompaniment. It’s a formula that has served them well over the years. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, they’ve added dub-like touches of reverb and echo to many of the tracks, lending a deep, layered effect to the mix without sacrificing the spaciousness of their earlier work. This attention to detail isn’t so apparent on the single, “The Underdog.” Instead of plugging in your best headphones to catch all the subtle switches, it’ll have you tearing up your closet looking for those lost Billy Joel cassette tapes.
Spoon – The Underdog [download]
This is heavy music the way heavy music was made before there was metal. Some might say that Witchcraft are a throwback to the Seventies, I’d counter that they don’t sound like the Seventies as much as they really are from the Seventies. It’s like this group of shredding Swedes walked through a rift in time thirty years ago with their master tapes holding an endless supply of base, sinister riffs and wicked, mystical vibes.
Witchcraft – Walk Between the Lines [download]
9. Six Parts Seven
Casually Smashed to Pieces
The most common criticism of the Six Parts Seven’s Casually Smashed to Pieces is that they remade the same album of carefully constructed, weaving and wandering post-rock they’ve been making their whole career. Fair enough. Well, what if they finally found perfection in their formula?
Six Parts Seven – Falling Over Evening [download]
10. Times New Viking
Present the Paisley Reich
I like to joke about the kids in Columbus not being able to afford proper gear and a proper studio, so they record on basement boom boxes with duct-taped guitars, but the truth is I love all of the lo-fi noise coming from the state capital these days. Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, and The Dobly Fuckers all released solid albums in 2007 with Present The Paisley Reich being the best of the bunch.
Times New Viking – Teenagelust! [download]
God Dam Dogs
Do yourself a favor. Quiet your inner rock snob and don’t concern yourself with that old game of who influenced whom and who sounds like whom with Coffinberry’s God Dam Dogs. This is a gritty, dirty rock and roll album that gets kinda grungey at times. There I said it. Grunge, as in what Seattle sounded like in the Nineties before Candlestick ruined everything, and Nickelback ruined everything that Candlestick didn’t already ruin.
Coffinberry – Earthworms in the Sun [download]
Never Hear The End of It
Sloan’s Never Hear the End of It features 30 tracks of their signature rock and power pop packed tightly onto one cd. In order to keep it from becoming a double album they sacrificed things like space between songs and extra verses and choruses. What they didn’t sacrifice was quality. For such a lengthy album, there’s surprisingly little filler.
Sloan – Who Taught You to Live Like That [download]
Left for Dead
Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker don’t have strong voices in a traditional sense, however, what they lack in polish, they compensate with stronger qualities like emotion, honesty, and expression. They creak and strain under the weight of sadness, reminiscence, or fear, and they crackle with ebullience when they encounter life’s small joys. Left for Dead isn’t as quaint, or folksy as their debut disc, Funeral Dress. It still has a rustic, Ohio feel to it, and Cleaver sings the most endearing ode to a Camaro ever written, but for the most part, it’s louder, and rowdier than its predecessor.
Wussy – Rigor Mortis [download]
14. Future of the Left
If you want to know why Future of the Left’s Andrew Falkous is revered in rock circles, the go to album is still his former band McLusky’s McLusky Do Dallas. It’s got bite. It’s got bile. It’s got riffs aplenty. The sharp rhythms hit like a punch to the gut, and his cleverly scathing lyrics will have you bust a gut. Admittedly, Future of the Left’s Curses won’t make you forget McLusky Do Dallas, but once you get over the fact that there will never be another McLusky Do Dallas, there’s plenty to like about Curses. If you like the heavy sh*t, then there’s any number of tracks that can rumble toe to toe with his back catalog. If you’re looking for something new out of the band, then there’s “Manchasm” and it’s menacing synths, and “Suddenly a Folk Song,” which isn’t really a folk song, but one of the poppiest songs Falkous has ever penned. Falkous hasn’t lost his wits, nor has he lost his riffs, and for that Curses needs to be heard.
Future of the Left – adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood [download]
After the three album arc of Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief , where Radiohead were focused on pushing their sound in new directions, continually challenging their listeners to confront what they thought they knew about pop music, they released In Rainbows, an album notable not for its adventurousness, but for its songs. While past Radiohead albums took time to sink in (I’m just starting to “get” Kid A), the appeal of In Rainbows was immediate — the big riffs of “Bodysnatchers” recalling the guitar grandeur of The Bends, the thick, warm bass line of “All I Need,” the raw emotion, unburdened by extra effects, on the piano ballad “Videotape,” and the pleasant, atmospheric groove of “House of Cards.
Radiohead – Bodysnatchers [download]
You can call it jazz, post-rock, dub, ambient, blues, electronic or acid jazz. I call it one of the essential instrumental albums of 2007. Guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Matt Chamberlain, and producers, Tucker Maritine and Lee Townsend, jammed, recorded, looped, split, chopped, and jammed some more, until they got it just right. The result is a genre-defying album of heady grooves.
Floratone – Multiple Songs [stream]
17. AA Bondy
Remember those early Ryan Adams albums where a lonely man strumming a guitar tried to make sense of the world? When you listen to AA Bondy’s American Hearts you get the same feeling of intimacy that you got from Adams’ best work. It’s as if you’re with Bondy in a cabin in the woods with a full ashtray and empty beer bottles, working out life through song.
AA Bondy – There’s a Reason [download]
18. Dr. Dog
We All Belong
Park the Van
The “B” bands exert a heavy influence on Dr Dog’s We All Belong. At different times through this album you’ll recall The Byrds, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Band. Yet, there’s more to this album than “B” bands. Sometimes they play it in a straight, reverential manner, other times they play it loose, like they mixed a shot of Pavement in with their Beach Boys. Most importantly, you get the feeling they really enjoy playing these songs, and no matter what records you listen to, you can’t fake that type of exuberance.
Dr Dog – Ain’t it Strange [download]
19. The Cave Singers
On their debut album, The Cave Singers have mastered the art of laying down a warm, soothing groove and rocking it out to its logical completion. Their songs are simple, hypnotic, and never rushed, going down smoothly, and sticking with you long after the music stops.
The Cave Singers – Seeds of Night [download]
20. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
Living With the Living
Touch and Go
I have the hardest time saying anything bad about Ted Leo. I know this sounds cliche and all, but he is one of the good guys. I’d love to down beers with Ted Leo, or munch on some vegan BBQ with the dude. And, if I was out of town, I ‘d call Ted Leo to come over and feed my cats. The fact that we share the same political views and he can rock a mean six string, that’s all the better.
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists – Sons of Cain [download]
Legend has it, Nick Cave never played the guitar before he set out to record this album with a slimmed down version of the Bad Seeds as Grinderman. As far as legends go, it’s a good one, and when you hear Cave’s raw, primal riffs punctuating his basest instincts, it’s an entirely plausible legend, too. Unconstrained, unburdened, and rejuvinated in his new band, Cave let’s it rip.
Grinderman – No Pussy Blues [youtube]
The well guarded mystery of Burial, the person (he has no blog, facebook, myspace or otherwise, and very few people know his real identity), lends itself well to Burial, the music. His compositions are often stark, dark and spacious. A black, ominous night, an open window, and the sound raindrops hitting concrete aren’t merely visual images you receive from listening to Untrue, but ambient noises like raindrops, clicks from a cigarette lighter, or wind rustling the curtains, are in the actual mix. Ten years ago we’d call this trip hop. Now, it’s dubstep. Either way, it’s fascinating stuff.
Burial – Etched Headplate [download]
23. Okkervil River
The Stage Names
In an interview with Pitchfork before the release of The Stage Names Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff took slight offense to the notion that his band were a literary rock band since that particular label implies they’re more proficient in using big words and citing obscure writers than they are in rocking. It was important to him that The Stage Names could succeed as a thought provoking, inteligent composition, and still be a rock and roll album you can enjoy without googling passages from the lyric sheet. Using Sheff’s own criteria The Stage Names was a success.
Okkervil River – Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe [download]
24. Blitzen Trapper
Wild Mountain Nation
You think you have Blitzen Trapper pegged as just another American roots band, then something like “Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem” hits the speakers and you’re in the middle of this mind boggling space carnival and you’re WTF’ing like you never WTF’ed before. Wild Mountain Nation isn’t for everyone, but if you like your Dead with a side of Flaming Lips, then this one is absolutely for you.
Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation [download]
25. The Black Lips
Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo
Is it live? Is it Memorex? Does it even matter? The Black Lips live album from Tijuana, Mexico comes as close as any disc can get to capturing the hijinks, tomfoolery, and shenanigans of their legendary shows.
The Black Lips – Not a Problem [download]
More from I Rock Cleveland’s Year End Extravaganza Bonanza:
Top 40 Tracks
Top 10 Northeast Ohio Releases
Year End Awards
Rockers and Readers Respond