Alright, so today's the final push. Really all of the albums in the top 10 have been switching constantly over the past few days, but I think this final positioning is right, and I'll agree with it for at least a week. Stay tuned for singles lists coming soon.
5. Burial - Untrue
While I haven't read any of the "hauntology" references people have been citing about Burial, I do attest that this album does feel like the long lost ghost of UK rave culture. It's easy to imagine that if one were to happen upon an old warehouse where one of the craziest, most euphoric dance parties was ever held some 20 years ago, that Untrue could be faintly heard whisping about the premises as a reminder of events long past. Untrue is the most prolific purveyor of this new brand of urban mythology. In a metropolitan setting where everything feels mapped out and pre-planned, Burial has found mystery and intrigue and renewed the possibility for discovery in such a place. It's the same sort of exhilaration that I experienced when exploring the rafters of the East College building on DePauw's campus. It's a place humans aren't supposed to go anymore despite them having created it. Related to this is the feeling of isolation. Burial's music puts the listener at distance from it's vocals and melodies by having them fade in and out and repeating the lyrics as if they were fading echoes. The only grip we are given are the cold, driving beats and basslines. It's this isolation though, the necessary condition for meditation even amongst the throngs of city populations, where the settings are most likely to generate discovery, be it personal enlightenment just something that you've never seen before.
4. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
James Murphy may not have captured the top spot on this list (I'm sure he's really torn up about it too) but he definitely gets the nod for "most improved." After an OK album with an excellent bonus disc, he then decided to wow everyone and release a masterpiece of an album where all the songs are quality enough to compete if not, I'd argue, surpass the quality of those much-loved previous singles. This album and specifically the songs "Someone Great" and "All My Friends" made me emotional about music this year. Pretty much everything on this top 10 was somehow affected by my listening to those two songs. Murphy doesn't spend the whole album being sad though, there's plenty of dancing and fun to be had as well. Actually, this is likely the most well-rounded release of the year, worthy of the Hollywood sloganeering: You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll...dance. There is no weak link in the chain and LCD's influences never get the best of the final productions. Much has been said about Murphy's "everyman" appeal, which I feel has legitimacy, especially compared to a lot of modern day "everyman" musicians who end up promoting a romanticized or satirical view of what it means to be just like everyone else. Murphy exudes authenticity and his brash tendency to speak his mind might irk some people, but at least someone's talking about these things.
3. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
This album has grown on me since it's release. I liked "Bros" and "Comfy in Nautica" since I first heard them, but didn't give the full album any attention until much later. What finally struck a chord with me was the song "I'm Not" which has subsequently become one of my favorite tracks of the year. Not to focus too much on that one song (I probably will in a later list), but it really captured my attention and enveloped me in the music. When I began to frame the album around that song rather than the other two aforementioned tracks, the Brian Wilson influence and other references took a backseat to the samples, repetitions, and melodies presented in the album. This reframing was necessary for me to get the most out of Person Pitch. Finally able to access the music was like having a machine that allows me to reexperience my favorite dreams. I can't help but draw the connections between this album and skateboarding videos. Lennox himself spelled out many of these connections saying, "Something about the motion and the fluidness of it calms me and makes me feel good. When they're really good it seems like magic and it's like watching something that's impossible, and watching those impossible moves over and over again is very satisfying for me."
This expresses some of the appeal of the Panda Bear album. He managed to capture tiny little blissful moments (how he crafted these amazing moments I cannot fathom) and repeat them over and over with slight shifts in the surrounding musical tones or pitch or timing. It exemplifies the whole aspect of trying something a billion times until it works. However, the beauty of this concept as it relates to Person Pitch is that which moment gets it right is totally subjective. He never wipes out, not once.
2. Studio - West Coast
Studio overwhelmed me this year. Their sound is stunning, so much so that I feel like my heart is going to stop every time "Out There" climbs to the top of one of its many peaks. They're not daunting expeditions, but there's just so much euphoria to manage. I mean, it's about as frenetic as "beach music" gets. It's also one of those albums where every track has taken its turn as my favorite at some point this year. My reasoning for liking Studio so much is difficult to explain because I'm not sure I understand completely. I think they incorporate a lot of what I like about both The Tough Alliance and Panda Bear this year, so that probably counts for something. Also, like Battles, they're not afraid to let their instruments do most of the talking, but when there are lyrics they work quite well. All I know for sure is that I'm enamored with Studio and want nothing more than some new material from them in 2008. And yeah, I'm listing West Coast instead of Yearbook 1 because West Coast is the CD I own and listen to quite often. That and Yearbook 1 could technically be categorized as a compilation. That said Yearbook 1 is definitely the superior of the two. Even though "No Comply" and "Radio Edit" are really really good songs to add to the already stellar West Coast, both albums would end up at the #2 space, which was the #1 space until about a month ago, which can only mean...
1. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime
3 of my top 10 albums are from Sweden this year. Something's going very right on the Scandinavian peninsula. A lot has been written about what this album does technically and the way The Field uses samples, so I'm going to talk about my personal experience with this album this year instead. As much as Person Pitch has grown on me this year FHWGS has really risen through the ranks even more significantly. After initially pretty much dismissing the album I came back to it when I began reading all of its critical acclaim. So I thought it was pretty good, but probably not top 10 material.
One thing I've begun this year with all my time in the art studio is listening to full albums again and getting good use out of my ipod. Dealing so much with weather in my work and the transitions between transforming something physical to digital to physical again, The Field helped me accelerate my thinking. Not that this album is doing exactly the same thing I am, but it's definitely related. I get a particular image in my head when I listen to this music: a vast plain of snow and ice with a bright, glowing, rising sun in the background. It's not a still image though, as there's always the sensation of speeding forward across the tundra, making the light cast on the ice shimmer with movement. Somehow this album lets me feel like I'm dreaming when I'm awake, while at the same time being so much more than background music. Its complexity demands attention, and once I gave it that attention, it definitely influenced the way I was thinking about my work. Now we're talking top 5 material.
So, then over Thanksgiving I went with my family to visit relatives in Wisconsin. I took a train to Chicago by myself the day after the holiday and with a fresh snow on the ground. It was dark when I got on the train, some ungodly hour in the AM. I knew the sun would rise while I was en route. I slumped into a seat next to a window, put The Field on my ipod, and in a half-awake daze watched my day-dream happen as close as was reasonably possible in real life. Number 1.