Thursday, 20 December 2007


20. M.I.A.: Kala
Larkin’s Law dilemma in miniature: can you disagree with an artist about certain fundamentals and still be entranced by their art? Or maybe I should just shut up until I’ve learned more. Compelling, warily entertaining, far more diverting than Arular, and, with the “Straight To Hell” sample on “Paper Planes,” a belated but welcome displacing of 1979’s urgent (Crass?) spirit into the overly sober contritions of now.

Not available in the UK until next month but a giant jog forward from the excellent Underwater Cinematographer; another typically New Canada wander through different fields of music which through natural collective effort and love (and not in that order) manages to thread everything together without the listener ever feeling that they’re simply cherry picking the most arcane reaches of their mp3 playlists. From unexpected Bob James MoR jazz-funk recollections (“Mix Of Sun And Cloud” – but watch those footsteps at the end) to anxiously proud and forthright post-everything pop singalongs like the astounding “Solipsism Millionaires” the record is never less than original and its heart is well placed. Who will say the same for the Klaxons in six months’ time?

18. RIHANNA: Good Girl Gone Bad
As we discovered, the only way to enter the heart of Rihanna’s third and best album is in the manner of the film Memento; start at the end, work backwards through the heartbreak until betrayal is bypassed, true love recaptured and, in “Umbrella,” the year’s outstanding pop single; a hymn of togetherness and support under which we can huddle as the world torments and burns around us.

17. ROISIN MURPHY: Overpowered
She never quite sounds tormented, but burns steadily and readily; tentatively re-entering what used to be called the pop mainstream, Roisin managed what Madonna couldn’t (could Madonna get away with sitting in a chippy’s wearing full court jester costume?) with icily reassuring post-New Pop meditations on dance, and loss, and recovery, and so much else; the sleeve design was worthy of ZTT in its Morley prime.

16. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: Sound Of Silver
I have some explaining to do. I couldn’t find my way through this album for most of this year; something not quite tangible seemed to bar my path and I wondered whether it was not connected to what we might call the Let Them Snort Coke coterie of newly-moneyed musicians pretending to be down with the Primark ghetto kids; LCD and Mark Ronson being merely the extreme West Wing of the cloisters which nurtured Allen and Melua and Nash and Penates (with the Kaiser Chiefs and Kooks somewhere to the right), which as a totality might represent the best argument for societal overthrow this side of 1976, except that the credit crunch may do for their audience more smartly than bullets; this was the soundtrack to a slow sunset of a decline.

On the other hand, if we excluded all middle class musicians pretending to have arisen from The Street, then there would hardly be any pop worth writing about; in such cases the question is whether good acting aids or impedes access to the artist’s heart. Thus Sound Of Silver initially sounded smug, and self-satisfied, a bit Ikea flatpack; like its cover, too damned white for comfort.

But I revisited it recently to try to get a firmer grasp on it since I was suspicious of excluding it from my list for reasons unreasonable, and quite to my surprise I discovered a record of hitherto hidden seamless architecture, something which for once (or the second time, if you count the early singles) amounted to more than the sum total of James Murphy’s record collection. Critical beams have quite rightly focused on the twin towers of “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”; the latter’s worth perhaps more greatly underlined by the reappearance of Dinosaur L’s 24-24 Music on CD, with its “I want to see all my friends at once!” but an overwhelming pair of songs about slowly coming to terms with personal loss and then gaming oneself up to re-enter the world; the celebration which comes out of “Friends” is slow to come and hard won, but when it finally emerges, almost humbly, it is hard to fault.

Their centre position works because the joint axis balances out the lightness of touch and approach we find elsewhere; thus the self-aware “North American Scum” with its priceless aside of “Don’t blame the Canadians!” (how could I have missed that?) and the superb bookends of “Get Innocuous!” and the Rufus-lost-in-Studio-54 finale of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Yes, !!! were harder on the downbeat and closer to the ground, but perhaps more so than any other 2007 release, Sound Of Silver divulged its real worth only very slowly. But it’s here because of its pretty immaculate hole rather than for its unanswerable centre alone.
15. ARCADE FIRE: Neon Bible
They've gone soft, they've gone electric, they've gone Springsteen, as though there were something wrong with any of these given the right hearts. No, Neon Bible was never going to be Funeral II (by titular definition alone), but its anger was radiant, its hope undimmed, its power subtler but no less valid. "Intervention" and "No Cars Go" were holy parables of deliverance, "(Antichrist Television Blues)" contained the most frightening last 60 seconds of any piece of 2007 music, "My Body Is A Cage" blasphemed the blues (and were therefore truer to the blues), we're safe with them. For now. Who else could have performed "Guns Of Brixton" as a 19th-century rebel song in the foyer of Brixton Academy and make it acutely, painfully relevant?

14. BATTLES: Mirrored
The 20-11 section of my list has traditionally been a haven for the popular critical choices which frequent most of the other end of year round-ups. This is not out of an inverse perversity but because ten other records spoke to me more directly and personally, and as such it would be remarkable if they tended to make prolific appearances elsewhere. Still, Mirrored holds a special place in my 2007 heart, and not just because of Battles having Anthony Braxton’s son at their helm (though the mathematics of father and son compute); this was the soundtrack to my recent house move, playing in the car as we travelled down through the back of sunny Battersea and across Wandsworth Bridge en route to the Golden West, and it felt like the beginning of everything; prog rock without the pomp, lean and decisive, and as for “Atlas,” the hugest of 2007 dance anthems – the Chipmunks do Suzi Quatro and take it both out there and back in seven or so minutes – it stood alone, unapologetic and looking the future squarely, if not rectangularly, in the eye.

13. BJÖRK: Volta
Sounding her most alive for a decade, Björk here was grand, tender and patient (“I See Who You Are”) and punkily/free jazzily explosive (“Declare Independence,” which may yet join “Atlas” as the foundation of a new, harder, more sensuous school of dance music) where required, with the most inventive use of brass on a pop record since Roy Harper’s HQ.

Speaking of which, Seb Rochford’s latest variation on the Polar Bear/Acoustic Ladyland template could have come out on Virgin in 1974 and no one would have blinked in surprise; yet its disconsolate electronica, its frustrated post-punk vocals and sizzling decamping of boundaries could only have belonged to now, featuring a thus far career best round of playing by saxman Pete Wareham. The lineage continues, and it did my heart a cosmos of good to know that people in 2007 were still making music as insolently powerful as this.

11. FEIST: The Reminder
Sometimes the public, when discreetly aided, do get it right; Feist’s “1-2-3-4” was a deserved slow burner of a top ten hit and it speaks libraries that I’ve yet to tire of it; elsewhere the songs and her singer are mournful, sometimes satirical, sometimes lost in limbo, and even joyous, but that Broken Social Scene ethic pervades everything; you know she is not doing this to fulfil a Brits School quota, and you love her for it all the more. An important milestone on the highway which that other overlooked Canadian number eight hit single, “Steal My Sunshine” helped open.