Well folks, we’re halfway through 2007, and its time to round up what this writer believes are the best releases of the year so far. These will be posted in installations of five, starting at the top. Please give feedback or tell me what you think of my picks, writing, or hairstyle.
1) El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
The fact that this album opens with dialogue from Laura Palmer (well, after Donna Hayward’s opening query) is one of the best things about this album. The fall of that character is mirrored throughout I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead as El-P gazes at modern American society and sees that we are in the same plummet as Laura was in her last days. This isn’t a warning, but a mourning of what could have been and what is likely to come. And the sound, this record sounds like the death of society, with beats that pound on your skull and wriggle into your subconscious until you find yourself twitching to them days later. Even when El-P is rapping about more personal matters he is able to make them feel relevant (“The answer is yes, the city wants you gone/and that’s the only thing connecting us, but that connection is so strong”) and is able to connect it all back to the overall theme of self destruction (“How the fuck are you supposed to explain your own self destruction and still remain trusted?”). I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is one of the only hip-hop albums in recent history that seems like it is less of a hip-hop album than a grand statement, and it is one of the grandest yet.
2) Panda Bear – Person Pitch
I’m going to say it: Person Pitch is miles above any Animal Collective record. What it lacks in the immediacy of “Who Could Win A Rabbit” or “Grass,” it makes up for in overall arc and development. Even though most of the songs had been released as singles beforehand, it seems almost an impossible task to take them out of the context of the album. “Comfy In Nautica” is a perfect opener, “Bros” is a perfect centerpiece, and “Ponytail” is a strangely perfect closer. There is always so much going on throughout the album that there is something to discover every single listen, and that is the sign of a truly great album that will be approachable for years to come.
3) The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
From Here We Go Sublime is a great record for all the reasons described below.
4) Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Before Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer, Kevin Barnes could be called many things, but a self-pitying narcissist wasn’t one of them. This type of turn for any songwriter could be for the worse, but Barnes takes his self-pity and inverts it, turning it into highly entertaining damaged synth-pop. Barns is desperate, begging himself for a “mood shift, shift back to good again/come on, be a friend.” This was the feel good album of early spring that was actually a feel-so-terrible-I-want-to-hide-in-my-room-for-days album of early spring. Only on Hissing Fauna would Barnes sing such a standard line as “Lets tear this fucking house apart,” followed by the gruesome inversion “Lets tear our fucking bodies apart.”
5) Battles – Mirrored
Mirrored shows what good can come out of a band eschewing traditional songwriting for “mathier” techniques. Instead of simply relying on their chops and odd time signatures to reel us in, which is sadly what most math rock does nowadays, Battles creates whole suites and seamlessly strings together complex musical ideas, if that is prog-rock enough for you. They have strange house of mirror-like melodies over their bubbly masterpieces. Sure, they are competent technically, but what is present here that separates them from the math rock bands that will never get out of basements and arts centers is that they are skilled musicians as well as technical players. Battles can write a pop song like “Atlas” and still turn it into a mindfuck begging the question, “WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED?”