Our friend Bill Connelly of smilt.net tried to list his ten favorite albums of the year for us. He succeeded (sort of).
-- Feist, The Reminder: I have no idea why I like this album. It's quirky and strange, which means a year from now it will either be my #1 of 2007, or my #40...depending on how it grows on me.
-- Kanye West, Graduation: It's hard to consistently like Kanye West as a person (though I obviously feel for him right now after the loss of his mother), but each album of his gets a little more mature and well-rounded than the one before. While there's no one song as good as Late Registration's "Gone", there's a lot of good stuff here.
-- Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. I think this album's biggest flaw is that it came out a while ago, and I've begun taking it for granted.
-- Talib Kweli, Eardrum. A little too long, with a little too much filler, but nobody has more to say (and says it better) than Kweli.
-- The White Stripes, Icky Thump. I get tired of people worshipping everything Jack White does (though his cameo in Walk Hard gives me an entirely new appreciation of all things White), but I liked this album way more than I intended to. It's so unbelievably weird and listenable...and "Conquest" is one of the greatest covers I've ever heard.
10. Common, Finding Forever. After the overwhelming uniqueness of 2002's Electric Circus, Com's last two albums have felt underwhelming in the creativity department. But as far as lyrics and themes and hooks go, this is as good as anything he's done.
9. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Lifeline. This one has grown on me significantly from when I first heard it. It's far less spread out and intense than the typical BH&IC album, but there's a warmness to the songs and the sound, and I've warmed to it in the last couple of months.
8. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight. This is by far the least lyrically-creative album Jenny Lewis has ever made, and maddening songs like "Smoke Detector" and "15" simultaneously make me gag and nod my head. But any album with "Silver Lining" on it is going to make my Top 10. What an unbelievable song.
7. Okkervil River, The Stage Names. One of my two best eMusic.com discoveries of the year. I got it on a whim, and it knocked me out. "Unless It's Kicks" is possibly my favorite pure rock song of the year.
6. Jay-Z, American Gangster. This album reminds me of all the reasons Jay-Z frustrates me so much. The self-professed greatest MC of all-time is mediocre at best when he has nothing to write about. But when he finds his inspiration (in this case, a Denzel Washington film), he knocks out every song.
5. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. Like Ben Harper's album, this one disappointed me at first simply because my expectations were so high. But every time I listened to the album, a new song reached 5-star status on my iPod. "Side with the Seeds" has my favorite guitar solo of the year, and "On and On and On" breaks my heart.
4. Radiohead, In Rainbows. I'm penalizing this one simply because I haven't had as much time to soak it in as the others at the top of this list. In Rainbows doesn't crush me emotionally like OK Computer or The Bends did, and it's more thematically laid back than a lot of the Radiohead discography, but...the melodies are just so good. So, so good. This could end up a spot or two higher on my list once I've listened to it a few more times.
3. Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band, Magic. I just cannot figure out which Magic song is my favorite. Sometimes it's "You'll Be Coming Down", sometimes "Long Walk Home", sometimes "Radio Nowhere". It's comforting to know that your heroes can still wow you.
2. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Living with the Living. When I found out that I was going to Lollapalooza for the second straight year, I checked out the lineup and tried to figure out which Lolla bands were on eMusic (I had some downloads to kill before the trip to Chicago). Ted Leo & the Pharma showed up in the eMusic catalog, so I checked them out...I really liked what I heard in songs like "Who Do You Love?" and "CIA". After seeing them live, I listened to LWTL again and liked it infinitely more. I love bands that change your perceptions in 60 minutes or less.
1. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. You don't know how much it irks me that I'm putting her at #1 (I don't enjoy celebrating people with so many self-induced issues), but...this is simply the best album of the year, and there's no way around it. It's derivative of the Ronettes and all those '60s R&B groups, but enough time has passed, I guess, to make this album sound fresh and exciting. And while her live performances are, to be kind, unsteady and unpredictable, this album--with the great Dap-Kings serving as backing band--caught lightning in a bottle.
Feel free to mock me as much as you so choose...