The holidays are a time of family, schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry and, for music journalists, list-making. Lots and lots of list-making.
Over the past few years, the availability of year-end critics' lists has multiplied faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. Mark our words, this month the Internet and your Barnes & Noble's magazine rack is brimming over with head-spinning, eye-glazing permutations of praise for the following albums: Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, the National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and Battles' Mirrored.
If you want to parse the exact sequence of those records in your favorite publication or blog, feel free. We're going in a different direction.
In cities from Miami to San Francisco, we asked musicians, MCs, DJs, athletes and, in one case, a Michael Stipe-impersonating electrician to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs or an artist's collected works and need not be dated 2007. We just wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now.
This just seems more like the way we listen to music now—with everything available to everyone free and on demand, the old days of anticipating the release dates of and then treasuring new albums seem to be seriously on the wane. —John Nova Lomax, Executive Music Editor, Village Voice Media
The best live shows of 2007 came where you expected them least
One of the overarching themes for Dallas' year in music was the continued decentralization of the local music scene.
Deep Ellum, the storied entertainment district near downtown, is still struggling to maintain relevance as its clubs shut down. There are exceptions, but the bulk of North Texas' most interesting musicians practice, perform and live outside the city's longtime artistic center, like the Lower Greenville area and in Denton, Fort Worth and other cities.
With members hailing from Plano and Denton, Nouns Group is one of those non-Dallas bands that are starting to dominate the North Texas music scene. Singer/guitarist Chris Mosley (formerly of Early Lines), drummer Nick Martin and bassist Britt Robisheaux make a propulsive racket of jagged melodies, discordant, slashing guitar and vocals more shouted than sung. Megan Carroll's electric violin, screaming over the din like a frantic banshee, elevates Nouns Group from serviceable harsh post-punk to something beautiful in spite of its frequent ugliness.
Mosley, the most obsessive record collector I've ever met, was disappointed with this year's albums. Getting him to name one he enjoyed is like trying to catch an eel. He'd rather discuss how the single-song instant gratification of music on the Internet is leading to an anti-album culture, as well as publicist-driven manipulation of the media.
Finally, he names an album he liked, though he doesn't go so far as to name it his album of the year.
"As far as other-genre stuff [other than rock], probably the most consistent rap releases are coming from Devin the Dude," he says. "Waiting to Inhale was really good."
Mostly, though, he was unimpressed with 2007's albums.
"I really thought a lot of standby stuff like Shellac, Melt Banana or Deerhoof would have been a little better," he says. "They were still good, but I think with some of my favorite bands, I was expecting too much."
Keep in mind that this is a guy who doesn't enjoy Radiohead because he's so familiar with their influences—even their almost universally acclaimed OK Computer and Kid A were inferior imitations of stuff he'd been listening to years before. He has slightly higher standards than most. While he didn't have much to say about In Rainbows, he grudgingly admired the band's distribution method, while pointing out that their studio budget and self-perpetuating popularity is unrealistic for most bands.
As far as singles, he named Yellow Fever's "Culver City" 7-inch and former Early Lines bandmate Daniel Francis Doyle's "Your Cursive."
His song of the year was "The Greater Times," from Electralane's No Shouts No Calls.
"There's a part where the woman's voice cracks when she's repeating the chorus, and I thought that was the greatest moment of the year," he says. "She's singing so passionately that her voice actually cracks. That record, along with a couple others, was why Nouns Group went to record [at Key Club] in Michigan. They were telling us about how when they were recording it, a lot of times the band and engineer had to convince the singer [Verity Susman] to keep it. In the end, I think the record really reflects a lot of good decision-making. Some of the best recordings are about the decision not to edit things...You're either the band you want to be or you're not. You're not going to fix it with Pro Tools."