Tunequest 2007 Albums of the Year

Another year come, another year gone.

After spending 2006 evaluating the status of my iTunes library and trimming some fat, I took the opportunity in 2007 to explore a lot of new material. And I must say that overall it was a pretty good year for both my library and for music in general. I had added 1,891 songs to my library by the end of October, which marks the fifth largest library expansion since I started collecting music. At that point, I decided it was time to start evaluating my acquisitions.

2007 was a year of rock in tunequestland. Each year seems to bring me another fascinating tangent of audio to explore in detail. In 2004, it was classical music and in 2005 it was audiobooks, podcasts and other learning materials, an itch that already seems to be acting up for 2008. But for 2007, rock was the operative mode, so much so that I’ve picked up a significant air-guitar habit. Nearly 50% of my library additions fell within the genre, with all other forms of music splitting the remain 50%.

Around here, the year was also a big one for newly-released music. 22% of my new acquisitions were released in 2007, while 50% were released between 2005 and 2007. Perish the though that there is no good music these days. That sentiment might apply to some corporate-backed music, but in total there is more good music released everyday than a single person can keep up with. I’ve already got a huge backlog of albums I didn’t get around to listening to by October.

But forget the stuff I didn’t listen to, what about the music I did? Read on for the albums, artists and songs that made for tunequest 2007. First, some numbers:

2007 By the Numbers

Applies to all new music added to my library during 2007. As a subset of my library in general, these figures do not include ratings, play counts and other stats from 2006 and earlier.

Total Songs: 1,891
Total Play Time: 5 days, 18 hours, 43 minutes, 1 second
Total Play Counts: 4,815
Avg Play Count per song: 2.55
Median Play Count per song: 2
Total Listening Time: 14 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes, 40 seconds
Avg Song Length: 4:26
Median Song Length: 4:01

Top Albums

I pulled out my trusty definitive* rating formula and ran this year’s selections through it. Here’s what it spit out:

The absolute best release I found this year:

Bonobo’s Live Sessions EP

Bonobo Live Sessions

Released in 2005, the EP fleshes out Bonobo’s attractive studio work with robust live arrangements. The energetic atmosphere of hypnotic future jazz presented on the disc earns it a phenomenal 4.58 / 5 stars. Music rarely gets better than when the live cut of Nothing Owed bursts to life from its humble introduction.

But since EPs are ineligible for Album of the Year ratings–their low track counts skew the results–here is the official list of the music that rocked my world this year.

1 Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

pink floyd dark side of the moon

dark side of the moon at itunes music compact disc

Sacrilege I know! But before this year I had never listened to Pink Floyd, save for a small part of The Wall that I saw a friend’s house while in high school. At some point over the summer though, I figured there must be something to 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, since it’s become the de facto standard for judging the success of a new recording medium and that the record was in the U.S. Top 100 records for nearly 30 continuous years.

Turns out that two generations worth of music lovers aren’t wrong. This thing is fantastic. Expertly-crafted, catchy, thought-provoking and teeming with existential quandaries, the record quickly became one of my favorites of the year. Highlights: the haunting mortality implicit in Time and the swagger of Money. Then there’s all the air-guitaring again.

4.51 / 5 stars

2 Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero

nine inch nails year zero

year zero at itunes year zero compact disc

Trent Reznor was in the news a lot in 07, from publicly insulting his record company to encouraging his fans to steal his music to setting up a website for people to exchange homemade remixes of his songs. Ignore all that. His real achievement this year was Year Zero, the nightmarish dystopian concept album that broke out into the real world.

Beyond marketing games though, Year Zero features some of Trent’s tightest and most clever songwriting. From the straight-ahead bombast of The Beginning of the End to the almost-hymnal Zero-sum, this record doesn’t disappoint.

4.24 / 5 stars

Download Zero-sum

3 Bonobo: Days to Come

bonobo days to come

days to come compact disc

More accolades around here for Bonobo’s particular brand of laid back energy with 2006’s Days to Come. Bonobo’s music gets more complex with each release and this one is 51 minutes of pure brilliance. Watch out for the pairing of Nightlite and Transmission94. Swingy jazz, melancholic brass and clever rhythms held together by superb production.

3.97 / 5 stars

4 Maserati: Inventions for the New Season

maserati inventions for the new season

maserati compact disc

Athens, Ga-based postrock outfit Maserati piles on thick layers of instrumental delight on 2007’s Inventions for the New Season. Crisp, melodious and spirited, this record is the band’s best yet. It almost like the soundtrack to the best roller-coaster ride of your life.

3.93 / 5 stars

5 Les Baxter: African Blue: Exotic Rhythms of Les Baxter

les baxter african blue

compact disc

I’ve had a soft spot for master of exotica and light classical composer Les Baxter since I stumbled upon his rendition of Calcutta nearly ten years ago. Being a master of course, Baxter delivers his own unique lounge-inspired spin on traditional African music on African Blue. The version I got from eMusic (bundled with Colors of Brazil) was re-issued in 1993, but I haven’t been able to track down the original release date. It probably dates to the late 1960s.

No matter, it sounds good regardless of when it came from. African Blue might be inspired by the sounds of the Dark Continent, but it could hardly get more chic. The woodwinds and percussion on Zebra are to die for.

3.9 / 5 stars

Listen to Zebra:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

6 Susumu Yokota: Symbol

susumu yokota - symbol

Get it on iTunes Get it at Amazon symbol

Japanese sound-bender Susumu Yokota infatuated me in a big way near the beginning of the year. His ability to not just make beautiful music, but make and harness beautiful sounds–building blocks of music–captivated me almost instantly. On 2005’s Symbol, Yokota takes his inspiration from a wide spectrum of classical music heritage, directly sampling a mashing together multiple works and styles. It’s breath-taking. The Steve Reich meets Claude Debussy and a plethora of other composers on Blue Sky And Yellow Sunflower strikes my fancy like you can’t imagine.

Even the song titles are poignant and beautiful on this record.

3.87 / 5 Stars

7 The Polish Ambassador: The Phantasmal Farm

The Phantasmal Farm

When it was put on the internet as a free download in July 2007, The Phantasmal Farm was the second full-length album released in the span of six months by the inter-dimensional envoy of electrogroovocity, The Polish Ambassador. Some people might assume that such a rapid-fire release rate would have affected the quality of the music. But not in this case. The Ambassador’s powers are mighty and The Phantasmal Farm’s beats, grooves and mind-blowing electrotunes actually edge out the score of The Ambassador’s debut record, Diplomatic Immunity (which I thought was pretty damn awesome), by 0.12 points.

By downloading this record, not only will you experience some of the most seductive and mesmerizing electrofunk you might ever hear, you’ll be helping to preserve the Phantasmal Farm itself, which can only persist if people remember it. When you’re there, check out When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It and Astro-American Anthem, then just try to keep from dancing.

3.86 / 5 Stars

When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It

8 Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight

rilo kiley under the blacklight

under the blacklight at itunes under the blacklight under the blacklight at amazon

The fifth album and major label debut from Los Angeles rock troubadours Rilo Kiley has been totally rocking my house since its August 2007 release. While not all the songs rank among the band’s greatest, Under the Blacklight is probably their most well-rounded record. I made note in my review that it’s the band’s most rock-focused release to date. That suits me just fine, considering my current regard for rock music.

Initially my favorite track was the disc’s opener, Silver Lining. Having had more time to listen to Under the Blacklight, I’ve since discovered that I’m partial to Dreamworld, which is unusual because it’s one of Blake’s songs, and I’ve been less disposed toward his writings.

3.84 / 5 Stars

9 Air [french band]: Pocket Symphony

air pocket symphony

air pocket symphony at itunes pocket symphony air pocket symphony at amazon

The first Air album in three years arrived to eagerly waiting ears in March 2007. Though not much groundbreaking this time around, Pocket Symphony is a strong album nonetheless. If anything, the record is more sullen in character than anything the duo has produced in the past. Still, it is exquisitely lush in composition and well worth attention. Left Bank and Mer du Japon are particularly lovely.

3.84 / 5 Stars

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

10 The Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist

smashing pumpkins zeitgeist

zeitgeist compact disc

The Pumpkins came back in 2007, after breaking up in 2000, and there was much trepidation around these parts as to whether this new era of smashingness would be substantial or meaningless hype. Turns out that the trepidation was ill-founded, because Zeitgeist freakin rocks. Taut songs presented straightforwardly equals rock heaven. Tarantula was a hit from the first radio-capped bootleg I snagged off the Internet and Doomsday Clock freakin blows my doors off. that’s right, I said ‘freakin’ twice. that’s how good this is.

3.81 / 5 Stars

I found all these albums to be well worth my attention this past year. Give them a listen and you find that they are well worth yours as well.

Best of tunequest: Top 10 discoveries of 2006

When I began the original tunequest in February of last year, I had ~6000 songs in my iTunes library that had a play count of zero. Part of that list consisted of old CDs that just hadn’t been played since they were digitized. A good number of them were the result of over-zealous music collection and exploration. That was one of the reasons I decided to undertake the endeavor in the first place.

By the end of the journey, every one of those songs had been played and a good number of them had been rated as well. Of those, 122 songs received a five-star rating after only a single play. About half of those were well-known songs from yesteryear. From those remaining, I whittled down the ten newly discovered or unearthed tracks over the course of the tunequest that had the highest impact on me.

Here they are in no particular order.

Ratatat – Noose – Live at Lee’s Palace Toronto 2004

I first heard this song on a CBC Radio 3 Internet stream, which is the version presented here. It’s the b-side to the Germany to Germany single and I liked it so much, I, a) captured the entire show and, b) instantly bought it from iTunes. Along with Ratatat’s Wildcat, the single from their 2006 album Classics, this is probably my favorite track of the year.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Ratatat - Germany to Germany - Single - Noose

Sonic Youth – Incinerate – from Rather Ripped

Rather Ripped is Sonic Youth’s latest new release, having come out last summer. This song is the perfect example of the ” radical adults’ ” effortless melodies and

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped - Incinerate

Pearl Jam – World Wide Suicide – from Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam came back into my life last year, after having been relegated to background noise for many many years. It comes in the form of renewed appreciation for the group’s back catalogue as well as the latest album, the self-titled Pearl Jam, and this, it’s lead single.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam - World Wide Suicide

Les Baxter – Oasis of Dahkla – from Tamboo!

A song I’ve had digitized for a while, but somehow never listened to. Les Baxter’s smooth and exotic compositions and arrangements have been perennial favorites around here. Oasis of Dahkla is lush and melodious, just like I like it.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Titel – Klaus Doldinger – From Das Boot

A soundtrack that I acquired several years ago, but resisted listening to it for fear that I couldn’t relate to it. What a mistake! Methodic, pulsing and indelibly thematic, Klaus Doldinger’s main title score to this 1981 film is captivating.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Klaus Doldringer - The Longest Day - Music from the Classic War Films - Das Boot (The Boat)

Stereolab – Pack Yr Romantic Mind – from Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

I’m a big fan of Stereolab’s later releases with their heightened pop sensibilities and have traditionally shied away from the groop’s more expressly noise-influenced early records. Though the production value isn’t quite what I expect from the band, the somber beauty of this song, from their first proper album, quite surprised me.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements - Pack Yr Romantic Mind

Joe Hisaishi – Sootballs – From Spirited Away

Hisaishi’s score are as breathtaking as Miyazaki’s animations. This song from 2001’s Spirited Away is full of playful mischief.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Blondie – Sunday Girl – from Parallel Lines

For whatever reason, I had never listened to the second half of Parallel Lines, other than Heart of Glass of course. This song is pure pop bliss and I’m bummed I missed out on it for years.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Blondie - Parallel Lines - Sunday Girl

Stravinsky – Scene 1 from Petrushka – performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Abbado

This ballet by Stravinsky, composed in 1911, is simply marvelous and the opening legerdemain scene at the Shrovetide Fair is quite engaging.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

John Barry – James Bond with Bongos – from From Russia with Love

If you thought James Bond was cool before, wait until you hear that famous theme slowly dissolve into some uber-smooth slacker jazz before 007 is put in danger once again. From THE master, John Barry, doing what he does best.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Martin Denny – Exotic Moog: Cold and Sexy

martin denny - exotic moog

As promised, I dug up the column I once wrote about the legendary Martin Denny's infamous (and highly collectable) Exotic Moog record (1969).

It wasn’t until after I wrote this that I learned that Denny didn’t actually play any of the music on the record. In a 1997 interview with Cool and Strange Music Magazine, he revealed that Liberty, his record label, took control of the project and had ghost musicians perform and produce the whole thing. That part of the interview was not published until after Denny’s death in 2005.

That might explain the record’s apparent lack of focus. I must say though, that to this day, it really is a fascinating listen, despite the somewhat negative tone of my original review. Parts of it are worth keeping, like A Taste of Honey, for example:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

History is full of ambitious ideas that promise abundant pay-off. Yet when executed, they somehow fall short, despite the talent involved. Such as when classical orchestras try to play rock songs or western nations try to invade Russia.

Likewise, having Martin Denny put together a record using the Moog as the primary instrument would seem to be ingenious, promising an otherworldly spin on exotic music.

But there lies the problem. The record relies too much on the Moog as a musical force. This record is more an homage to technological advancement, rather than inspired musical arrangement. Even the liner notes focus on the progress of then-modern recording equipment.

The result comes off as a grand curiosity, not the phenomenon it should be.

Not that combining electronics with exotica creates an automatic disparity. It’s just the opposite. The foreign sounds capable of being formed by the synthesizer are perfectly suited to the mind set of most mid-20th century exotic composers and by 1970, the earthly exotic realms had been exhaustively examined by exotica’s masters.

On the heels of the moon landing, it was natural to want to investigate an extraterrestrial musicscape. Still experimental, the Moog had recently come into being. Finally, there was an opportunity to explore the music of the future.

I, for one, am glad that is not what the future became. While Exotic Moog is intriguing to listen to, the over-emphasis of the Moog leaves it sounding largely hollow and stale. The exceptions are the couple of songs where another live instrument is brought to the forefront.

Les Baxter’s Quiet Village (which in its original version was Denny’s first hit in 1957) is utterly butchered under the whine and groan of the Moog. On the other hand, A Taste of Honey never sounded so sweet. The Enchanted Sea drifts with ominous enchantment and Midnight Cowboy is a moving reinterpretation of John Barry's classic theme.

The hits are few and far between, but they land right on the mark.

Despite the overall substandard musical quality, this record is worth picking up for its standout songs and for its cultural and historical significance. But be warned, it is long out of print and extremely rare (and is something of a holy grail for Denny collectors).

Your best bets are used record stores or online dealers such as Hip Wax or eBay. A limited CD version combined with Les Baxter’s “Moog Rock” may be available from those same sources. Snatch one up if you see it.

bossa nova, batman and elbow

65 looks like an impressive number, but today it’s not. whereas the 66 songs from yesterday represent just over 5 hours of music, today’s 65 only amount to 3.5 hours. this is partially because the severed dreams soundtrack is only 33 minutes for its 22 songs, while mahler’s 6th from yesterday clocks in near 90 minutes but counts as only 4 songs. in any event, i did hear some worthwhile music.

  • fantastic plastic machine [beautiful]
  • elbow [alseep in the back]
  • elliot goldenthal [batman forever]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: severed dreams]
  • ultralounge bossa novaville

Ah, the bossa nova…. it, and to a lesser extent samba, are among my favorite forms of music, so it’s surprising that i don’t have more of it in my collection. nevertheless, it should be no surprise that i’m highly enthralled by bossa novaville, no.14 in the ultralounge series. nineteen super-smooth and relaxing tracks that can’t help but take the edge off whatever’s on your mind.

of course, this is ultralounge we’re talking about, a product of capitol records. it’s designed, packaged and presented to appeal to boomers and retro-culture hipsters alike without being in the slightest way offensive. despite the marketing schtick, the music is quite effective and at the very least, acts as a launching pad for further explorations into the various genres it resurrects. les baxter alone almost justifies the series’ existence.

also in today’s roundup: a somewhat disappointing score for batman forever. beyond treatments and re-workings of danny elfman’s batman theme, nothing here really jumped out at me. about half the tracks got the boot.

and a quick note about elbow: the group is from the UK (manchester, specifically) and i’ve heard them referred to as equal parts radiohead and coldplay. which is sort of true, if radiohead wrote more ballad-type songs and didn’t enjoy rocking out as hard, you might get the mellow stylings of elbow. i guess that’s where the coldplay reference comes from, but elbow is not nearly as insufferable.

The first tunequest post

Highlights: John Williams score for A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a breathtakingly moving film score, particularly The Mecha World suite. The man was on the mark with that one.

In a similar vein, I also enjoyed movements I. and II. from Mahler’s 6th Symphony performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra as well as some groovin’ Les Baxter.

I removed a dull number by Hooverphonic and a non-song by An April March.