disclaimer is not a toy

Mix Suggestion: The Best of 2007

It's mix-CD tracklist season again, so here's Also Sprach Zenthura: The Best I've Heard of 2007, and my sporadically informative write-ups for each song contained therein. If anyone would like a copy of one of these CDs, just e-mail me and I'll send you one. Furthermore, I really enjoy reading other people's tracklists and write-ups of this sort, so if you'd like to e-mail your own "best of 2007" mixes to me, I'd appreciate it. In fact, I'll post 'em on the site! Where else can you get your writings posted on the Internet, preserved in glorious, vibrant Times New Roman?

The annual disclaimer: I haven't even heard all the 2007 albums that I'd like to hear, let alone all the year's notable albums. Runners-up for this tracklist include "Slush Bunny" by Twink, "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" by Bjork, "To Heal" by Underworld, "Challengers" by the New Pornographers, and assorted goodies from Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog. (I thought about opening the disc with a bit from Paul F. Tompkins's stand-up disc Impersonal because that sucker invariably cracks me up, but cooler heads prevailed.) I really don't even like most of my descriptions for the songs, now that I look at them, but they're written, so they're going to get posted.

Also, the most recent reader comment I received called me "a total tin-eared asshole," so please correct for that as well.

1: !!!- "Myth Takes" (2:24) Forsaking the bloated song lengths that previously overfished their ponds of inspiration, !!! (pronounced "exclamation points") are paragons of efficiency on this brief rhythmic contraption. Only the spy-flick guitar comes close to an actual melody: Nic Offer breathlessly whispers over a squalling feedback loop and a menacing bassline that thwacks and swerves, barely grazing any notes. "Myth Takes" is a rapidly advancing beat battalion, and you'd be dancing even if they weren't shooting that gun at your feet. From Myth Takes.

2. Electric Six- "Down At McDonnelzzz" (4:01) At this rate, I fully expect the Electric Six to appear on every one of these annual mixes until I get bored and stop. They're awesome and I'm running out of ways to say it. Here, we've got a piano hightailing it, then giving way to ironic-macho guitars, and Dick Valentine's lyrics bringing the gigglies. This time, it's an admission that an impromptu party in the McDonal--er, McDonnelzzz parking lot just before closing time may not be ideal from the night crew's perspective. But too bad, 'cause parties happen when and where parties have to happen. From I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master.

3. Apples in Stereo- "Sunndal Song" (3:31) Following a five-year hiatus, these torch-bearers for nostalgic psychedelic pop returned with a dizzyingly unbalanced ratio of flourishes to solid ideas. Their comeback was still more than welcome, though, if only for this friendly, life-affirming bit of pure musical joy. Between Hilarie Sidney's typically hooky melody and Robert Schneider's overachieving production (complete with vocoderized backing vocals), this could give OutKast's "Hey Ya" a run for its money as the decade's most sustainedly lovable bit of ear candy. I'll get back to you in a few years. From New Magnetic Wonder.

4. Datarock- "Fa-Fa-Fa" (5:08) Like some sort of dance-punk Harry Turtledove, Datarock powers up the "what if" machine to envision a Talking Heads single bridging the gap between the clinical guitar patterns of More Songs About Buildings and Food and the sleep-deprived panic of Fear of Music. The result is a propulsive, fluid bit of rock archaeology- complete with David Byrne-style staccato yelps- that still sounds as trendy as !!! or LCD Soundsystem. From the otherwise so-so Datarock Datarock.

5. Northern State- "Away Away" (3:35) I was a big booster of white-girl rappers Northern State even through their largely charmless Sony debut, 2004's All City, so it was nice of them to make my job easy again on their first album for Mike Patton's Ipecac label. The best of many laid-back spoken/sung party tracks on Can I Keep This Pen?, "Away Away" is an ambivalent kiss-off built around a bassline that also recalls Talking Heads; this time from the Speaking in Tongues phase. (Northern State's singing voices, meanwhile, get a lot of comparisons to Luscious Jackson, but I can only vaguely remember what that group sounded like. These girls tend to stick to one- or two-note themes that remind me of Beck, though, if that helps.) I am particularly enamored of the way it sounds when Hesta Prynn corrals her strident Long Island accent into a melody. From Can I Keep This Pen?

6. Mark Prindle- "FASTCLEANS" (1:49) Accusations of favoritism are understandable (if anyone wants to bother), since Mark is a good friend, but man alive, can he write a catchy, catchy, offensive song. "FASTCLEANS" was the code Mark typed into his digital 16-track to identify this series of distortion-free guitar lines when he initially recorded it... but when it came time to write lyrics, it also served as inspiration: "We're a fancy laundry service/We're called 'The Fast Cleans'/We'll clean your clothes in 30 seconds/Thanks to our magic beans/Our magic beans have powers like none you've ever seens [sic]/They bounce around and sparkle dust to clean your stinky jeans." Appropriately enough, the joke only gets filthier from there. From Smilehouse.

7. Mr. Hudson & The Library- "Too Late, Too Late" (3:08) "Post-Strokes Britpop reggae" might sound off-puttingly fancy and calculated, but these guys make the combination seem as organic as a hemp shopping bag full of spelt. It's got a nifty arrangement, too, with sensible horns adding oomph throughout, and keyboard runs and handclaps making their bow just toward the end of the track. From A Tale of Two Cities. (Thanks to Oleg for the recommendation.)

8. Cassette- "June" (1:40) Not since Dump's A Plea for Tenderness have I heard a homemade four-track instrumental that I found... well, even memorable, let alone this calmly affecting. It starts off with a bloopy ascending theme that sounds like it's culled from some guileless '70s PBS station identification announcement, and halfway through, a comforting guitar sunburst appears. It's hardly a "should've been a hit" masterpiece, but it's a gorgeous interlude that I'd be loath to lose from this tracklist. From Beautiful California.

9. Feist- "My Moon My Man" (3:45) Leslie Feist revs up her sexiest runway stomp and lets it fly on this stunning slinker. Just when you think you might get bored of the Keren Ann chanteuse act, though, the chorus arrives with a whoosh of murmured harmonies and a double-time piano to keep things buoyant. From The Reminder. [NOTE: I cut, like, three seconds of ambient noise off the end of this track so it would all fit on a CD. Sue me.] [NOTE: Ms. Feist, please do not literally sue me.]

10. When- "Filthy John" (4:04) Twenty years into his recording career, Norwegian artist Lars Pedersen has either graduated or regressed- depending on your level of self-conscious eccentricity- from making expressive, black-humored tape collages to this year's collection of twinkly Beatles/Go-Betweens pop. "Filthy John" is the best of the bunch by a hair: crisp guitars and harmonies abound, with a glint of Dave Fridmann-inspired keyboard texturing. Oh, and it's about a guy named John, not... yeah. From the excellent Trippy Happy.

11. M.I.A.- "Jimmy" (3:29) Armed with an old-timey drum machine and some Bollywood string samples, hip-hop rebel leader M.I.A. goes beyond her usual agreeable inscrutability on this song, which is so transcendently unique that it hurts to have it stuck in your head, itching to get out. She still speaks in typos and text message shorthand, daring you to read literal meaning into her juxtaposition of her boy crush and the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda, but she presents her natterings with such sincere yearning that... surely she's saying something, isn't she? From Kala.

12. Bat for Lashes- "Prescilla" (3:34) Natasha Khan, who records under the name Bat for Lashes, spends a lot of time cribbing some of the best attributes of Cat Power, Rasputina, and Tori Amos, without any strong musical identity of her own coming through yet. Still, this is a well-constructed and memorable tune indeed that hopefully presages smart albums to come, and I admit to handing out an additional 25 points for the use of an autoharp in the rhythm guitar role. From Fur and Gold.

13. Blonde Redhead- "Spring and By Summer Fall" (4:17) Blonde Redhead's biggest selling point, ordinarily, is Kazu Makino's weirdly misty singing, but it's guitarist Amadeo Pace (apparently) whose voice gallops its way through the dustcloud of guitars here. Both vox and guitars hammer away on single notes for beats or bars at a time, creating a sense of urgency from very few elements, but not in an angry punk way. (Blonde Redhead's tourmates, Interpol, are the easiest comparison I can think of.) It's the sound of drunkenly clambering aboard a subway in an unfamiliar city and trying to regain your equilibrium by resting your forehead against the icy cool of the window, hoping not to be pushed over the edge by the disorienting trails of lights careening past. From 23.

14. Of Montreal- "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" (3:18) In 2007, Kevin Barnes continued his obsession with turning Of Montreal into a zippy electro-glam dance-pop outfit, resulting in this album highlight, a flashing Chuck E. Cheese playland of Whack-a-Mole synths and vocal lines that leap gaily into the ball pit. Its lyrics also happen to comprise the best trapped-by-depression monologue I've ever heard in a song; if the music weren't so damn cheery, it would be impossible not to bawl as Barnes pleads with his neurotransmitters, "Chemicals, don't strangle my pen/Chemicals, don't make me sick again." (Also, don't miss this song's costume-happy video directed by Homestar Runner creators The Brothers Chaps.) From Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

15. Meat Puppets- "Enemy Love Song" (3:24) The first Meat Puppets album in a decade to feature both Kirkwood brothers doesn't hit the classic, baked expansiveness of their Meat Puppets II/Up on the Sun era, or even the fecundity of their early-'90s major-label second wind, but it does house a cluster of unexpected slackass beauts like this track. Typical of Curt Kirkwood's snide humor, "Enemy Love Song" takes an indefensibly lame arrangement (the cheap chorus effects on the guitars sound like Phil Collins gone reggae) and transforms it, via the brothers' deadpan harmonies, into something you'll feel stupid humming for weeks. From Rise to Your Knees.

16. Ween- "Your Party" (4:08) Ween's one consistent motif throughout their career has been their embodiment of all manner of sleaze, from redneck misogynists to Mexican gang members to Prince, and "Your Party" is their most inspired characterization in years. It's a thank-you note written to the host of a wife-swapping party, presented in the sort of yuppie smooth-jazz style you would expect to be playing on the stereo as the keys are tossed into an oversized brandy snifter. Special guest saxaphonist David Sanborn gamely squeals and flails like a member of the Saturday Night Live house band, and even the nonchalantly leering way Gener breathes his vocals ("The wife and I thank you very much") is hysterically creepy. From La Cucaracha.

17. The Other Leading Brand- "Island of Misfit Sound Collagists" (4:19) Copyright-shredding soundscape technician Mike DeFabio (my friend and musical collaborator) followed up his genius-level samplectronic opus Milkshake x Infinity with a far less immediate and far moodier collection. The entire album is loosely gathered around the impossibility of success on any number of fronts, and this track covers employment woes. As someone who spent most of the year looking for work, let me tell you that the insistent claustrophobia of this song is very accurate in terms of representing the job-hunting process and the fear of failure that only increases with each passing second of parsing and over-parsing your resume. The Kevin Spacey tirade (lifted from Swimming with Sharks) is well placed, but my favorite part of the song is the way Mike manages to recontextualize the iconic intro to Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" as something so sinister that it simply should not be. From The Importance of Being Awesome.

18. Crowded House- "Pour le Monde" (5:10) Speaking of... Following the suicide of original drummer Paul Hester, Crowded House reunited for a fine, contemplative album that, in some ways, serves as an extended epitath for the man. "Pour le Monde" is the most wrenching of the bunch, focusing on how suffocating the world can feel to someone who can't shake off the sorrow. Neil Finn proves that, ever since "Don't Dream It's Over," he's only been honing his gift for breaking your heart with the casual turn of a vocal line. From Time on Earth.

19. Arcade Fire- "My Body is a Cage" (4:47) Amanda says I'm wrong for not including this album's "Intervention" instead. She makes a good argument, but it's countermanded by the fact that she is, by definition, wrong for not sharing my opinion, and I far prefer this song's bleak, gallows-march build-up to a theatrical wad of pipe organ-sodden anguish. There's a bit of major-chord release at the end, but by that point, you're too exhausted to be uplifted. From Neon Bible.

20. Radiohead- "Videotape" (4:39) Thom's speaking from beyond the grave on this one, through a suicide note preserved on videotape (a dead format- get it?). My interpretation is that the narrator had already made the decision to off himself in the near future, but he then had a remarkably nice day and decided to move the timetable up, either because life thereafter would be anticlimactic or because continuing to live after experiencing a moment of pure love means you run the risk of having that love damaged or distorted. It's a selfish and futile strategy for preserving things as you want them to be preserved. The arrangement is starker and simpler than any Radiohead song since "Hunting Bears" (if you count that one), but it's as haunting as you'd hope, with a few nagging piano chords and percussion consisting mostly of a simple drum flam run through a delay effect that keeps falling out of time with itself. From In Rainbows.

21. Japancakes- "Sometimes" (5:38) The instrumental collective Japancakes closed the year with the flummoxing decision to release a song-for-song remake of an album whose accumulated plaudits have more to do with its inimitable (and pricey) production than with its songs: My Bloody Valentine's genre-defining dreampop masterpiece Loveless. On this particular cover, sleigh bells and a steel guitar stand in for the original's fleecy layers of fuzz, and it's still a total knockout. The song's patient beauty could have sprung from any Yo La Tengo album of the past decade, but what it really does is subtly underline the transporting emotion of Kevin Shields's songs that made his mile-long queues of effects pedals relevant in the first place. From Loveless.