By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
The Weight is a Gift
Is it finally time to tap-dance on the grave of Musical Irony? No, not parody, and certainly not satire — as long as there's social inequity and political wrong-headedness, there will always be need for that — but irony. You know: vintage shirt plus gym-teacher mustache minus properly fitting pants (oof) equals hipster gold. It's enough to make irony-weary music fans choose Scrabble over shows.
And while it's awesome to slap down QUIZ on a triple word score, we miss music. Real music. Good music. Thank heavens for 2007. The past twelve months have put a song in our heart, an extra 512 MB on our iPod, and a concert or fifteen on our calendar.
The year was nearly five-sixths over by the time Menomena came to town, and the Portland musicians' Billiken Club appearance highlighted their abundant talent and wicked wit. Most of the SLU students were dressed in costumes, which ordinarily would be all kinds of annoying (particularly since it was the day before Halloween), but the outfits seemed of a piece with Menomena's whip-smart whimsy. (Confidential to the guy who wore the "vampire giraffe" costume: I am totally stealing that idea next year.)
Menomena's 2007 release, Friend and Foe, is a worthy follow-up to its excellent debut. The band combines computerized loops, intricate math-rock signatures, and hella awesome keyboard and saxophone solos into music that is at once triumphant and very, very dark. Menomena's amazing live version of "Muscle 'N Flo" prompted one tipsy Billiken to shout, "You're special! ...In the good way!" Indeed.
The caliber of shows at the Billiken Club has been one of 2007's greatest delights. In the past four months alone, the venue checked off an impressive indie-rock wish list: There was Menomena, of course, but also Besnard Lakes, the Twilight Sad, White Rabbits and Mountain Goats. And the music released this year, in general? Damn, son. The best album of 2007 is the National's Boxer, and if you don't think so, you probably also hate puppies and fun. Okay, so maybe that's a bit harsh — but the Brooklyn quartet's fourth LP is seriously amazing.
Honest without being cloyingly confessional, serious without being mopey, Boxer distills all that is painful (and all that is beautiful) about being a young American. Matt Berninger's gorgeous baritone lends gravitas to songs about decaying friendships ("Green Gloves"), the dulling effects of middle-class striving ("Racing Like a Pro") and, yes, true love ("Slow Show"). The National's June concert at the Duck Room was both raucous and cathartic, with the capacity crowd requesting favorites and singing along, word for word. Bryan Devendorf further sealed his reputation as one of indie rock's most talented drummers, and Padme Newsome — an unofficial National member who kicks official ass — added texture and beauty with his impeccable viola-playing. Leave it to the National to go for the trifecta: best band, best album, best live show. Done, done and done — and without a trace of pretension or calculated irony. Real music made a resurgence in 2007, and only our Scrabble skills suffered.
— Brooke Foster
Revenge of the Nerds
LCD Soundsystem's self-titled 2005 release stands as the album that made me finally, truly believe in new electronic music. But Sound of Silver was a huge step up — and my ultimate album of 2007. It had everything I wanted: fun, super-fresh style, beauty and plenty of beats. "All My Friends" is elegant and touching, "Someone Great" is bloop-bloop perfection and the hand claps and joyous shouts of "a-woohoo!" in "Watch The Tapes" are majorly addictive.
Still, my favorite part of the music year was when an android stork dropped down from outer space and delivered us Radiohead's In Rainbows. The media hullabaloo surrounding the surprise release sucked me in whole (because I'm a dork and I love shit like that). And while I remain fascinated by the band's alien marketing techniques, the album had the chops to back up the hype. It's pretty, glitchy, bittersweet and epic — in short, everything you would expect from a Radiohead album. However, In Rainbows is instantly more accessible than Amnesiac, Kid A or even Hail to the Thief. Around the same time as the album's release, the band started leaking performances on its Web site, including live versions of album tracks and my new favorite cover ever: Radiohead playing New Order's "Ceremony."
My heart swelled with pride when the Arcade Fire released Neon Bible, and then both fans and critics welcomed the album's lush, bountiful orchestration. Arcade Fire fans have formed a near-cultish church surrounding the band, but their worship might be justified. "Intervention," "Ocean of Noise," "(Antichrist Television Blues)" and "My Body Is a Cage" are nothing short of magical and could easily be mistaken for the rapturous hymns of a new religion. Everyone was primed for a backlash against the indie darlings, but you can't argue with songs this beautiful.
As far as independent releases, at the beginning of the year I was gifted with an advanced copy of AA Bondy's recently released American Hearts, and it's been in heavy rotation ever since. The solo singer-songwriter put aside his former life as the lead singer of scorching glam-grungers Verbena in favor of a more earthy, exposed adventure. Bondy composes lonely tales of complicated redemption, teetering between the delicate confusion of Dylan and the hopeful pride of Springsteen. His soulful voice is soothing and softly Southern, making American Hearts a perfect Sunday-morning album.