We're one-quarter of the way through 2007. Here's a list of new CDs I've purchased or otherwise acquired this year, with tentative remarks on how they might stack up in my year-end best-of list. (Live albums, EPs, and compilations are not listed, because they're not eligible for my lists, for boring reasons I've mentioned in those year-end listings...) They appear in approximately the order I bought them.
British fans could buy this in 2006, but I'm not there so it's a 2007 as far as I'm concerned. I wasn't as negative on Winchester Cathedral as most folks...yet I don't listen to it as much as the rest of Clinic's catalog. This one? Hailed as a return to form - and I agree. Reasonable odds of being in my top ten; definitely in the top 20.
Kristin Hersh Learn to Sing Like a Star
This is the first Hersh solo CD that brings the full range and force of her songwriting into focus, including some of the eccentricity of early Throwing Muses, along with the more delicate arrangement touches of her last solo release. Very good odds of being in my top ten.
Of Montreal Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
I think this band just keeps getting better. The songwriting's more confident than it was, they're no longer confined to self-imposed genre exercises, and the 11-minute centerpiece "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" is as terrifyingly compelling as a car wreck. Pretty much a lock for the top ten. (Uh-oh: at this rate, there'll be more than ten titles in my top ten. Details, details...)
The Shins Wincing the Night Away
I'm reasonably impressed: the band seems to be unafraid to grow and change, in that this isn't "Songs Like the Ones You Heard in Garden State." On the other hand, it hasn't quite grabbed me yet. Somewhere between 15 and 30-ish...
Mitch Easter Dynamico
I think my mere joy that there is a new Mitch Easter CD has served to get in the way of my getting to know this one (that idea probably makes sense only to me). And Mitch's stuff often takes me a while to really appreciate. So it'll probably end up in the top twenty - but quite a lot of room for movement on this one.
The Human Hearts Civics
This is Franklin Bruno's (Nothing Painted Blue) new band, formed during his time as visiting professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. No idea whether it's a one-off or an ongoing gig (that might depend on Bruno's academic career). As usual for me, the lyrics grab me with their cleverness, and there's a certain melodicism...but it takes a while for Bruno's work to feel truly charming to me. It doesn't always happen. Maybe in the top twenty, maybe not.
Field Music Tones of Town
Witty, clever, elegantly arranged and energetic songcraft, with occasional proggy touches peering around its edges. Top twenty, quite possibly top ten.
Future Clouds & Radar (self-titled)
When I wrote about this band a few weeks back, I hadn't heard the whole (double-disc!) album. The rest of it is just as good, even more stylistically sprawling, and a compelling case for Robert Harrison as a criminally underrecognized songwriter. Strong case for the top ten.
Arcade Fire Neon Bible
Another heavy hitter as far as publicity is concerned. So far, it impresses more in theory than in memorability. Maybe in the top twenty, maybe not.
Low Drums and Guns
The most impressive thing about this band is that after they'd established a sound and laid claim to what amounted to a self-created genre of music (with a stupid name that I won't mention), they've then proceeded to evolve and grow with each subsequent release, to the point that on the surface you'd hardly recognize this as the same band. Textures are often electronic, tempos are commonly in the middle range or even approaching something you might call "rapid." Yet the band remains recognizably no one but itself: Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's harmonies ensure that, as well as the aching beauty, honesty, and intensity of their music. Definitely in the top ten.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Living with the Living
Something about Shake the Streets (Leo's preceding release) never quite took with me. The songs and lyrics were fine - but something about the production, or maybe Leo's singing, seemed a little off to me. Still a fine album - but this one is both a return to form and a considerable expansion of what it is Ted Leo does. Apparently a lot of people hate the "reggae" track here - I hate reggae, and yet I like it. Go figure. Anyway: top twenty, somewhere.
Knit Delicate Pressed
Milwaukeean Charles Jordan (formerly of the Nerve Twins and Soda), backed by the fabulous Maki, on a set of Replacements-y/Figgs-y songs that skirt the edge between merely competent and inspired. Not sure yet.
The Fall Reformation Post T.L.C.
After a hot streak on their last few albums (a streak that showed signs of slowing on their last one Fall Heads Roll), Mark E. Smith and his latest batch of hired hands produce a sort of better-than-middling but not quite fully formed set of tracks. Smith's typical perversity is in full force: three songs in a row are single-chord vamps in the same key (and that's nearly fifteen minutes' worth), there's a ten-minute track in three parts (1. murky 2. inane 3. murky) that tests even my patience...yet there are also a handful of classic Fall stompers. Lower reaches of the top twenty, probably.
The Mitchells Slow Gears
These guys have trademarked a distinctive sound that's simultaneously their own yet fairly clear in its antecedents (crunchy, melodic, but dissonant post-punk). Haven't listened to this one enough for details to fall out, so it's another one with a lot of potential for movement, even though I think it's likely to end up in the top twenty.
So, what have we got?
Four releases that I'm claiming are likely to be in the top ten.
Three to five that will probably be from eleven to twenty.
Another two that just might be in the top twenty.
And three that probably won't.
Seems like a reasonably strong year, so far. (And I haven't even looked at my "why haven't I bought this yet?" list...)