Favorite Things ~ ALBUMS ‘07


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Arcade Fire ~ Neon Bible (Merge).
Recorded and performed in churches, “Neon Bible” is, ironically, a heartfelt diatribe against the evils of organized religion. “Not much chance for survival,” sings Wim Butler, “if the neon Bible is right.” Yet beneath all the disappointment and anger flows a river of faith, apparent in the organ tones of “Intervention,” the prophetic imagery of “The Well and the Lighthouse” and the determined yearning of “My Body Is a Cage.” Strings, brass and gospel choirs enrich the band’s already textured sound and transport listeners to a state of musical rapture.


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Olafur Arnalds ~ Eulogy for Evolution (Progression).
A rainswept melancholy pervades the work of this strikingly accomplished composer, who produced, arranged and performed the bulk of this mini-symphony at the age of 20. “Eulogy for Evolution” is an exercise in keen restraint: piano notes expand gently over hardwood floors as stringed instruments peer around the corner and percussion waits in the wings. At album’s end, the entire amalgamation dissolves in a wash of guitar feedback and electronic static, as if unable to bear the weight. Crawling from the wreckage, a mournful organ delivers a final coda. A tremendous debut, complemented by exquisite art design.


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The Fratellis ~ Costello Music (Interscope).
These Glasgow lads were already popular across the pond before an iPod commercial broke them big in the States. Tight playing, pub chanting choruses and the best riffs this side of Franz Ferdinand made this the century’s first classic party album. An astounding array of multi-formatted single releases (45, 10”, 12”, picture disk, etched vinyl, CD single, EP) produced more B-sides than the album had A-sides, and a killer tour had punters jumping up and down, fists in the air, for months on end. An album of pure happiness and unadulterated joy.


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Mum ~ Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy (Fat Cat).
Having lost yet another lead vocalist following their last release, Mum seemed primed for a breakdown. Instead of disbanding, the intrepid Icelanders invited a host of friends along to pen and perform a decidedly more percussive affair. This could be the lost soundtrack to Charles Burns’ “Black Hole:” a bunch of outcast kids having fun in the woods with sticks and bottles, unaware of a sinister element lurking in the lyrics like wet leaves.


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Efterklang ~ Under Giant Trees (Leaf).
Before “Parades” saw Efterklang trade in their electronic textures for a more organic background, the group released this rather wonderful half-hour EP, collecting songs they had perfected on their most recent tour. The results are stunning, a euphoric meld of muted trumpets, martial drums and choral magnificence. Collector cards are included.


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D.J. Food & D.K. ~ Now, Listen Again (Ninja Tune).
Solid Steel does it again! This amazing mix is not only a musical tour de force, but a primer on hip-hop history and a crate digger’s delight. The highlights are the inclusion of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and the brilliant blending of New Order’s “The Beach” with Part 2’s “One of Dem Days.” Rewind Track 1 for a hidden prologue.


  Buy new or used through Amazon Amiina ~ Kurr (Ever).
Sigur Ros’ opening band steps out on their own with this beautiful bedtime release; soothing tones and lullabies make this the perfect tea and honey album. “Hilli (At the Top of the World),” a transcendent winter video honoring the late Lee Hazlewood, was the bittersweet coda.


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Do Make Say Think ~ You, You’re a History in Rust (Constellation).
Five albums into their career, Ontario’s Do Make Say Think show no sign of slowing. On this latest effort, the vibe is looser, the interplay more intuitive than ever. For the first time, they’ve added a vocalist, present on two tracks. One can imagine the group leaning back in comfortable armchairs around a crackling fireplace, strumming their guitars and singing as half-finished bottles of wine perch on nearby ledges.


  Buy through Noble
Kashiwa Daisuke ~ Program Music I (Noble).
Over the course of 52 minutes and two tracks, Japanese composer Daisuke demonstrates an uncanny ability to balance the sustained and the restless. Each piece contains multiple themes and sub-themes, switching every few minutes like a hummingbird unsure where to alight. Only when each piece ends do we understand the overall tapestry. Traditional and electronic elements are blended seamlessly in this modern classical bouquet.


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Jonny Greenwood ~ There Will Be Blood Film Score (Nonesuch).
While “In Rainbows” may have gotten all the attention, “There Will Be Blood” was 2007’s best Radiohead-related release. This eerie, string-laden score is a masterpiece of mood, a daring choice to accompany one of the year’s best movies. Without Greenwood’s score, Daniel Day-Lewis would not have seemed as menacing; but without Lewis, the score still continues to raise hair follicles. Jonny, we thought we knew ye.


Glen Hansgard & Marketa Irglova, Falling Slowly, from the “Once” soundtrack.

Arcade Fire, Intervention, from the album, “Neon Bible.”
The Fratellis, Flathead, from the album, “Costello Music.”
Modest Mouse, Dashboard, from the album “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.”
Amiina with Lee Hazlewood, Hilli (At the Top of the World) found only on MP3 and 45.


The Year in Books

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
At last, the publishing event of a generation has reached its conclusion. Over the course of seven books, Rowling not only sustained interest, but generated momentum while honing her writing skills. A true rags-to-riches story: bravo.


Mark J. Ferrari, The Book of Joby
Looking for the next Harry Potter? Try this young adult saga, a daring blend of King Arthur and the Book of Job. The author perfectly balances faith and fantasy as he waxes elegantly about suffering, free will & the perspective of age.

Bernhard Edmaier, Patterns of the Earth
This sequel to Earthsong is a lot smaller, but even more engaging. Edmaier uses an OCD mentality to organize nature shots by pattern, rather than by subject. The result: a stunning collection of prospective 4AD-style CD covers.

Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
An endearing, humorous reworking of Shakespeare from the perspective of an autistic boy: Hamlet meets the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Leonie Swann, Three Bags Full
Who killed the shepherd? That’s what the sheep want to find out, and they’re the narrators of this clever take on the classic murder mystery. Sequel, please!

Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts
Stephen King’s son won all sorts of awards for this short story collection, finally released here in the U.S. A long and fruitful career in the horror field awaits.

Shaun Tan, The Arrival.
A wordless, otherworldly parable of the immigrant experience, illustrated in shades of sepia and burnt umber. The pinnacle of Tan’s output to date.

Claire Nouvian, The Deep
A photographic compilation of the bioluminescent creatures of the deep ocean, accompanied by brief descriptions that lament how much remains unknown.

Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
The first installment of this fantasy trilogy introduces us to a magician and his demonic friend, awaiting a showdown with evil in a bar at the end of the world.

Neil Gaiman, M Is For Magic
This stellar collection gathers Gaiman’s young adult fantasy stories in the same literary binding. The best story: “The Price,” a haunting tale of a noble cat.

The Top 5 Movies of 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Wristcutters: A Love Story


Special Mention: Sigur Ros’ elegant “Heima” DVD.


Richard Allen