A few notes:
As I write this, it's 2008, and it's already shaping up to be a better year for music, which is a damn shame. Why 2007 was so disappointing is really anyone's guess, but mine is that it's one of those in between years, where many groups were still writing material or in transition or touring from 2006 releases. The fact that so many good albums have already come out in January 2008 is indicative of that.
This list comprises what I believe to be the ten best releases in 2007 followed by a handful of honorable mentions. It's usually full-length releases solely, although EPs sometimes find their way in (this year there are none though). I've tried to include links to music samples whenever possible, and will be most likely adding more as I have time.
The list is only of music that I actually like which is why you won't find cheesy country, inane folk rock or radio-friendly pop on it. The purpose is to hopefully enlighten a few people who may not know of these bands already, or maybe make those who do aware of a group's 2007 release.

  1. Sound of Silver LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
    LCD Soundsystem It's a sign of a truly great album to me when I can only listen to it in certain situations. "Sound of Silver" has come into this category with such legendary albums as "Kid A," "Loveless," Autechre's "Amber" and Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "Lift Your Skinny Fists." But, of course, I'm not equating it to them.
    Really, there are only certain songs on this album that are like this, and the album as a whole is really more of a drive album (not with respect to its dynamics, but rather in that it's good for driving a car to). The song that really defines a certain moment for me is the catchy yet less-known "North American Scum." I say less-known because LCD Soundsystem has very much been found by pop culture and I wouldn't be surprised to hear his (it's just one guy) music in a TV commercial fairly soon.
    In the summer, I got the chance to the drive through the redwood forest in Northern California. One night, I wound up in Fort Bragg, a nonchalant coastal town, minus a namesake fort, that I had wanted to visit for a semi-famous brewery. For whatever reason, I was worried about my motel reservation in Ukiah, many miles over the mountains on Highway 101. The bartender at the brewpub told me it would take 90 minutes to make it, but I did it in 60, just in time to see the July 4th fireworks in Ukiah, and it was really thanks to "Sound of Silver." That opening, building track says it all. The lyrics are nearly unintelligible, but something about it picks you up and makes you want to be crazy. In my case, it was taking curves marked for 30 mph at 50-60 and flying around monstrous trees in the pitch-black night on an unfamiliar road. Quite a memory.
    This is an album that, no matter what your deal is or what sort of music you like, you have to at least listen to it once. A video is available for what is essentially the album's single "All My Friends," and that's a good starting point. But the album as a whole is not to be missed and has something for almost everyone.
    LCD Soundsystem gained notoriety in inner circles with "I'm Losing My Edge," a lampoon on the man behind the group with a hilarious video where he is repeatedly slapped throughout the course of the song by a hand from someone out of the shot. This format was reprised in the "All My Friends" (although minus the violence) which is him in front of a camera, calmly singing along while various members of the band play along.
    And that's what makes this particular LCD album better than his other material: other artists. A real drummer was brought in, and the difference is quite magical: electronic instruments and real drums. The samples are still there, as are the keys and semi-monotone vocals, but it's just better. Other Reviews: Very Good
  2. 23 Blonde Redhead - 23
    Kazu Makino, Pitchfork Media Having high hopes for this one based on their last release, 2004's "Misery is a Butterfly", I rushed out to buy "23" just after its release.
    First, I wanted to introduce the idea that the album title is intended to be pronounced "two, three" as opposed to the expected "twenty-three" since, on the first track, this pronunciation is in the lyrics twice. I don't know that this is actually the case though.
    Also, consider the irony that a band released an album in obvious reference to the 23 Discordian enigma only a few months after a film addressing the same concept (Jim Carrey's "The Number 23"). Although, in contrast to the belief, the respective release dates were not separated by 23 days but, instead, by 45.
    I initially hated this album. I don't mean not really knowing what to think of it and just setting aside, I genuinely disliked it and thought I made a mistake in purchasing it. However, upon subsequent listens, it's grown on me and I now consider it very good.
    The great thing about this album is how it'll stay in the background. It's great driving or party music for this reason: nothing is annoying or stand-offish, yet you can feel the vibe and emotion of the music behind everything else. The power of the opening track, and it's obvious intention to be used as a single, don't necessarily die out, but also aren't kept up in any sort of awkward frenzy.
    The album climaxes in the perfect spot: the last track. "My Impure Hair" wasn't my favorite song until I saw the video, directed by Mike Mills. The song makes particularly good use of lead singer, Kazu Makino's unique voice and phrasing, putting her in a more relaxed and almost whispering frame, all of which perfectly closes yet, at the same time, sums up the album.
    Other Reviews: Medium to Good
  3. Hello Avalanche The Octopus Project - Hello, Avalanche
    Me with Yvonne The OP have grown leaps and bounds not only since I first saw them play in Houston in 2001, but even since their last full-length, 2005's "One Ten Hundred Thousand Million." What happened is one of those indie-rock miracles which truly restores your faith in the way music works today. In 2006, the organizers of Coachella had one open spot at the beginning of the second day and made an online contest out of who would get the spot. The Octopus Project, unaware of their being submitted, won that spot. That show was the best I'd ever seen them and I'd go far as to say that was the highlight of the festival. Regardless, the performance created an underground buzz through influential blogs, random emailings and MySpace-oriented dealings, and the band was put at the forefront of the underground music world. When I saw them just a few days after Coachella in Tucson, there was almost no one at the show and I had a chance to talk to the band and have my picture taken with the amazing keyboardist/guitarist/theraminist, Yvonne Lambert. But, when the band came again in February 2007, the place was jammed as it was, to a slightly lesser extent, at their most recent show this past November. Either way, they've very much evolved, not only in popularity, but musically as well, and this album is a clear reflection of that.
    The abstract kitschyness that makes the band so appealing seems to have been made into more of a theme for the album than just for individual tracks, and the multi-instrumentalism is more honed and perfected than ever. No small feat, as they often play with a sampler keeping time (I've done it, and it makes playing anything 10 times harder). Gone are the noise tracks, featured on the last full-length, that would only alienate the normal listener.
    The best part about The Octopus Project, and what really stands out on this album, is that the layers, the fun nature of the music, or maybe just the novelty of it makes you ignore the lack of vocals. Although, on this album, we are given a small taste of singing on the last track, "Queen," although from two Austin musicians and not the band members themselves.
    The stand-outs, for me, are the Aphex-esque "I Saw the Bright Shinies" and the more straight-forward, clap your hands if you're happy (and, in the live show, the audience is encouraged to clap along) track, "Bees Bein' Strugglin'". But this is one of those albums where, if you take each track and listen closely to exactly what's happening, you'll understand what's so amazing and powerful about The Octopus Project. Maybe it's just that they are creating music that I could only dream of creating, with the perfect infusion of both acoustic and electronic instrumentation. Either way, its utter abstractness shouldn't be too over-bearing to drive anyone away and, thus, it is certainly their most accessible album to date.
    Other Reviews: Good
  4. All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone
    The beginning of the album says it all: rising feedback, a blast of cymbals and the sort of guitar trill that Explosions in the Sky are famous for. No one can say that they half-assed this album or diverted, in any way, from their musical course despite finding fame from a movie, or its subsequent TV spin-off. But there are definitely those who will say that, with this album, the group has only served up their formulaic post-rock, resulting in the perception of staleness.
    The music is so prolific though, that I find it hard to not love any of their albums, regardless of whether or not they sound like each other. And, in many ways, they actually do. But the group has very much found a niche and seem to banging people on the head with that until popularity finds them. The fact is though that Explosions music does not lend itself well to pop music culture. When they played "Conan O'Brien" this year, the track had to be truncated as everything off of this release is too long for live television performances. This album sees lighter track times, but I can't see too much radio play in the near future. Explosions in the Sky also has no official music videos to speak of.
    Regardless of that, Explosions in the Sky has a hell of a following, and a growing one at that. Despite the absence of vocals and traditional musical mechanics like verses and choruses, something about the sheer power of the music draws even those unfamiliar with the evolving post-rock genre.
    Other Reviews: Good to Very Good
  5. In Rainbows Radiohead - In Rainbows
    Radiohead will probably be on all "Best of" lists this year. The band has become a modern-day Beatles, legendary in their own capacity and able to pack 80,000-seat stadia night after night with the promise of a 1-hour show while a staggering amount of self-described obsessive fans purchase and/or download every sliver of new material. Radiohead is so big that, if someone tells you that they like Radiohead, you're most likely to respond "Well, who doesn't?"
    And that sort of sums up how I feel about this album: it's Radiohead in every shape and form. But what else is it? On many listens in many different environments, I've tried to really get into it and have failed to do so yet. One thing that bothers me is the lack of flow between tracks. What made "Kid A" so great and what had appeared slightly on "Hail to the Thief" - a segway into the next track - is not there at all, and the album is left with tracks that can be easily separated, and the disjointed affair of the writing on this album (many tracks were written years ago on other albums but never released) shows strongly.
    But, the fact is, Radiohead fans will love this album. Thom York and crew could produce an album of doo-wop Christmas music and Radiohead fans would still buy it. Not to say that this isn't worth purchasing: it's still very good. But, when stacked up against other killer albums like "Kid A" and "OK Computer," you may understand why I've been talking about Radiohead's past peaking and current decline.
    Other Reviews: Very Good
  6. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
    Athens, Georgia-based Of Montreal had quite a year. They released a brand-new full-length album at the beginning of 2007, and had a re-release of a very political concept album on Polyvinyl in the latter part of it. Sometime just after releasing the new album, they went from underground/indie heroes to despised and "sell-outs," mainly due to the licensing of one of the better and more famous tracks from an older album for an Outback Steakhouse commercial, even going so far as to allow the ad agency to change the lyrics from "Let's pretend we don't exist" to "Let's go Outback tonight." Sickening? Yes. But that's no reason why they can't still produce an excellent album.
    "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" is an auto-biographical concept album reminiscent of emo-esque whining about depression and failures in inter-personal relationships. But Of Montreal gets bonus points for one of the funniest videos of the year for "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse": a lampoon of modern dance with hidden jokes and the frontman, Kevin Barnes, doing quite a good lampoon of his own pretentiousness.
    This, as well as other tracks on the same vein like "Sink the Seine" and "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger" are certainly high points on the album, and the first half runs pretty well and amazingly smooth. However, later on, the album delves into some sort of falsetto funk that seeks to almost torpedo the earlier, more happy vibe. This may have been deliberate though.
    The highlight, for me, is the last track though, "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling." The melodic intertwining is quite catchy, and the rhythms and time signatures are enough to keep even the most hard-core math rocker interested. But something about the way in which those same simplistic melodies merge into something far, far more complex that make it such a satisfying song. Its run-time doesn't seem long enough, and despite a stop, the fade-out just makes you sad that it's over.
    The album as a whole has much of this and it's obvious that a huge amount of production and songwriting work was put in. There are missed opportunities all over the place. Often, mediocre tracks can so often be made great by their own nature as the listener doesn't expect anything great. On "Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider" they come so close, but come out of the time signature and key change only to go into more of the same. Frustrating, but it's still quite good.
    Although I've never been a huge fan, I was very impressed by their live show, which I saw at this year's Fun Fun Fun Festival in Austin. The live show had quite a bit of costumes, lampooning theatrics, and was all-around well-performed. Although Barnes always came off as pretentious to me, on stage, he seemed much more grounded and eager to put on a good performance. Although they played several tracks that I like from this and other albums, the highlight, for me, was "Gronlandic Edit," which, on the album, features a spectacular harmony that the live singers absolutely nailed. Not to take away from Barnes himself though, who impressed me greatly as not only a showy, entertaining front-man, but also as a vocalist.
    Other Reviews: Very Good
  7. Friend and Foe Menomena - Friend and Foe
    Menomena are yet another in a line of bands who have established themselves on the playlists and rotations of independent music fans almost solely through word-of-mouth and internet marketing, without the help of a record company. These are bands are what the recording industry should be watching instead of their profits simply slipping away, and they'll hopefully serve as somewhat of a benchmark as to what future bands can accomplish given resolve.
    "Friend and Foe" is actually Menomena's third release, and their first on a record label, Barsuk (Aqueduct, early Mates of State). Their popularity has skyrocketed since the album's release due to a massive interview campaign and nationwide tour, even having the song "Muscle N' Flow" used in an MTV ad.
    The album is a bit of a concept album, revolving a moral yet not overtly religious (the band members are self-declared Christians) tone. Many songs lampoon or outright criticize social and gender role norms, while others bring positive messages of self-improvement. Although that sounds cheesy, the album really does work. It opens with "Muscle N' Flow" and an intro that demonstrates the album's virtually spotless production. Most tracks have, what has become one of my favorite continuity devices on an album, segues between tracks, which really seal the album's flow and whole concept.
    There are stand-out tracks but the last track, "West," is clearly separated and almost sounds as if it were intended to be on a different album. This works with the greater album though and sounds intentional rather than sloppy.
    Other Reviews:
  8. The Good The Bad and The Queen The Good The Bad and The Queen - (self-titled)
    Sort of a super-group of '90's British rock, The Good The Bad and The Queen is technically only the name of the album by an unnamed group. Fans will recognize the singer's voice from Gorillaz and Blur, and the music is somewhat similar to both groups, although much more refined and mature. Other Reviews: Good
  9. Living With the Living Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Living With the Living
    Ted Leo at Coachella 2006 This was Ted's first release since his move from the more punk-oriented Lookout Records to Touch and Go/Quarterstick (Pinback, Calexico). As a preface, I should say that I don't think this is in any way the best Ted Leo album, but, then again, it is very Ted Leo.
    Ted Leo has a way of blending preachy, political rock and catchy melodies and not making them overly cheesy. Few have been able to do that, but Ted seems to be able to accomplish it flawlessly.
    "Living With the Living" starts out by letting you know this, with a 30-second sample of various radio and television news broadcasts, then jumping into the album's true opener, "Songs of Cain." Other tracks keep up this political tempo, but none as explicitly as "Bomb, Repeat, Bomb." On this, Ted Leo begins to get a little cheesy with lines like "And when the crying starts, you don't have to see the bloodshot eyes turn red." Despite being vehemently anti-war myself, I tend to skip this track altogether. It's just a little annoying.
    But that's not to say that this isn't a great album. There are some tracks that either make you want to dance, sing along, or just sit back and take it in. And that's really the beauty of Ted Leo's music: it's always entertaining.
    Other Reviews: Good
  10. Living With the Living The Polyphonic Spree - The Fragile Army
    The Polyphonic Spree want you to know that their band consists 24 members. Their album covers always clearly note this, and nearly every published mention of the band that I've encountered has as well. This unique quality may be a marketing point, but it doesn't change much of what the band really is. Fans of obscure 90's alt-rock will remember the frontman, Tim DeLaughter, from the Dallas-based Tripping Daisy, which had a short-lived radio and MTV hit, "I Got a Girl," but also the song, "Piranha," from their 1995 release "I Am An Elastic Firecracker" which I still really enjoy hearing.
    DeLaughter has very much progressed since that point, as the Spree makes this their third regular, full-length album. They've also seen a bit of pop culture success, having had music featured on several television shows and reaching #1 on the Heatseeker chart with both this and their last release.
    But what about the music? The album starts out very strong with the catchy "Together We're Heavy" and continues with several more uplifting tracks. It's easy for anyone to get annoyed by their consistent positive imagery, but the music is well done.
    Other Reviews: