Pop Culture

Radiohead, Feist among best albums of 2007

2007 was a year of duality for music.

While the industry continued to tank, it was quietly a very good year for rock ’n’ roll and indie music. The Boss returned with his old band, the Police actually got along and even Led Zeppelin reunited. The most exciting music was busy breaking down barriers. Arcade Fire played in intimate churches; Web site TakeAwayShows.com and the film “Once” returned music to the streets; and a certain British band eliminated a very big middle man.

1. “In Rainbows,” Radiohead
The much-ballyhooed online release of “In Rainbows” in some ways obscured what an excellent album it is. The opener, “15 Step,” begins with a cold electronic beat that sounds like recently typical Radiohead or Thom Yorke’s 2006 solo album. But 41 seconds in, Johnny Greenwood enters with a beautiful, languorous guitar line. From then on, the band gradually lets the melody take over, particularly on songs like the midnight ballad “Nude” and the soulful show-stopper “Reckoner.” With Radiohead, you’re always on guard for the crash, the shattering of brightness — but on “In Rainbows,” they let the light linger.

2. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” Modest MouseThere is so much to gather from this sprawling, schizophrenic album. You have former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr suddenly in the band. You have a group completely ignoring the thrust of fame that came from its 2004 hit, “Float On.” And you have Modest Mouse’s persistent, ever-growling excellence. On this, the band’s best disc since 1997’s “Lonesome Crowded West,” the rollicking id that is Isaac Brock surfs through nautical themes, carbon stealing and little motels — and it all adds up to a fascinating mess.

3. “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” SpoonFans of this Austin, Texas-based band have been waiting for Britt Daniel and company to make the album they always had in them. Well, this is it. After several exceptional but imperfect discs, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” is a tightly honed collection of ten tracks, including both their trademark sparse arrangements (“The Ghost of You Lingers”) and robust, hi-fi rockers (“The Underdog”). On the melancholic “Finer Feelings,” Daniel looks for love in the pages of Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal — surely a more metaphorically-named paper than USA Today.

4. “Person Pitch,” Panda BearThis album sounds like the future. Working alone on his computer, Noah Lennox (whose stage name is Panda Bear) builds loops and layers of psychedelia around his ethereal, sun-drenched melodies. Anything you might call “fractured Beach Boys” isn’t for everyone, but Lennox’s nearly indescribable music — particularly the transcendent “Bros” — feels like a landmark achievement. (His home band, Animal Collective, also released a great album in 2007: “Strawberry Jam.”)

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    From 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park" to his newest album, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have continued to define American rock and roll.

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    Bruce Springsteen performs on stage on May 27, 2012, in Cologne, Germany.

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    Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, watch their daughter, Jessica Springsteen, compete at Windsor Horse Show on May 12, 2011, in Windsor, England.

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    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Jimmy Fallon sing "Sexy and I Know It" on March 2, 2012.

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    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Steven Van Zandt perform onstage at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.

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    Musicians Joan Baez, left, Springsteen, center, and Pete Seeger appear onstage at the Clearwater Benefit Concert celebrating Seeger's 90th Birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3, 2009.

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    Springsteen and the E Street Band perform during the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show during the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1, 2009.

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    Springsteen is joined by a choir as he performs "The Rising" in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009.

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    Mickey Rourke, left, poses with his Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion picture-Drama with Springsteen, winner of Best original Song-Motion Picture for "The Wrestler" at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11, 2009.

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    Then-Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama hugs Springsteen during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall on Nov. 2, 2008.

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    Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and the rest of the E Street Band perform in Rockefeller Plaza on the TODAY show on Sept. 28, 2007.

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    Springsteen, center, performs in the final number of an all-star tribute to his music at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2007. Funds raised from the concert were used to support music education programs.

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    Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa have three children together, Evan James, Jessica Rae and Sam Ryan. Scialfa has recorded two solo albums, "Rumble Doll" in 1993 and "23rd Street Lullaby" in 2004.

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    Springsteen taped an acoustic performance for VH-1's Storytellers series at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J., in September 2007.

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    In 2004, Springsteen and the E Street Band joined the "Vote for Change" tour, which held concerts in swing states to raise money for MoveOn.org and encourage people to vote President George W. Bush out of office. "No Surrender" became the primary theme song for Democratic preisdential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s campaign.

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    Springsteen, third from right, performed with members of the E Street Band at Shea Stadium in New York on Oct. 1, 2003. He was joined by, from left, Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Patti Scialfa and Steve Van Zandt. The band released "Magic" on Oct. 2 that year.

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    At the live broadcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes," which benefited victims of 9/11, Springsteen opened the show with "My City in Ruins," a song originally written about Asbury Park, N.J. The 9/11 attacks prompted Springsteen and the E Street Band to release their first studio album in 18 years, "The Rising." The band kicked off "The Rising" tour on the TODAY show.

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    In 1999, Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, the E Street Band reunited for a reunion tour, which included a record run of 15 sold-out shows at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

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    In 1985, Springsteen joined 44 other artists to record "We Are the World." The song was a No. 1 hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom and profits benefited the USA for Africa Foundation.

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    In 1995, Springsteen picked up four Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or TV for "Streets of Philadelphia."

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    Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons perform at the Oakland Colisium in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 19, 1985.

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    Springsteen met then-model Julianne Phillips in 1984 and the pair married in 1985. The union, however, was short-lived. Springsteen and Phillips divorced in 1990, and he married E Street Band backup singer Patti Scialfa in 1991.

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    Springsteen most often plays the guitar and harmonica on his albums, but he also knows how to play the mandolin, organ, piano and percussion.

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    A legal battle kept Springsteen and the E Street Band from recording for two years following "Born to Run," but in 1978 the band released "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which many critics point to as a turning point in his musical evolution. That album was followed by "The River," a double album that included Springsteen’s first Top 10 single, "Hungry Heart."

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    A young Springsteen performs at New York's Bottom Line in 1975. In the summer of that year, Springsteen's career was crumbling and he was about to get dumped by his label. Then "Born to Run" was released in August and it was a rock 'n' roll masterpiece that assumed near-mythic proportion. Thirty years later a special anniversary edition of the album was released.

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    Springsteen signed with Columbia records in 1972 and released "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." in 1973 to great critical acclaim. It wasn’t until 1975’s "Born to Run," however, that the band found its first commercial success.

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    Bruce Springsteen grew up in Freehold, N.J., but is most often associated with the shore town of Asbury Park, where he often played in his early years with future members of the E Street Band and first developed a cult following. Here he performs at the Electric Ballrooom in Atlanta on Aug. 22, 1975.

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6. “Sky Blue Sky,” WilcoThe latest from Jeff Tweedy’s Chicago outfit is an unusually normal album — a kind of conservative rebellion against the band’s earlier experimentalism, most notably found on their classic “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Instead, these are wistful, straightforward songs, enlivened by Nels Cline’s expert guitar work. Not every album has to change the world.

7. “Under the Blacklight,” Rilo KileyWhen Jenny Lewis released a solo album in 2006, many wondered if her band Rilo Kiley was done, no longer necessary for Lewis’s considerable songwriting talents. It takes less than a minute of “Blacklight” — when Blake Sennett lays down the most ticklish guitar lick of the year — to remember the importance of the band. They play straight man to Lewis while she flirtatiously coos songs of tawdry sex and broken relationships. Fleetwood Mac fans, there is another.

8. “Back to Black,” Amy WinehouseIf you’ve been distracted by Amy Winehouse’s perpetual tabloid troubles, go back and listen to the last track on “Back to Black,” “You Know I’m No Good,” to remember why everyone knows she’s plenty good.

9. “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” Of MontrealYou, too, might be hesitant to embrace makeup-heavy glam bands or album titles that address plantlife skeptically. Kevin Barnes’ Athens, Ga.-based band used to be more of a giddy, melodic psychedelic group, but on “Hissing Fauna” Barnes’ breakup is fuel for a wild, unpredictable ride and a search for a lover with “soul power.” The band that began as part of the Elephant 6 collective has never made a better record. And it’s funky, too — especially the closer: “We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling.” Yes, that’s right. Leafling.

10. “Friend and Foe,” MenomenaOn their third disc, the Portland, Ore. indie band Menomena has created one of the year’s most percussive albums. They seem to sense that now is their time: the album opens with Brent Knopf singing that he’s got to “pick up my hustle.” Menomena verges from hand-clapping, piano sing-alongs to songs built on electronic loops, but inventive, varied rhythms are always the foundation. Menomena might also be the best baritone sax rock group since Morphine, which is kind of a cool club.

Honorable Mentions:
“Magic,” Bruce Springsteen; “Sound of Silver,” LCD Soundsystem; “Woke on a Whaleheart,” Bill Callahan; “Wincing the Night Away,” The Shins; “Our Love to Admire,” Interpol; “Some Loud Thunder,” Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; “New Wave,” Against Me!; “Chrome Dreams II,” Neil Young; “Let’s Stay Friends,” Les Savy Fav.

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