Most annual best-of lists are hard for me to produce because it’s difficult to simmer a long list of excellent releases down to just one CD worth of tracks. It’s especially hard with those retrospectives I do each year – of 10 and 20 years prior – due to how the songs have aged and what their impact has been long-term.
This best of 2007, however, was trying for a different reason: The charts were awash with total horseshit. Seriously, look through the best-selling songs of 2007 if you don’t believe me. And I waded through all of this for you, friends, because I love you; and because I needed to redeem the amazing tracks that were released, some of which changed the face of popular music. I hope you enjoy!
MIKA: Grace Kelly
Outside of soccer matches, you rarely see middle fingers raised in the U.K. – they’re much more likely to give figures of authority “the ups,” that is two raised fingers instead of one. In Grace Kelly, English singer-songwriter MIKA gives the ups to music industry executives who tried to curate his image, apparently in several directions at once.
The song is utterly fabulous. But the video gives it an extra dimension. Here’s the gay pop starling in a v-neck knit sweater, with two-day growth, lounging around a classic but understated living room. There’s plenty of action, sure, but it’s the opposite of what the industry thinks a music video should be; and I dare say that’s his point.
Operator Please: Just a Song About Ping Pong
True story: I had to ban this song from my car mix tapes because it made me drive too fast. Vapid, bouncy and so infectious the CDC should intervene, Just a Song About Ping Pong is as silly as it sounds from the title. Turn it up.
An exuberant instant pop classic, this song is probably the apex of the sweet melodies that Feist was, by 2007, pretty famous for. Though I recommend you check out the album tracks for The Reminder and others, because it’s in those that she allows more subtle ideas to unfold.
1234 is a song about remembering those big, seemingly mature epiphanies you had when you came of age and realizing they might, in fact, be bollocks. But in that spiced-honey voice, Feist lets you down oh so easy.
Marija Šerifović: Molitva
Those of you with a sad life that has been deprived of the wonder of Eurovision will need some background: Once per year, in a show that pairs excessive cleavage with jingoism, the countries of Europe put aside cis-straight-man diplomacy in favor of something more fabulous: A singing contest in which there is an actual risk of pyrotechnics lighting giant hair on fire. It’s loud, it’s ludicrous, and the only rule is that moxie trumps talent every time.
So imagine our surprise when, just a year after Lordi won with Hard Rock Hallelujah, this short, pageboy haircutted lesbian shuffles her sneakers onto the stage and sings her god. damn. heart. out. to take top place for Serbia. Molitva, which translates to Prayer, was a passionate love song and a grand entrance for the newly independent nation.
Architecture in Helsinki: Heart it Races
Everything about this indie pop diversion is delightful, from the chorus baseline through the jarring refrain to the distorted vocals in the bridge. In the back of this tune are calypsoesque keys, idiophones and what sound like percussive glass jars! A perfect accompaniment to some very strange lyrics. But the thing I love most is this line, at once imbued with deep meaning and also impossibly grounded: And we’re slow to acknowledge the knots in the laces.
Wow, this is the first time I’m watching this clip. So strange. But hey, Mexico looks like a nice place for a voodoo clown puppet vacation. You do you, folks.
I Heart Hiroshima: Punks
While writing this article, I discovered Australian indie darlings I Heart Hiroshima don’t have a Wikipedia page in English, only one in German … all five sentences of it. That no one has thought to chronicle the story of this short-lived Brisbane band is sad but not surprising, given how few years we had before they disbanded in 2009. (Though if you like this, you’ll be happy to know they reformed last year and have a new release out!)
Though fleeting, their time in the spotlight was beautiful. We got just two records out of them, both of them a study in emotional resilience and indie-rock perfection. In Punks, the drums are the singer and the vocals are percussive. There’s about three lines in the whole 3.35, and the structure is really strange: Something like AABACAACA. But the repetition serves rather than undermines, lulling us until we believe them: Don’t lock your doors, I have these punks on the ropes.
Bloc Party: Hunting for Witches
Now we’re heating up. This Bloc Party anthem is a warning about the power of fear, especially in the hands of an uncaring media after terror attacks like September 11. It references the London bus bombings of 2005 and subsequent vigilante attacks on Muslim communities in cities across the U.K. and Europe, through the guise of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s a polished, layered indie rock jam interspersed (thankfully, only sparingly) by what I have dubbed the Sound of 2007, samples of a tape being played backwards. Listen for it, it’s everywhere.
M.I.A. Paper Planes
It’s a cliche to say that an artist’s second album must be “difficult” but those of us who were blown away by M.I.A.’s debut, Arular, were wondering where she was going to go with her second release. Though recorded in London, where the rapper lives, Arular, named after her dad, was heavily influenced by her upbringing in war-torn Sri Lanka. She clearly had a lot of things to get off her chest, and we were ready to hear them. But would she continue to mine those stories for her second release?
No one could have predicted the richness of the themes or the thoughtfulness of the production on her second album, Kala, which cemented her as a singular talent. This record feels like London – tenement-house London – and Paper Planes is the answer to some of the racist attitudes M.I.A. encountered growing up there, especially that migrants are terrorists or welfare cheats. Tell ’em, M.I.A.
Coheed and Cambria: The Running Free
Come with me for a moment on a flight of fancy: In a universe not unlike ours, 78 planets are linked in a network of interconnecting beams of energy. The network feeds the powers of super-mages, who engage in battles for power and to meet their destinies with valor. This is the story arc of New York’s Coheed and Cambria, which has produced eight records (and a comic series,) all playing out in this universe. Because prog rock.
Meanwhile, in what looks like a lunatic asylum, a magnificently maned rocker plays out archival footage from several lives before bursting forth and joining his band to regale them in a high tenor. And it’s fucking magnificent. Because prog rock.
Silversun Pickups: Lazy Eye
In case you haven’t noticed already, I’m a sucker for a slow-burn intro, and this one’s a doozie. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Lazy Eye is two-thirds build up, and one third explosively blissful relief. Daym.
The White Stripes: Icky Thump
I know Jack White is a bit of a dick. But this is wonderful.
Serj Tankian: Empty Walls
That most well-known of Instagram influencers Mahatma Gandhi once said: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” Serj Tankian, of System of a Down fame, enlisted the help of tiny actors in a daycare center for the opening salvo from his debut solo record: Empty Walls.
An indictment of the War on Terror and a warning that once you’re in a war, it’s usually your children who have to keep fighting it for you, this track shows a more pop-friendly side to the metal frontman, famed for his machinegun lyric delivery and Freddie Mercuryesque vocal range.
Bad Religion: New Dark Ages
Remember when George W Bush was the worst? Let’s all turn up Bad Religion and think about what it was like to resist a President who had self-control and respect for his country.
Cut Copy: Hearts on Fire
The sweetest cut from a great synthpop record, Hearts on Fire pairs a simple refrain with a bouncy punk keys melody and some choice samples. This was the golden era of Australian electronica, and Cut Copy are one of the few who are still around.
Mia Dyson: Never Felt Young
Still on the warm side of the Pacific, the inimitable Mia Dyson gives us her sultry take on the “grown up too quick” motif in Never Felt Young. Dyson, whose guitarwork owes a lot to being guitar-maker Jim Dyson’s daughter – ask me sometime about my obsession with the musical children of artisans – is at her bluesy best here. And ironically, she was just 26 when she released this song. But you never feel young when you are, and I guess that’s her point.
There is nothing quite like the sound of Battles. Technically “experimental rock,” which is the label we give anything that has a backbeat but no singer, the New York trio has given us three records now, each of them a journey into a new, strange sonic landscape.
Atlas is something else. The bastard lovechild of Doctorin’ the Tardis and some sort of robot Zola Taylor, it jerks and squeals its way into your consciousness and makes you fall in love.
MGMT: Time to Pretend
A big old fuck-you to the music biz, Time to Pretend depicts the consumptive cycle of the industry, that eats both artistic energy and people. Riddled with sarcasm, the final line in the chorus is “we were fated to pretend,” which shows a surprising maturity for a group that were barely into their twenties when this was recorded. So, faced with the unpalatability of the music business, why do they want to be part of it? They have an answer for that, too:
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do:
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?
It would be a shame if you did. Thanks for listening!