Top 15 Albums of 2007: 5-1

And now, without further ado, the top five albums from the year of 2007.

5. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
Fear of a Blank Planet
Steve Wilson had a good year on this list; previously listed for his side project Blackfield and its album Blackfield II, his perhaps more famous band Porcupine Tree is here as well. Porcupine Tree has had a long history of gradual transmutations, coming into existence as a fictional name for Wilson’s own musical experiments before becoming a real band comprised of multiple corporeal people, though the music itself is still very much Wilson’s alone. As well, while Wilson has always been preoccupied with creating lush productions with various experimental elements, he used to insist adamantly that Porcupine Tree is not progressive rock in nature. This certainly turned around with the release of the band’s most celebrated album, Deadwing, which was an absolutely beautiful piece of music ranging the gamut in musical styles and emotions. Fear of a Blank Planet, then, is up against an incredibly hard act to follow. Clearly it fared rather well, considering its position on this list, but while spectacular in every way, Fear falls short due to a shortcoming in its very nature: the album itself is a concept album focusing on the apparent and supposed growing disconnect between today’s youth and reality (itself a topic of discussion), and thus is comprised almost entirely of the angry, the haunting, or the brooding. While epic and remarkable in every way, this narrow spectrum of emotion leaves the album devoid of some of the more beautiful moments of Deadwing, and does seem a bit disappointing.
Key Tracks: My Ashes; Anesthetize; Sentimental

4. Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
Our Ill Wills
Very contrary to the title of the album, Our Ill Wills is entirely devoid of ill wills or unhappy music; indeed it is filled to the brim with happy indie pop. Perhaps very standard as far as the indie pop genre goes, it is the catchiest damn indie pop I have heard all year long, and it very much earns its spot on this list. With a long series of short tunes, Shout Out Louds have created an album that defies any sort of advanced description I may attempt to lay down here. With never-ending explosions of joyously arranged strings, guitars, and other more exotic instrumentation, the band lays down a framework that is hard to resist. The overall cheerful tone of the music does, however, clash somewhat with the lyrics, as all manner of moods, from the melancholy to the morose, are explored with the same upbeat writing as the appropriately joyous. Especially odd is the line "I lost all my friends in an accident," which is eerily set against a particularly major melody. Regardless, the album is worth it for its overflowing indie pop perfection.
Key Tracks: Blue Headlights; Normandie; Don’t Get Yourself Involved

3. Streetlight Manifesto – Somewhere in the Between
Somewhere in the Between
Streetlight Manifesto is truly one of the cornerstones of the modern ska landscape. Tomas Kalnoky’s departure from Catch-22 set that particular band on an entirely different course than he had set with Keasbey Nights, leaving something of a void where his considerable songwriting influence used to exist. His return with Streetlight Manifesto resulted in Everything Goes Numb, which has been about as heralded and beloved as, say, running water. Having pushed out such an amazing and perfect piece of music Streetlight took to touring for a number of years, and finally returned to the studio to record Somewhere in the Between, a process which was likely delayed somewhat by having been robbed of nearly all their equipment while touring. Faced with the monumental task of surpassing the already impeccable Everything Goes Numb, it should be a given that many will come to the conclusion that the band fell short. This is far from the truth. While Somewhere in the Between will never be as iconic as Everything Goes Numb, it is an incredibly strong album and stands on its own as a worthy sophomore effort (the Keasbey Nights re-recording doesn’t count). The most noticeable difference between this album and its predecessor is that the sound has been tightened up significantly – the horns sound more like a professional jazz band and less like a boisterous backup to a bar band. This isn’t to say that they played poorly before, they were in fact splendid, but the tighter playing creates a different kind of energy: focused and powerful rather than raw and powerful. For the purposes of a studio album, this is the right approach to take. Hopefully they resume the raw intensity for live performances. There isn’t much else to say about Somewhere in the Between; either you will enjoy it or you will not. Give it a shot, it’s a great album.
Key Tracks: We Will Fall Together; Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Cafe; Somewhere in the Between

2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
In Rainbows
I am not necessarily a huge Radiohead fan; I stand more as a casual observer, having dabbled in their works before, but never having taken the plunge. However, this album is different.
This album is perfection.
From the first moments of arrhythmic electronic percussion in 15 Step to the final notes of Thom Yorke’s lonely crooning against a percussion line falling systematically apart in Videotape, this album is perfection. Nothing is here that shouldn’t be, and everything is here that needs to be. Atmospheric, moody, and poignant, the ten songs in the album are exactly where and what they were meant – nay – destined to be. The bass lines throughout the album perfectly complement the textures and chords laid down by the rest of the band, and Yorke’s vocals are appropriately lamentful throughout. Something must be said for the fact that upon the release of this album, every one of the ten songs on the album held the top ten spots on the most played tracks on last.fm by a healthy margin from any competition at number 11 for nearly four months in a row. There is nothing more to be said: this album is perfection. I did, however, just learn that I will miss their concert in Seattle by four days owing to being out of the country, which makes me rather unhappy.
Key Tracks: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi; House of Cards; Jigsaw Falling into Place

1. Symphony X – Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
With perfection already reached, how does this album rank in first place? The answer is, of course, by being better perfection. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X have simply created an album so intense, so technically and musically proficient, and so poignant that it managed to beat out all of these albums. The band seems to have taken a slightly different direction with the new album. By contrast for example, my previously favorite Symphony X album, V: The New Mythology Suite, incorporated copious amounts of symphonic elements and influences, with an ever-present orchestra playing metal-ized versions of classic works by Bartók, Verdi, Bach, and Mozart forming the backdrop for a very classically Symphony X storyline involving mythology, magic, and fantastical battles. The reason V was my favorite album was due to the sheer volume of classical content in the writing: it was everpresent, overbearing, and thus made V a markedly different album. Instead this time, Symphony X focuses on the traditional progressive metal ensemble rather than the string section, perfecting the neo-classical elements of their music, without falling into the trap of following Yngwie Malmsteen’s path. Rather, the classical elements are so integrated into the heart of the decidedly metal songwriting that they don’t pop until you really listen for them. This subtlety of classical elements belies a foundation entirely based upon classical music of both song and line structure which the band seems to have completely mastered. Moreover, where it may be evident from the rest of this list that a variety of emotions and musical styles are extremely important to me when listening to music, Symphony X pushes their boundaries here just enough to satiate. Granted, were they to write an entire album consisting simply of Michael Romeo’s ridiculous shredding, I would probably be equally happy, but they resist from following that path, with a number of well-executed and well-placed ballads. In addition, Russell Allen continues to prove his incredible abilities as a vocalist with a decidedly harder, angrier vocal style without falling to angst. Paradise Lost is, simply put, the best album of 2007. Go buy it.
Key Tracks: Oculus ex Inferni; Paradise Lost; Revelation (Divus Pennae ex Tragoedia)

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