For more “best of” lists, check out largeheartedboy’s master list of 2007 lists (meta!).
I call this my best releases of 2007 but that’s not quite true for a number of reasons  including that it’s a bit ridiculous to define my rather arbitrary taste as the one that matters. See below for a full explanation. In short, I try to balance how good I think it is (which is swayed by my expectations), an “objective” rating of goodness, and how much I wanted to listen to it (translating into how many plays it got).
If you want to see what albums I seriously considered for this list, look here.
Best dozen releases of 2007
- Or, the Whale – Light Poles and Pines (original post)
This wasn’t supposed to be this good. It’s a debut indie country rock album from a San Francisco band. From the first listen, I knew I liked this album: it had great singing and orchestration, catchy songs and a certain energy about it. and I was alternately obsessed with “Call and Response” and “Fight Song” (and “Prayer for the Road” and…). But I say that it wasn’t supposed to be this good because while I was surprised by it, it’s not life-changing or transcendental; it’s just a really consistent set of really good songs. This year I’ve played this album (according to last.fm and that doesn’t count the repeated plays in my car) almost twice as much as any than any other single album.
- Magnolia Electric Co. – Sojourner (box set) (original post)
This is a pretty stunning collection of three album-length CDs, one EP and various other things (DVD, medallion). My love is mostly concentrated in the gliding full band sounds of Nashville Moon and the often-breathtaking, stark and solo Shohola. The Sun Sessions EP and Black Ram are also not without their merits. “Shiloh Temple Bell” off of Shohola–a song that has broken me with its beauty more than any other this year–is practically enough to get this box set into this list, but there are many other strong efforts and each disc presents a new and consistently good sound.
- the National – Boxer (original post)
This is the first National album I really listened to and after hearing it and becoming obsessed with it, I listened to Alligator and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers quite a lot. This is their best yet and what sets it apart is the orchestration. “Fake Empire” is a brilliantly arranged song, for instance, with the slow build of layers after the vocals end. It’s not just anyone who thing to write brass parts like that. The album works well from front-to-back as well. It has stand-out songs, but they never break the mood and neither do the weaker songs–though, wait, are there any weaker songs? I’m not remembering any…
- Candie Payne – I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (original post)
I’m still surprised when I hear this album. Somehow someone found a brilliant, unreleased gem of a 1966 album (uncommon, as most of the albums in those days were a couple singles and a fair share of filler), added some heavier drums and released it in 2007 (only the U.K. so far). Okay, that’s not the real story, but, as a person that loves and grew up on much of the music that’s called “oldies”, it’s nice to hear something that give me that kind of joy in production and pop songwriting. Candie’s voice gradually reveals itself to be a strength of the songs as well. I know of no other album this year or ever that when I heard some of it, made me buy the import copy and when I realized that what I’d bought was the import single of the same name, go out and buy another import copy, this time of the full album.
- Morning Benders – Boarded Doors (EP)
This band has been showing quite a bit of growth. (Having heard some of their yet-to-be-recorded songs surely is some influence as well.) Their brand of heartfelt-but-not-too-wimpy indie pop is informed by decades of pop–they’ve covered Phil Spector (the Ronettes) and Roy Orbinson and sound great next to such acts in a mix tape. Frontman Chris Chu’s voice in uncommon in it’s effortless range and purity. This, their second EP, is a good step up from their previous Loose Change in terms of recording quality and songwriting. I’m really looking forward to their full-length.
- Kanye West – Graduation (original post)
While this isn’t my favorite Kanye album so far (that would be Late Registration), this album is a mostly really good combination of good production and sometimes meaningful lyrics, save the annoying two-fer of “Barry Bonds” and “Drunk and Hot Girls”. To all the hip hop purists, I’d like to note I’m not saying this is the best hip hop album of the year. It’s probably better categorized in my rather-indie-centric world as a good pop record that happens to have rapping and big beats.
- Jens Lekman – Night Falls over Kortedala
I realized I hadn’t even posted about this album probably because of course Jens will put together a great album. I’m a Jens fan. I’ve liked his quirky but thoroughly catchy and over-the-top pop pretty much from the beginning. When I got Night Falls I emailed a friend to say something like “Yup, Jens is still the king of over-the-top Swedish pop.” I’d already heard the album’s best effort, “Opposite of Hallelujah”, so I unfortunately didn’t have the surprise of hearing that song for the first time in the album’s context.
- Kings of Leon – Because of the Times (original post)
I’m not going to be able to issue a big list of why this album is good intellectually or why this is good art (though, that’s not to say someone else couldn’t), but I just like listening to this album. It spent a huge portion of the year–months–in my car’s 6-disc CD changer and despite a rotating cast of other albums to choose from, I kept coming back to this one anyhow.
- On No! Oh My! – Between the Devil and the Sea (EP)
With just 5 songs, just over 15 minutes of music, this EP was a dark horse. I was doing my last listens-through of various 2007 releases and I had a “wait, this is really good!” moment. I liked their debut album (buying the pre-order CD-r version, in fact) but it was inconsistent. This is a step up in both consistency of songwriting and loveliness of melodies. The end result is just a really fun EP of quirky pop songs.
- Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha (original post)
Andrew Bird is extremely talented but–I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again–talent doesn’t necessarily make good music. Talent certainly helps the live show a ton, but in an album it’s just one part along with songwriting, production, orchestration and so on. I’m going to state this simply: I don’t think this is a complete album. “Plasticities”, “Simple X”, “Scythian Empires”, “Yawny At The Apocalypse” are four great songs that hold this album up among three other good songs (“Fiery Crash”, “Heretics”, “Dark Matter”) and a handful of average-to-boring ones. Still, those four songs are great and make this album well-worth the listen and deserving of its place on this list.
- Benni Hemm Hemm – Kajak (original post)
Benni Hemm Hemm somehow does the beautiful instrumentation and dynamic builds of post rock while still having concrete, and often soft, songs in there, like a Sigur Ros that has Reindeer Section sharing the stage some of the time. The end result is beautiful songs that pulls on you in many different ways.
- John Vanderslice – Emerald City
John Vanderslice is the man. But besides that point, he also writes really good songs and is one of the best working producers today. Recorded with a full band for the first time, this album has the most cohesive feel of any of his. JV has set a really high standard with his last two albums, Pixel Revolt and Cellar Door (both in my best-of lists for their years) and while I feel this isn’t quite up to that standard, if I take a wider view, this is still a very solid album.
(There are more releases that I wanted to include here. I might need to do an “honorable mentions” post later in the week!)
Four releases that would have made the list but were included in previous lists (in alphabetical order):
- David Bazan Fewer Moving Parts
- Bishop Allen Month EPs/ the Broken String
- Elvis Perkins Ash Wednesday
- Fionn Regan End of History
Voted most likely to have me kicking myself for not putting it on this best list once I have enough time to sit down and really listen to it:
- The Lightning Bug Situation – A Leaf; a Stream (original post)
This is a soft, tender, affecting and gorgeous album, but with all the found-sound and field-recording-type spoken sampled, I don’t think it has really had a chance to fully sink in. I’m sure there are a few albums from this year that will grow in my estimation after in the next weeks, months, years, decades, but if I had to pick one that I was most sure would, I’d say it’s this one.
 This list isn’t the best albums on a global level, just on my personal level. I say “of 2007″ but really it’s “of 2007 when considered in mid-December” and I’m sure if I’d made the same list a month (or even a week) ago or a month (/week) from now, it’d be different. While I try to consider albums fairly subjectively, “best” is also not really on an absolute scale as my expectations of an album effect how I rank them. If I thought an album would be amazing and it’s merely really good it might rank much lower than an album that I thought would be mediocre or bad or didn’t have any expectations of at all and is equivalently really good.
 Let’s be honest with ourselves, two new songs doesn’t really make it that much different. And, while we’re really being honest with ourselves, the Month recordings are as good or better than the Broken String ones.