Between finals, sorting out my upcoming graduation, holidays, and securing my own webspace (look for a move shortly!), it’s been a quiet couple of months around here. But I’m back with a couple of lists to round out my contributions for 2007… even if we’re in 2008 now.
5. Grizzly Bear – Friend
I’ve been a bit slow to come around to these guys, but this EP of odds and ends is a remarkably strong follow-up to Yellow House, one of the best full-lengths of 2006. In fact, Friend stands alone quiet well. The only real “misses” are some competent, but also fairly boring covers by C.S.S. and Band of Horses. Outside of that the EP is chock-full of highlights, including new versions of old songs that improve upon already impressive foundations (“Alligator”, “Little Brother”, “Shift”), a sparse new track (“Granny Diner”), a beautiful home recording from Daniel Rossen (“Deep Blue Sea”), and a more successful cover of “Knife” by Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project. Yet, perhaps the best track on Friend is Grizzly Bear‘s haunting cover of “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, popularized by The Crystals and Phil Spector). Originally conceived as a kind of satire, the Grizzly Bear arrangement pushes the song into truly dark territory until it operates as a kind of antithesis to the somewhat vague Phil Spector/Crystals interpretation.
4. Nero’s Day at Disneyland – Colonists
The works of Brock Schism always seem to have me captivated and Colonists is no exception. On this latest Nero’s Day at Disneyland EP he continues to push his sound into new instrumental territory, interlacing his screeching, maniacal breakcore with counterpoints of haunting ambience. The whole record is a kind of twisted balance between pure annihilation and ominous dread. Rich, chaotic, ugly, painful, exacting, and downright awe-inspiring, Colonists may leave you exhausted, but it also leaves you wanting more. Lucky for us, Brock also plans to release a full-length in 2008 (aptly titled From Rotting Fantasylands), his first since 2004.
3. Beirut – Lon Gisland
Zach Condon has become quite the force in the indie world since his relative explosion onto the scene with 2006’s Gulag Orkestar, putting out another great full-length (The Flying Club Cup) and EP in 2007. As the first recording to feature his live band, Lon Gisland does not disappoint, as Condon’s sprawling Balkan-inspired compositions are imbued with a fullness he couldn’t quite achieve on previous solo efforts. Perhaps as a testament to this fact, Beirut reworks the largely electronic-based “Scenic World” into a new version that reveals the full potential of the song as a much richer, sorrowful piece. However, the strongest track on the EP may be the anthemic opener “Elephant Gun”, which makes it very apparent that Condon’s crooning vocals also benefit from this full-bodied instrumentation.
2. Zazen Boys – I Don’t Wanna Be With You
Zazen Boys, easily my favorite active Japanese band, have consistently put out albums that end up totally dominating my listening habits. And though this EP was a bit of a latecomer (released on December 16th), I have no qualms placing it so high on the list. One part off-kilter new wave, one part frantic math rock, and one part jazz fusion jam, I Don’t Wanna Be With You is the latest genre-bending vision from band leader Mukai Shutoku. Not only does it fit quite nicely into their state of constant progression, but it also finds Zazen Boys at the top of their game on every track, even after replacing bassist Hinata Hidekazu earlier in the year.
Download: Zazen Boys – DARUMA
Buy: The easiest (and cheapest) way for us in the West to get this, or any other Zazen Boys release, would be at the iTunes Store. You can also order a hard copy from CDJapan, but it’ll cost you nearly three times as much.
1. Tera Melos – Drugs to the Dear Youth
There wasn’t much of a question on what EP would take my number one spot. I’ve listened to this sucker more than anything else this year and my appreciation for these guys just keeps growing. Drugs to the Dear Youth is steps ahead of Tera Melos‘ untitled debut, and truly showcases their proficiency and ambition. Adopting a kind of free-jazz approach to their highly complex instrumental rock, they largely abandoned traditional song structures and instead crafted an epic, emotional, and relentless EP that is best appreciated as a whole. Sure, they may be creating a sound that some love to hate (see the “Random Internet Dweller” quote series on their myspace page), but let’s face it… what progressive bands don’t? In my opinion, Melos have managed to strike a very convincing balance between technical skill and affective melody, while many progressive bands often lose sight of the latter in pursuit of virtuosity.
There were definitely some tough choices that had to be made as I narrowed these down, and this list just wouldn’t feel complete if I didn’t include these awesome EPs. Honorable mentions:
Look for a list of my favorite full-length albums of 2007 next…