Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Bitter Buffalo's Best Tracks of 2007, Part One


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And so begins my (probably way too) ambitious effort to share with you my favorite music tracks of 2007…

I made an effort to sequence these tracks as I might a CD mix (though I did not attempt to edit any segues or transitions between songs). Use the embedded MP3 player above (if you are so inclined) to listen to them in the order I’ve written them up, as you’re reading about them, or download a ZIP file here that you can add to your iTunes library and sequence as you wish. Ideally, you’ll burn them to a CD and listen to them in your car. These tracks would make a pretty good driving mix, I think.

This first installment includes tracks by bands I had never heard (and, in most cases, never even heard of) prior to 2007. With the exception of Doveman (which was included on a free Stereogum compilation – see below) and The Field, everything on this list was downloaded from eMusic. If you haven’t already done so, sign up now (ask me how). It’s so worth it.

1. Miracle Fortress: “Have You Seen In Your Dreams”
From the album, Five Roses

My friend and colleague, Jon Wilson, discovered this gem on eMusic (the risk associated with experimentation there is so low – the whole CD cost him maybe $2 – and the upside is so high… it’s almost impossible not to try new stuff). In Miracle Fortress, he found yet another excellent band from Montreal (see also Besnard Lakes, Malajube, Arcade Fire, et al), with a CD full of soaring melodies and meticulously crafted pop tunes. “Have You Seen In Your Dreams” is one of those pop songs that hint at the familiar (Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Caribou) without being wholly derivative of anything in particular. And it’s damned pretty, too.

2. The Answering Machine: “Silent Hotels”
From the EP, Silent Hotels

In a year when it seemed like every other thing I listened to was Scottish (The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, Life Without Buildings, hell… even The Fratellis), this one song stood out as my absolute favorite of the bunch. I like the spare, jangling guitar refrain and the shouty call-and-response vocals. It sounds like a conversation between two people sitting at two ends of a long, busy bar.

3. No Age: “Neck Escaper”
From the album, Weirdo Rippers

My favorite pop songs are teases. By that, I mean songs that build to a climax but scuttle off as soon as that climax is reached. The House of Love’s “Happy” is my classic example of that – the song fades out just as it hits the chorus. “Neck Escaper” is just two minutes long, and the first minute or so is a slow, instrumental build to the “song” part of the song. Then, at 1:20, the song hits its stride, gives us forty seconds of big love, and walks away.

4. Electrelane: “Between The Wolf And The Dog”
From the album, No Shouts, No Calls

This tune plays like the bastard lovechild of Sleater-Kinney and Stereolab, but somehow manages beat either of those bands in terms of sheer accessibility. It opens with a blistering guitar lick (“The Wolf,” maybe?), then ramps up the tempo and seems to be heading into full-bore S-K territory when it adds an analog synth riff and “doot doot” vocals (“The Dog”?), then mixes the two into one of the catchiest rock songs I heard (and almost ignored, but more on that in another post) all year.

5. The Besnard Lakes: “Devastation (Alternate Version)”
From the EP, Casino Nanaimo

The shorter version on The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse is very good, but I think this is one of those cases where more is better. In this case, more is four extra minutes of the epic neo-psychedelic rock and roll (see also The Black Angels, Black Mountain, and probably several other bands with “Black” in their names) that helps transition the album from a Beach Boys homage to something much bigger, darker, and much more interesting.

6. Yeasayer: “2080”
From the album, All Hour Cymbals

Reaching out to ‘70’s and ‘80’s AOR for inspiration seems to be in vogue these days (A Mountain of One, Midlake), but I like the results SO much better than I did the source material (ask me again in 20 years what I think about the bands that will be drawing on Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, et al, for inspiration, and I’ll buy you a candy bar for remembering to ask).

7. Burial: “Archangel
From the album, Untrue

Dubstep, to these ears, sounds like an upbeat version of the stuff Tricky was doing ten years ago. But what do I know? “Archangel” in particular sounds like the CD changer in my car back in 1998 (loaded with Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Lazy Dog, etc.) started to skip. And, somehow, it sounded really good.

8. Doveman: “Airbag”
From the album, OKX: A Tribute To OK Computer

Stereogum, a music blog that became a critical daily read for me in 2007 (though they’ve been around longer than that) produced two outstanding original compilations in 2007, and distributed them, free of charge, to anyone interested in hearing them. The first, a tribute to Radiohead’s OK Computer, produced at least five tracks that could have wound up on this playlist. Doveman’s take on “Airbag” is here because, like the best cover songs, it remains true to the source material without compromising the coverer’s artistic vision. Haunting and beautiful.

9. The Field: “Sun & Ice”
From the album, From Here We Go Sublime

I spend a lot of time working and listening to music with headphones, and a fair amount of time driving as well. Not all electronic music works well in both environments – traditional upbeat techno can be irritating while trying to get some work done, and electronic ambient stuff can cause you to get sleepy and drive off the road. “Sun & Ice,” like all of the brilliant From Here We Go Sublime, walks that line exceptionally well. I’m also a sucker for the little dropout at 4:45 that made me wonder if my iTunes broke.

10. A Sunny Day In Glasgow: “5:15 Train”
From the album, Scribble Mural Comic Journal

Included for fans of Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Seefeel (you know who you are), and any other act that layers big guitars, echo-y drums and fairy-like vocals in compositions that sound like they were either produced in 1987 and were twenty years ahead of their time, or produced in 2007 and sound like a whirlwind from the past. Also included for those of you who said a band from Philadelphia had no proper place in the pantheon of shoegaze. Take that, haters.

11. Small Sails: “Somnambulist”
From the album, Similar Anniversaries

“Somnambulist” is a lot like the Miracle Fortress cut, though the similarities didn’t strike me until I listened to both cuts in the context of preparing this post. So, everything I said up there applies here (including the part about Jon Wilson discovering them), except Small Sails is from Portland instead of Montreal.

12. Delorean: “As Time Breaks Off (The Requesters RX)”
From the album, Transatlantic KK

Hands down, my favorite driving song from 2007, “As Time Breaks Off” is pure, dumb, euro-Disco – knowing nod to Daft Punk inserted here for both effect and credibility – utterly catchy yet thoroughly insubstantial. This remix foregoes the original’s petulant (but still excellent – this is no knock on the original) vocals and devolves almost immediately into an indulgent electro-wank that – for me, anyway – provided the perfect musical compliment to a moonroof-open nighttime drive in the hot, humid, Carolina countryside. All this from a bunch of nameless Basques, no less. Who knew?

Now playing: Black Moth Super Rainbow - Forever Heavy
via FoxyTunes

posted by Bill Purdy, 2:19 PM

3 Buffaloes were bitter enough to post comments:

Blogger MGSoden, said:
Well, your post has informed my "What should I do with this nifty $30 iTunes gift card?" issue. So, I now have "Similar Anniversaries", "Scribble Mural Comic Journal", and am -> this <- close to pulling the trigger on "Five Roses." Nice list, Willis. I liked Burial's stuff but I'm not sure I like it enough to buy the WHOLE thing. Delorean was cute but kind of gimmicky. The song you picked was great but the whole album not so much. I do realize that you are doing a song and not an album list so overall, good work. Well, Merry Christmas. I'm going back to iTunes now...
...on December 25, 2007 9:59 PM  

Blogger Bill Purdy, said:
Merry Christmas, Matt! I am going to resist the urge to post an anti-iTunes, pro-eMusic rant because I'm pretty sure I've said it all before (everything you discussed in your post came from eMusic -- 35 tracks at $0.19 per track comes to... $6.65 -- and it's DRM-free to boot). Rather, I am just going to send you another invitation to join. I know, I know, you probably don't have the time to sort through all this new stuff. I insist on repeating myself, though, because you'd enjoy the service nearly as much as I do.

So much for resisting the urge.

You probably guessed A Sunny Day in Glasgow was included with you in mind. It's an excellent record that keeps getting better as you become more familiar with it. One of my favorite music bloggers (and Pitchfork contributor) posted an excellent year-end write-up on that album just last night. Read it (and several other excellent essays, including one particularly well-done one on Sound of Silver) here.

And, I agree with you on Delorean. "As Time Goes By" is an amazing song, and I even like both remixes from the album. The rest of it, though, is fairly inessential.

I had a lot of fun embedding the songs in the MP3 player. So, I am going to post a few more of these things over the next few weeks.

Try some more! There's plenty for everyone!
...on December 27, 2007 10:24 AM  

Blogger MGSoden, said:
Yeah, yeah. I know, eMusic. I have spent some time poking around and there looks to be some really good stuff available (Echo and the Bunnymen for instance) plus some really random stuff that I could come to like. I may do the trial and try to find some way to justify the expense.

Oh, please note, I dropped something in your FTP site this evening for you to enjoy. Consider it a belated birthday gift you old man (even though I beat you to it...) 40 - holy crap. Well, getting off topic here. And time to go to bed. I've been brewing a post I hope to put up in the next few days. Meanwhile, best to you and the fam.
...on January 03, 2008 10:56 PM  

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