The Top 25 of 2007, Part 5 (5-1)
Considering this current incarnation of Wilco is the best in its history, it's unsurprising that this, the Chicago band's sixth release, finds itself among the best of the year. Leader Jeff Tweedy gets in touch with his inner 70s with just a great straight-out rock record that is completely accentuated with texture and layers. The string-tinged "Either Way" gets things kicked off and sets a great tone, with Tweedy providing his usual steady vocals and rhythm, while the very underrated Nels Cline noodles away. The strength of the dozen tracks here is that the cohesiveness of the band is showcased more than ever. Many previous Wilco releases, as brilliant as they are, seemed rest mainly on the talent of Tweedy. But Sky Blue Sky allows you to really hear the contributions of everyone from Cline, to multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen, to astounding drummer Glenn Kotche. "You Are My Face" has an awesome groove, as does "Hate It Here" and the stomp of "Shake It Off" is a fun change of pace. You can always expect something different from these guys, but the results never cease to amaze.
Stunningly gorgeous. Upbeat and meloncholy. Read my full review here.
This double-disc collection of unreleased and alternate version tracks by Elliott Smith is both inspiring and deflating. The second posthumous release since his terrible and untimely death, New Moon is bare-bones in its production and sound, but does a wonderful job at proving what an outstanding songwriter and guitar player Smith was. Virtually every song here is delicately sung and played acoustically, from "Angel in the Snow" to "Going Nowhere" and everything in between. Some of the unreleased songs, like "Riot Coming", "Almost Over", and "New Disaster" are among Smith's all-time best work. Also interesting to hear are an early version of the chill-inducing beauty of "Miss Misery" from Good Will Hunting and an alternate version of the fragile "Pretty Mary K" from Figure 8. A lot of these types of collections are for hardcore fans and completists only. Not such with New Moon. The quality of these songs are so high, that those interested in this sorely missed artist would feel right at home starting their Elliott Smith experience here.
I am thoroughly amazed at how often I find myself going back to this disc. Read my full review here.
Well, they finally did it. Year upon year of making great records has led to their first foray to the top of this list. And there are many reasons for this. No longer a low-fi, blues-only duo, Jack and Meg White have broadened their sound and made it even more refined. The result is powerful (the title track, which might not only be the song of the year, but the song of many years), poignant ("A Martyr For My Love For You") and fun ("Effect & Cause"). Jack's arrangements here are more complex than before, using effects and non-guitar instruments to their full potential, and the unfairly maligned drumming of Meg fits what he is trying to do perfectly. There's a bit of a country rock tinge to "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", one of the many excellent lyrical exercises by Jack here), and the befuddlingly awesome mariachi Patti Page cover "Conquest" shows the broad landscape here. But expanding musical styles does not mean at all that Jack is focusing less on guitar. In fact, his playing is more raucous than ever. The acoustic funk of "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues", accented with chaotic guitar leads is outstanding as is the barroom stomp of "Bone Broke", the blues fury of "Rag & Bone", and the infectious "I'm Slowly Turning Into You". And among all this strength is a jangly, folky tune called "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" that is among the best in the band's career. Icky Thump is a stunning achivement and one that showcases a two-person band at the top of their game. Jack White is one of music's most consistently brilliant writers and performers and it's about time that Meg gets her due for being the percussionist that completes the sound perfectly.