Gabe Bullard | Music

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1. Wilco | Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
Sky Blue Sky isn’t as sonically adventurous as Wilco’s last few records, but thematically, it’s the most surprising sound the band could’ve pulled off. The noisy guitar breaks of A Ghost Is Born are shortened and the jammy stuff is reined in between more rigid structures. Still, the album sounds loose, smooth, rootsy and beautiful. Kind of like a depressed coal miner’s ultimate makeout album.

2. Tim Fite | Over the Counter Culture (s/r)
Radiohead got all the credit for shaking up the record industry, but the best (potentially) free album of the year belongs to rapper Tim Fite. Available for free on Fite’s website, the album’s 15 tracks sound like they were crafted from lost Beck instrumentals. The lyrics are often funny and always socially-conscious. Fite may be the only rapper to take on drug companies and urban fashion, and if he isn’t, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it so adeptly. With a true proficiency of words and music, Over the Counter Culture will add some much-needed booty-shaking to boycotts and protest marches.

3. The White Stripes | Icky Thump (Warner Bros.)
Jack White — once focused on avoiding overdubs and modern technology — grabbed Meg and a synthesizer (an old one) and went to a modern studio to make Icky Thump. The analog synth on the title track is just the beginning, though. Other songs see the duo trading licks with a trumpet and playing bass drum and mandolin over bagpipes. There may be new instruments and technology, but this is still a White Stripes album, and surely a classic one to boot.

4. Andrew Bird | Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum)
For all his talent, Andrew Bird never quite made a totally cohesive album before this one. All of his trademarks — whistling, violins, loops, and bizarre wordplay — are in top form, and the production gives adds an indie-rock themed feel that ties the songs together.

5. Grinderman | s/t (Anti-)
Sexual frustration has always been a theme in blues music, and white bluesmen have made the lack of satisfaction their primary focus for over four decades. While past musicians have sacrificed finesse for grit and class for clever metaphors, Nick Cave sacrifices nothing on Grinderman and still makes a great blues-rock record. Fuzzy, over-modulated guitars and bass combine with outright noise on the backing tracks, which provide the perfect bed for Cave’s witty depravity.

6. The Shins | Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)
While Spoon and Of Montreal improved, The Shins top off the list of good bands who got better in 2007. The group expanded their influences and transformed their bright, cutesy sound into something a little darker, yet still upbeat and cute. While The Shins haven’t yet reached epic status, Wincing is a very large step in the right direction.

7. Spoon | Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
Like Of Montreal, Spoon managed increasing popularity and made a truly great album that fits nicely in their current discography. Adding horns to songs like "The Underdog" was an excellent touch, but it was arguably unnecessary considering the sheer quality of songwriting on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

8. Of Montreal | Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
When a band has released as many good albums as Of Montreal, every new record is a risk of failure. Without breaking too much new ground (no more than on previous albums), Kevin Barnes and Co. expanded on past efforts, creating what could possibly be their best work to date.

9. Dan Deacon | Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark)
If retro was cool in 2007, then Dan Deacon is the class geek. With loops, samples and bizarre sounds, Deacon made a truly modern album. But method and history don’t matter; Spiderman of the Rings is the most fun you can have with a stereo in 2007, and possibly beyond.

10. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings | 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
In a perfect world, Amy Winehouse’s Fauxtown sound would be a commercial footnote to Sharon Jones’ muscled-up Mussel Shoals music. By mining the past and refusing modernity, this soulful singer and her band made the funkiest throwback party record in recent memory.

| Gabe Bullard

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