Over the past decade, year-end critic's lists have multiplied faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. By now, both the Internet and the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble are brimming with head-spinning, eye-glazing permutations of praise. If you want to parse the ranking of those records in your favorite publication (this one, for instance), go to page 57, where Backbeat's esteemed scribes weigh in on their favorite discs of 2007.
To supplement those picks, music editors from across the country decided to ask luminaries in our respective towns — including the Fray's Isaac Slade and Joe King, as well as other musicians such as Jay Farrar, Scarface and Dave Navarro — to tell us what they loved this year. Slade and King's picks appear below; the rest are posted at westword.com. — Dave Herrera and John Nova Lomax
Even though they ostensibly live here, Isaac Slade and Joe King haven't seen much of the Mile High City in the past two years. Since issuing How to Save a Life in September 2005, the Fray has tirelessly crisscrossed the globe, supporting the band's multi-platinum release.
Although the act's stateside tour finally wrapped this past fall with a trio of dates at Red Rocks, the guys haven't gotten much downtime. They were soon off to the U.K. for a string of dates, and followed that with another trip back to Spain, where the group was honored as Best International Band at Premios Ondas — the equivalent of that country's "Emmys/Grammy/Oscars," Slade says.
"Joe said, 'Hola' — that's actually the only word I know in Spanish," Slade relates. "All the people laughed. It was in a brilliant opera house in the middle of Barcelona. We got to walk around and spend some quiet time with the wives. It was a beautiful city."
Now back home, the Fray is in the studio, "writing just as fast as our little hands can," Slade reports. "The producers are in and out, checking on our work, very much like Santa and his elves. If all goes according to plan, we'll be heading to San Francisco in February. Then it's off to the regular-life thing for a few months. We told management if we don't get some time off before the next record comes out, we'll gouge our eyes out, and that would suck."
Indeed. Still, in the midst of all this, the pair found time to pound out some thoughts on their favorite discs of the past year.
1. Justice, (Downtown/Ed Banger). Not many people know this about me, but I don't really get into dance music. Actually, I've never purchased dance music. My friend Patrick played the first three tracks on Justice's latest record, and I went home and bought it that night. It's original; the T-shirt video is crazy cool. Enough said.
2. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge). I had five or six separate friends tell me I missed the best show of my life this past fall when Arcade Fire played at Red Rocks. If it was anything like the new record, I'll be kicking myself for years to come. It somehow reaches beyond being a bunch of Canadians playing instruments and goes to something altogether spiritual. It's fresh and still sounds like they've been around for forty years. Hard to do.
3. Bright Eyes, Cassadaga (Saddle Creek). Conor Oberst has managed to put out records for years that are different from the last, but not so different that he loses his fans. We've grown with him, and this latest incarnation of his songwriting leans gracefully toward the Americana we've heard in his music for a long time. He embraces the West with a sort of devious charm that keeps me coming back for more.
4. Aqualung, Memory Man (Sony). Although they recently got dropped from their major-label deal, Aqualung put out a beautiful second album. It holds you from start to finish, drawing upon diverse influences and still keeping their own voice. It sounds like Blue Nile.
5. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch). Jeff Tweedy brings back some old friends and some new ones on Wilco's latest release. It's still got the quirky stop-and-go flow, and brings in some chaos courtesy of Nels Cline (guitar genius). The record doesn't get old, and neither does the show, I hear. I haven't seen them yet, but it's one of my musts before I leave this earth.
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge). Being raised in the church myself, I can relate to the lyrics on this record. Beyond the fact that their instrumentation, arrangements and the overall vibe of the songs are outstanding, the lyrics hit me the hardest, especially the track "Intervention."
2. Feist, The Reminder (Cherry Tree). I was a fan of Feist when the first record, Let It Die, came out. I honestly didn't expect a second record to be this strong from Feist.
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3. Radiohead, In Rainbows (Self-released, download). "All I Need" is one of the best songs I've heard this year, a classic Radiohead song. Price paid: $10.
4. Ray LaMontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black (RCA). I first listened to this record in the perfect setting: I was with my wife in a cabin up in the mountains. Love his songs and his voice. Ethan Johns brings so much to this record.
5. The Kooks, Inside In/Inside Out (Astralwerks). After touring the U.K., I was turned on to this band. They just make me feel like I'm in high school again — of course, if I lived in the U.K.