Best Albums 2007 (16-20)

20. Brakesbrakesbrakes — The Beatific Visions

Spin-offs rarely top the original, but if British Sea Power was new wave at ebb tide and the Electric Soft Parade automatic Doors, Brakesbrakesbrakes (just Brakes back home) is what Jon Langford thought country-punk sounded like before he moved to Chicago. Front-ranter Eamon Hamilton spits nothing as spitefully direct here as “Heard About Your Band” or “Cheney” from the debut, Give Blood, but the band is tauter, less twangy, and even launches its own dance craze with “Spring Chicken.” (Watch out, Aunt Jackie.) Makes you wonder why so many bands waste their youth on “originality” rather than wit.

19. Imperial Teen — The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band

Ageism maybe made some limited sense back when rock and roll (then punk) (then rap) rammed its youthful vitality up against a crumbling gray consensus, but when today’s wooly kids play the you’re-too-old card they’re just protecting their turf. These democratic adults sure sound livelier to me than Bon Iver, and “Room with a View,” a head-on about the realities of faking “twenty for life,” makes the case for their continued existence. Elsewhere, each beat, lick, and harmony attests to their faith that indie-rock needn’t be a developmental stage you grow out of, and that art can make a better lifelong hobby than short-term career.

18. Wu-Tang Clan — 8 Diagrams

Whether good or great or classic, solo Wu nonetheless lacks the utopian promise made whenever these eight creative, charismatic men harness their anarchic egotism for the sake of projecting a symbolic representation of community. The public infighting that overshadowed this comeback on release revealed the superhuman effort that forging a Wu record requires, as well as the non-utopian reality that even a collective needs a leader to make the final call (lower case, please). That’d be RZA, who summoned the guitars gently weeping of “Take It Back,” coined the motto “Wu-Tang is unpredictable,” and decided to close out with a sentiment on which all can agree: O.D.B. died too soon.

17. The Go! Team — Proof of Youth

Thunder, Lighting, Strike was the theoretical indie-dance of the Avalanches made flesh– spazzed-out cheerleader-pop whose charm lay in its refusal to equate naivety with stupidity. On this under-sung follow-up, team captain Ian Parton, his lack of archness a rarity in connoisseurs of ephemera, finds a musical shape for his spirited joy in hip-hop. Heads who can’t feel this should care enough themselves to hand the mic off to Lisa Lee and Sha Rock, not to mention Chuck D, who hasn’t sounded so wondrously out of place since Kim Gordon was quizzing him on liberation. Other than the fact that they love this shit, there’s no big point being made–not even that you should love this shit too.

16. Youssou N’Dour — Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take)

What am I supposed to say? That he doesn’t make better records than most forty-eight year old Americans? That he doesn’t make better records than most twenty-four year old Africans? That music fans still embarrassed by his twenty-year-old synth-rock attempts aren’t as dim as the BBC drip who mistakes Africa’s greatest musician for “a Senegalese Mick Hucknall?” He recorded his third best album of the decade in Mali with a Senegalese band that’s augmented by Ali Farka Toure sideman Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni; the results are pan-West-African the way his best album was pan-Arab, assuming that if you focus on cross-cultural fusion, the market crossover will take care of itself.

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