The Outsiders: The Best Albums Of ’07

Not all of Stereogum’s favorite sounds conform to what folks expect us to cover. In this space, resident Bananafish fetishist Brandon Stosuy focuses on bands, albums, singles, and villages in Sweden that may otherwise pass by unnoticed. This week’s eclectic virtual milk crate contains the best weirdo albums of 2007.

It’s rough putting your year-end favorites in a separate pile, dividing shit by genre or some other designation. I did an all-metal list elsewhere. This here involves metal (which I’m listing separately), but consciously expands the boundaries to include my other most-listened-to genres (and sub-genres and whatever). Every year January approaches, I hem and haw about placing a hierarchical rank on what amounts to deeply personal listening habits. This list is basically what I enjoyed (and enjoyed most often) over the past dozen months — which only makes it the best to these buzzing ears, though I recommend each highly and if you enjoy a sample posted herein, I think you’ll totally dig the rest of the artist’s output. The list is only in a general order, but in that order for a reason. I kept it minimal so I was only writing about the stuff that truly blew me away.

Yellow Swans: At All Ends (Load): First off, this was maybe Load’s best year in recent, post-Wonderful Rainbow memory (big ups, Ben). You’ll see a bunch of Load records scattered throughout here — and that’s after listening to and absorbing thousands of different albums. I could’ve easily included Clockcleaner, too, but feared accusations of payola. Or noise coupons. Or something.

Of all the great Load release in ’07, my favorite’s At All Ends by Portland duo Yellow Swans. I’ve always appreciated the piercing electro-noise of Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman, but when they softened the scree some on At All Ends it sucked me in like almost no other album in ’07. LIke remember how people really got into Belong’s glistening October Language last year? Up that to the intensity of a much larger swarm-per-inch ratio without losing the fragile beauty. More a late December Language. Absolutely perfect atmospherics on the mesmerizing title track.

Yellow Swans – “At All Ends” (MP3)

Love that it builds without falling to a cliched super-dynamic ending. The record’s masterful like that. YS also run the label JYRK, self-releasing tons of CD-Rs/cassettes. Keep your eyes and ears peeled over here.

[Yellow Swans]

WZT Hearts: Threads Rope Spell Making Your Bones (Carpark): This was obviously the year of Baltimore; for me, the most intriguing group to emerge from that moment is WZT Hearts (“Wet Hearts”), who layers drums, guitar, and various effects into lapping, psychedelic, jazzy sound escapes. Threads, the followup to 2006’s Heat Chief, is a plush (as in soft) dust storm of white noise, laptop, pedals, tapes, gurgling bells, space-y court music, thunderstorms, haunted spells. It’s glitchy and swooshy, and always nighttime somehow — buzzy, loose wires connecting the spill. Enjoy this video of some WZT action.

WZT Hearts – “Hearth Carver” (MP3)

Grab more at their MySpace.

Magik Markers: BOSS (Ecstatic Peace!): I’ve loved MM as a live band for a long time, but in ’07 they showed some songwriting chops behind the on-stage smarts. More than that, Elisa Ambrogio found a way to cram her brilliant wordplay and between-song banter into painfully honest and beautiful lyricism. Drummer (and multi-instrumental teacher) Pete Nolan is the perfect percussive counterpoint (I know Lee Ranaldo produced, but even if he didn’t, you gotta hear some early SY in his swells). After losing their bassist Leah Quimby, the duo proved stronger/more complex in smaller numbers. It’s occasionally annoying seeing Arcade Fire nab the accolades they go for lyricism when you have someone like Ambrogio writing the stuff she does, mixing Kali, blood, drunkenness, ache, and bad dreams, along with an elliptical but fleshed minimalism like this tiny random bit from “Taste”: “The only car on the raw sheet highway is riding / The stars for him are only coat lining / You cannot sweat a piebald horse and make it a steed / I cannot take your want and make it a need.” Or how about when she terms herself “the secular Pentecost / squeezing out the blue snake.” It can trip and breeze achy toward the visionary; it’s not merely anthemic, clever, or cute.

Magik Markers – “Taste” (MP3)
Magik Markers – “Bad Dream/Hartford’s Beat Suite” (MP3)

Sir Richard Bishop: Polytheistic Fragments (Drag City): Sun City Girl Richard Bishop has always been a fascinating guitarist. Polytheistic Fragments makes good on its title — both religious seeming and epically segmented, or partial. A song like “Cross My Palm With Silver” feels like it could mosey forever with it alchemical undertones; “Free Masonic Guitar” like its picking is the result of some secret handshake. In a year that fellow Sun City Girl Charles Gocher died of cancer (in February), this hits, in retrospect, however wrongheaded, like elegy … though not something as wackily shuffling and Raymond Scott-seeming as (the okay, kinda ominous) “Cemetery Games.”

Sir Richard Bishop – “Cemetery Games” (MP3)

You can hear more at MySpace. In ’07 he also released While My Guitar Violently Bleeds on Locust Music. This video, from August 2005, finds Bishop doing “Raga Blues” in Manchester.

Burning Star Core: Blood Lightning 2007 (No Fun): Burning Star Core (Cincinatti-based noisemaker C. Spencer Yeh) has been doing his thing since 1993, but it was 2005’s The Very Heart Of The World that really drew me into his electro-acoustic psych and drone work (it’s essential, so really do look or it). This year’s otherworldly No Fun release opens with “The Universe Is Designed To Break Your Heart,” which starts with Yeh doing something with his mouth, before increasing the amplification and mixing in doses of fuzz and violin that escalate into a torrential swirl, spinnings out with a self-contained, moving beauty.

Burning Star Core – “The Universe Is Designed To Break Your Heart” (MP3)

Step further into Yeh’s blizzard at MySpace.

John Wiese: Soft Punk (Troubleman Unlimited): I spent some time on Wiese in the second installment of the Outsiders, where you can locate some of his sounds, but here’s another from his opus-to-date, Soft Punk.

John Wiese – “Winter Vacation” (MP3)

Thematic, too, since you should be on some sort of seasonal vacation, right?

Mouthus: Saw a Halo (Load):: I spoke about them in the first volume of the Outsiders, just two weeks ago. Dig backwards here.

Sightings: Through The Panama (Load): Though they’ve been around for ages, we slapped Sightings with a BTW because their sixth album Through The Panama felt like such a huge creaking and careening leap, even in regards to 2004’s superb Arrived In Gold. Their rhythms are more strangulated and sharp (and just plain sick on “Cloven Hoof”), guitarist/vocalist Mark Morgan’s angry vocalisms all the more assured. The BTW link will give you a tune; visit their MySpace for more of the murky, no-waved Brooklyn trio.

Speaking of Brooklyn expansiveness, Excepter added a couple new members this past year, both with day jobs — so might as well tie-in two different column with this update form film archivist John Fell Ryan:

Lala Harrison and Clare Amory joined Excepter as “full-time” members this Summer. Lala teaches private music lessons to kids and Clare is a Pilates instructor.

That’s our first Pilates instructor. Follow up, please?

Changing amplification some, the metal records you should buy before you suffer from that overpraising-Ire Works affliction (in no order, kinda):

Watain: Sworn to Dark (Ajna Offensive/Season Of Mist)
Deathspell Omega: Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (Ajna Offensive/N.E.D.)
Bergraven: Dödsvisioner (Hydra Head)
Wolves in the Throne Room: Two Hunters (Southern Lord)
The Ruins of Beverast: Rain Upon the Impure (Van)
Nifelheim: Envoy Of Lucifer (Regain)
Om: Pilgrimage (Southern Lord)
Blut Aus Nord: Odinist (Candlelight)
Skeletonwitch: Beyond the Permafrost (Prosthetic)
Alcest: Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde (Profound Lore/Prophecy)
High on Fire: Death Is This Communion (Relapse)
Portal: Outre (Profound Lore)
Wold: Screech Owl (Profound Lore)
Baroness: The Red Album (Relapse)

Finally, Islaja’s pretty new album Ulual YYY wasn’t my favorite of her output (that’d be Palaa Aurinkoon), but the video for “Pete P,” the best track on the record, deserves an honorary place here.

And while we’re in Finland, here’s Es’s “Sateenkaarisuudelma III” from Sateenkaarisuudelma, also on the super Fonal label.

What have you dug that hasn’t seen love on the year-end listserve?