The holidays are a time of family, schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry and — if you are involved in music journalism — list-making. Lots and lots of list-making. Mark our words: Come mid-December, the 'net and the magazine rack at your local Barnes and Noble will be brimming over with a head-spinning, eye-glazing cornucopia of rankings of the following de rigeur albums: The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, The National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and Battles' Mirrored.
So we decided to go in a different direction. In thirteen cities, we asked musicians, DJs, athletes and emcees (and in one case, a Michael Stipe-impersonating electrician) to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs, or the collected works of an artist — and it need not have come out this year. We just wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now.
— John Nova Lomax, Executive Music Editor, Village Voice Media.
Cleveland's answer to Michael Stipe talks about his passions
Cleveland doesn't have celebrities. That's why our contribution to this year-end roundup is star-free. The biggest thing we've got (next to LeBron James, who was too busy playing basketball or something to talk to us) is the stripper-lovin' host of The Price Is Right, Drew Carey. But we're pretty sure he couldn't be pried away from his medical-marijuana crusade to chat music.
Besides, Cleveland's real stars are the people who make the city what it is: Clevelanders — the working-class, beer-drinking, music-lovin' guys and gals who don't need People magazine to make them famous. A couple shots of Jameson and Bruce on the jukebox work just as well, thank you.
Lakewood native Artie the Electrician (Local Union 38) is a bandana-sporting father-of-four who's played in a number of area bands over the years (including the Cheese Farmers, Ass Crack Holiday and Buddy Holly's Nipple — all excellently named, by the way). The 43-year-old was also Michael Stipe in the longtime R.E.M. cover band Radio Free Europe ("before they came out with their commercial, sellout bullshit," he says).
Artie is a lifelong music nut. He thinks most modern stuff blows ("Daughtry? I just wanna slap him, call him a sissy and send him home"), but he doesn't just dismiss it, like most guys his age do. He's listened to many of the post-Radiohead bands; he just doesn't like them.
Everyone from dead bluesmen to the almost-dead Rolling Stones to the very-alive Kelly Clarkson comes up in our conversation. Artie offers to hand over his MP3 player several times — presumably because a whopping 40 gigs of tunes will reveal just how extensive his tastes really are. The mere mention of a band (say, Primus) typically draws the response, "I got one of their CDs in my truck."
From Artie the Electrician's MP3 player and pickup truck, this is what rocked 2007.
1. Bob Mould, "Sinners and Their Repentances": I've seen him every time he's played here. I'd pay $500 to sit in the nosebleed seats at one of his concerts. I liked Hüsker Dü, but I didn't really get into him until [the 1989 solo album] Workbook. That was the album where it all came together. I don't swing that way, but I love the guy.
2. R.E.M., "Begin the Begin": It's just so rhythmically jangly. I was in a band at the time that was doing lots of Cure and Fixx songs just because we had a keyboard player — that was pretty much the only reason. One day I said, "I can't do this anymore," and started the R.E.M. tribute band. R.E.M. was my alternative to playing crap.
3. Bad Religion, "21st Century Digital Boy": This has a really good, heavy sound. They have an edge to them, but there's a lot of music going on in the background. If you sit down and really listen to it, it's a well thought-out and put-together song. It's not just three chords. On first listen, it appears straightforward and in-your-face, but there's lots of dynamics going on there. I like to pick songs apart, and this is good stuff.
4. The Dead Boys, "Sonic Reducer ": They were one of the best bands to come out of Cleveland and the last great band to come from Cleveland. I have this live tape of them, and it's so hilarious. They're so drunk, and they're literally falling down. [Singer Stiv Bators] is like, "We're here because we need the fucking money." Then they start ripping into the song.
5. Earth, Wind & Fire, "September": They're one of the best vocal groups of our time. And they're musically phenomenal. I have their greatest hits on my MP3 player. It goes from Hoodoo Gurus to Bob Mould to Mucky Pup and right into Earth, Wind & Fire."
6. Colin Dussault, "Whipping Post" (circa 1990): I knew Colin when he was putting it all together. I have a version of "Green Onions" we recorded in my basement in 1986 with me on guitar, and he played harmonica and sang. Now he 's Colin Dussault, Corporate Entity. Back then he was Colin Dussault, Balls-to-the-Wall-I'll-Drink-a-Bottle-of-Jack-Daniel's-and-Entertain-the-Shit-out-of-You-All-Night-Long. He was a drunk, his guitar player was a drunk, his bass player was a drunk, and sometimes his drummer never even bothered to show up. They're still one of the finer bands in Cleveland.
7. Counting Crows, "Rain King": That's silky smooth music. [Adam Duritz] is the entertainer when it comes to working a crowd. Half the time, the [live] songs sound nothing like the record. When I go see a show, don't give me the record. You gotta do something. With the price of tickets nowadays? Give me a show.
8. Dave Matthews Band, "Ants Marching": There's just a lot going on in this song. That whole band is just really good at what they do. They use these unconventional time signatures — it's almost like jazz at times. And the violin player actually fits in with them. You know how some bands use a violin, and it sounds like crap? Not here.
9. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Someday I Suppose": People always refer to them as a ska band, but I don't know. Their horns always sounded more out-front to me. And that guy [Dicky Barrett] is a horrible singer. But they're lots of fun.
10. Dixie Chicks, "Sin Wagon": Musically, this is one of their finest songs. They're one of the best groups of harmony singers in the business. And they're all really good musicians, especially the fiddle player. I like most of their songs, except for "Goodbye Earl." I hated that video with Dennis Franz. I was a huge NYPD Blue fan, and I was like, Sipowicz, what the hell are you doing?"
Honorable Mentions: The Sex Pistols ("You know why? They're the Sex Pistols"), the Cranberries ("They really had some good shit"), and Elton John ("His early years — back when he and Bernie Taupin were banging each other").
— MICHAEL GALLUCCI
Scarface tees off about his year-end faves
Remember when everyone thought Snoop Dogg wearing golf gear in 2004's Starsky and Hutch — and in those Chrysler commercials with Lee Iacocca — was so funny? Well, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, on-again, off-again Geto Boy and Houston rap legend Scarface strolls into the clubhouse at Houston's Hermann Park Golf Course clad in a white Wildcat Golf Club polo, navy shorts and his sock feet (no spikes allowed inside), and no one bats an eyelash. He is, after all, here almost every day.
But today, Scarface is here for a press conference to hail the December 4 release of Made, his first proper album since 2002's The Fix. He's a strange interview: He's cordial, but seems distracted, fiddling with his iPhone and flipping through copies of local hip-hop magazines Hard Hitter and What It Dew. Another reporter asks him how it feels to routinely be ranked among the greatest rappers of all time, and his only answer is a soft-spoken "I like it a lot."
On the other hand, Scarface, now 37, says pretty much all he's been doing since The Fix came out is coaching little league football and playing poker and golf, which he took up last September at his daughter's urging. Asked if he'll make another album after Made, he just shrugs. Rapping, it seems, is now something he can take or leave.
"I really don't want to do this shit anymore," he says. "It had a lot to do with the unauthorized albums Rap-a-Lot put out [2003's Balls & My Word and 2006's My Homies Part 2]. I was kind of mad about that, but I don't want people that listen to my music to not be able to."
Nonetheless, Scarface and Rap-a-Lot have mended enough fences for him to return to his long-time label (both with the Geto Boys and solo) after a one-album departure to Def Jam South for The Fix. "There ain't no sense in me not putting out an album because of that," he says. "I've seen a lot of artists fall out with their labels and be irrelevant when they come back."
Scarface, though, will be relevant as long as he cares to be. "I was talking to Busta Rhymes and he said, 'Goddamn, are you ever going to fall off? You sound like you're sixteen," he laughs. "I told him, 'I am sixteen. I never grew up. I do shit that kids do.'"
After the press conference, I follow Scarface onto the links for a couple of holes. He's already revealed he was a big KISS fan growing up, enjoys everyone from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin to Steely Dan and the Eagles ("and that's just my iPhone") and turns out to be a local rockabilly fan as well. "You ever heard of the [Flaming] Hellcats?" he asks, preparing to tee off. "Jaime [frontman Jaime Hellcat] is a good friend of mine. I talk to Jaime a lot. I want to see them get it."
Chris Gray: What was your favorite music to come out this year?
Scarface: I didn't really have any. What came out this year? Did Coldplay come out this year?
What have you been listening to?
Radiohead. Old Radiohead. Not much, though. I'm going to fuck [the ball] up.
Do you have any artists on your label [Runaway Slave]?
Product. Product is an artist.
What about the 50 and Kanye albums?
Kanye had a brilliant album this year. [swings] Get down, get down!
What about the new Jay-Z?
I haven't heard it yet. I bet it's pretty brilliant. I heard some of it, I think it's brilliant.
What about the 50 album?
I didn't listen to it. Did you?
No. What about locally? The new Trae record?
I didn't hear it. But locally, man, I'm on anything local. I really want local artists to rise and become national.
Who have you got your eye on locally right now?
Does he have something on the way?
I hope so.
Did you hit the green?
I hope I did.
What was the last record you got really excited about?
Mine. Or Kanye's.
What did you like about the Kanye record?
I liked its originality. That wasn't a bad drive, was it?
No. Are there any rock albums that came out this year that you liked?
No one came out. Who came out?
Well, Spoon had a pretty big record. Radiohead.
I didn't download [the Radiohead]. I want to buy it because I really love that band.
What's your favorite Radiohead album?
I really like [starts singing, more or less on key] "Don't leave me hiiiiigh, don't leave me dryyyyy ..." ["High and Dry," from 1995's The Bends] I love that song. I'm going for eagle right here. [swings] Awww, slow down, ball! Shit. I fucked up my eagle. Fuck!
[Scarface two-putts for a bogey]
Do you download music? Do you have an iPod?
I have an iPod.
Do you still buy CDs?
I buy everything that I like.
Tell me more about Product.
One guy's from Mississippi and the other kid's from San Francisco. I think it's some of the most brilliant rap put together from different parts of the world.
Have you ever thought about making an album with your band? [Scarface occasionally performs, playing several instruments, with a fourteen-piece live band]
I want to. Contractual obligations may not allow it, but that's a big dream of mine, to be able to make an album with a rock band. I've got a rock band, the Sick Man Psycho Bastards. I'm the lead singer.
I know you did A&R for Def Jam [signing Ludacris and T.I., among others]. Are you still doing that for Rap-a-Lot?
No. I don't do that no more.
You said earlier you've been playing a lot of blues. What kind of blues are you into?
Old Delta blues. Muddy Waters' old plantation recordings. Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Son House.
That was a little later, but yeah, he's good.
What have you been listening to the most recently?
Reggae. Peter Tosh, Bob Marley. The old one-drop reggae.
Do you go out and see a lot of music?
No. I don't really know what's going on, man. I'm totally out of sync with what's happening right now.
Do you think the local rap community is as strong as it was a couple of years ago?
I hope it's as strong as it was. [yawns] Excuse me. I think you have to grow up in anything you do. Not grow up, but you've gotta grow with your fan base. I think that's the secret of what music is. If your fanbase is 25 and older, it's going to be hard to sell to kids [who are] 13, 12.
Do you worry about that with your records?
No, I just make music, man. I know who my fan base is. See, I'm kind of cheating, man. I grew up with a houseful of musicians. My cousin is Johnny Nash, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone" Johnny Nash. So I know what to do just by watching what he did. He had a brilliant career. He wrote one of the biggest songs in music history.
On your mom's side or your dad's?
Ummm... on my grandfather's side.
Did you get to hang out with him much?
Did he give you lessons or anything like that?
— Chris Gray
Lawrence, Kansas, eco-journalist Simran Sethi prunes some continent-spanning tunes
Like Godzilla leaving green footprints, eco-journalist Simran Sethi has taken over the small college town of Lawrence, Kansas. Since moving to the trendy prairie hamlet from New York City, Sethi has spotlighted her favorite local businesses on Oprah and the Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet. As an environmental correspondent for NBC News, she talked to Al Gore about the massive tornado that devastated the tiny town of Greensburg, Kansas. She has been on Martha Stewart's show and is the host of Sundance' s The Green Online. And before she was loco for eco, Sethi was a news anchor for MTV News in India and Singapore.
She's been everywhere, man. In fact, she's often too busy saving the planet to monitor new releases with the assiduity of a music geek, but that doesn't mean she doesn't like a good jam.
Though Indian in heritage, the petite, vivacious 36-year-old grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — and we could hear it in her slight twang when we caught up with Sethi to talk about her list of the music, among other things, that kept her going this year.
Jason Harper: You picked "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel. Not many people aside from big fans have heard it.
Simran Sethi: I think that whole album, Us, is great.
And Jay-Z, "99 Problems"?
I lived in Harlem when the song came out, and it just reminded me of the fact that there are more black men in prison than are employed, and I think that's a horrible injustice.
You're a Mariah Carey fan?
I like Mariah. I interviewed her in Tokyo when I worked for MTV News and she first played the Tokyo Dome, and I've liked her and her music ever since. It's not something many people expect out of me, but I like Mariah.
What was she like?
I'm impressed that she writes her own lyrics and did it at a time when she didn't have to, and it's a good comeback story. She managed to reassemble her career and did a good job of it.
How do you find out about music?
NPR and stuff my friends send me from Singapore, just whatever I happen to catch. I listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. There's not a single area where I find my music. Stuff on the radio.
What did you listen to growing up?
I grew up in an era of Bow Wow Wow and Duran Duran and Madonna, so that's the stuff I listened to growing up. I heard some Rolling Stones and Beatles from my mom.
Did you absorb any music during your time working for MTV that you still listen to now?
Not really anything now, because that was quite a while ago. But the bands I got to interview then are still very much a part of the music I listen to, like the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah. Those are probably some of my favorites from that time frame. The Foo Fighters.
Did you not cover much music that was native to India and Singapore?
I did, but that's not the music I listen to now, which was your question. I 'm Indian, so I've grown up listening to Indian music.
What would you recommend to people who are interested in Indian music?
What type of music is that?
It's Bollywood music, but it's a lot of love songs.... Any collection of her greatest hits would be a good introduction for folks.
Tell me why you picked the Dixie Chicks.
I really liked Shut Up and Sing. I thought that was a great documentary. I grew up in the south, but I never listened to the Dixie Chicks, and after seeing that movie here in Lawrence at Liberty Hall, I had a profound appreciation for their courage, and I got introduced to their music that way.
What about one of your other picks, Rihanna? She's a sexy pop star. Does that contrast the powerful-woman image?
I think women can be both those things. I don't think it's a contrast.
— Jason Harper
Getting Eastbound and Down with Christian Jacobs of the Aquabats! and Yo Gabba Gabba!
Christian Jacobs lives in a world of bold-faced, day-glo images. He dwells in a realm in which all sentences end in exclamation marks and fun is as common as oxygen. A founding member of the Huntington Beach, California, synth-pop-punk-ska band the Aquabats!, Jacobs (a.k.a. the MC Bat Commander) assumes cartoonish personae with earnestness — and revels in goofiness with as much gusto as Jay-Z and 50 Cent luxuriate in their self-perpetuated, overblown mythologies.
As Aquabats! front man, Jacobs dons superhero garb, while his similarly attired bandmates act out a comic-book-style story line in which the group combats evil through its damnably catchy and ludicrously peppy songs. (Think tunes that fall somewhere between Oingo Boingo and Devo at their most accessible.) Despite several personnel changes, the Aquabats! continue to soldier on in its quest to subdue nefarious nemeses; to that end, the band is currently recording a new album and touring sporadically.
Recently, however, Jacobs has channeled his time and creative energy into Yo Gabba Gabba!, which debuted on Nick Jr. in August. (The show will also air on the Noggin cable channel starting December 31, 2007.) One of those rare kids shows that appeals to adults, Yo Gabba Gabba! has become a cult favorite, garnering much YouTube synergy. It appears destined to launch its on-air talent — including DJ Lance Rock; Ricky Fitness; the toy monsters Brobee, Foofa, Muno, Plex and Toodee; and Jacobs himself, reprising his MC Bat Commander character — into something verging on mainstream stardom.
Yo Gabba Gabba! has drawn comparisons to such programs as the H.R. Pufnstuf, Pee-wee's Playhouse, The Muppet Show, and Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The regular appearance of musicians and bands — including the Shins, the Aggrolites, Mya, Supernova, Rahzel of the Roots and Biz Markie — also harks back to MTV's golden age. If that weren't enough, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh provides graphics for the show.
Amid increasing time constraints in his life, Jacobs (a father himself) miraculously found a few minutes to share "the songs I listened to the most, over and over this past year."
Jerry Reed, "East Bound and Down.": C'mon! Haven't you ever been under the gun and had to drop the hammer down! I know I was all year. We would play this super loud in the office when things were getting pretty bleak. And, you know, when Smokey's got his ears on, and he's hot on yer trail, he aint gonna rest 'til yer in jail! So, bring it, Jerry, bring it!! I'm not at all a country fan, but this song brings the goods... literally!
The Killers, "When You Were Young (Jaques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Radio Edit)": I thought the album cut was okay, but this remix is way better. It is real good. Say what you want about the Killers, but I think they are real good. And with a little help, they are way better.
M.I.A., "XR2" and "Jimmy": This whole album [Kala] is crazy and I love it. Wow! "Where were you in '92?" This song is such a mind-blower. It is so frantic and slamming, but somehow so super smooth, like a ninja knife hit at the 1985 Video Game Olympics. The beat is insane. It pumps so many crazy feelings, it goes off like bomb. I guess Maya being no stranger to bombs going off, [she] really has a knack for blowing things apart while still somehow looking fresh in pink '80s stretch pants. Then, her track "Jimmy" takes us to the sixth-grade Bollywood disco party love song and doesn't disappoint. M.I.A is way more gangsta than anything on MTV. Sorry, all ya Fergie dawgs.
The Futureheads, "Worry About It Later": I know that this came out last summer, but I listened to it so much this year that it may as well have come out this year... again. It's so simple but super good. It's what I say to my fellow co-workers every day, so why wouldn't it be my favorite song? Catchy and punchy: two great tastes that taste great together.
Arcade Fire, "Antichrist Television Blues": This song is so gnarly. I can't really explain it, but as lead singer Win [Butler] sings on in the guise of a down-on-his-luck Dad praying for a child so he can raise her up to put on television star and sing the gospel, so that he can make money... Well, it's complex, layered with all these weird emotions and so very American that you can't help but get swept away by it. When he sings, "My lips are near/My heart is far away/Now the war is won/How come nothing tastes good? " and then the "angel bird" background singers start to sing, "WAAAA AAOOOO WAAAA AHHAOO!", I get the chills every time. This song is about as anti-American Idol as it gets, and it's about time! Brilliant.
— Dave Segal
The latest American Idol winner and a hoops star keep Phoenix's music mercury rising
For basketball star Diana Taurasi, 2007 was a stellar year. The six-foot guard for the Phoenix Mercury helped lead the franchise (and the city of Phoenix) to its first-ever basketball championship, toppling defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock on its home court in the final game of a best-of-five series. The Mercury made it onto the Wheaties box, Taurasi re-signed a half-million dollar deal to play in Russia during the WNBA off-season, and now she's got one of the most popular athlete blogs on sports site yardbarker.com (www.yardbarker.com/dianataurasi).
One of the reasons Taurasi's blog rocks is her candid banter about all sorts of things, but most often music — and the fact that she'll carry on conversations about music with her fans in the comments section.
Because Taurasi's bundled up and playing b-ball in the former Soviet Union right now, we'll refer you to some of her Yardbarker commentary on what rocked her world in '07.
Kanye West (posted 9-11-07): So here we are, on the eve of 9/11 — still at war — and we're presented with one of the most important questions of our generation: Kanye or 50?
Really. Kanye. Seriously. I'm buyin' that one and burnin' a copy for the car. Is there really a comparison? Fiddy? Are there recording studios at Shady Acres? For real, "Stronger" is the jam of the summer. While you can question the sunglasses indoors, you can't fight Kanye's creativity. I won't venture to say lyrical genius (nobody is touching 'Pac in my book, most likely ever . . . in life), but the guy has undeniable talent. I like him. In the wasteland of what has become hip-hop (who can even listen to the radio anymore?), Kanye delivers.
Alicia Keys (posted 11-13-07): The Alicia Keys/Ross Hogg reggae remix? What do you think? I didn't think it was possible to improve on the original, but this is the joint! In short, it's dope. I'm also not sure smoovely is a word, but I think it's tremendous and I plan to use it. Smoove it out on the laptop. If somebody figures out how to download the thing, holllerrr.
(posted 11-19-07) — We left off at Alicia Keys. Did you hear her stage name was going to be Alicia Wild instead of Alicia Keys? Yeah. Good call on whoever told her to swap in Keys for the stripper surname. She's killing it right now, isn't she? Did you see the American Music Awards last night? If given the choice, I would have passed on that mess they had Beyoncé up there doing, but is it coincidence that Alicia had the reggae performance? I think not. She must have seen the massive response my blog got and decided to [go in] that direction. And who knew a unitard could be so fly. I suppose if you add Beanie Man to most anything, it's dope. If he performed at a Mercury game, I think I might dunk.
Arizona native Jordin Sparks has the distinction of being the youngest American Idol winner in the show's history. The seventeen-year-old Glendale resident — whose father, Phillippi Sparks, played for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys — was sent home after her initial audition in Los Angeles, but bounced back to win a second audition in Arizona and ended up at the Seattle tryouts, where she sang Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me." She made the Hollywood Round, and became the sixth winner of American Idol on May 23.
Since winning, the energetic and talkative teenager has been busy. First, she traversed the States from July through September as part of the "American Idols LIVE! Tour," then she headed straight into the studio to record songs for her eponymous debut, which was released November 20 on Jive Records. The album boasts creative input from the likes of Robbie Nevil, Chris Brown (who sings a duet with Sparks called "No Air"), and producers Eman (Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion) and Sam Watters (Jessica Simpson). The record runs the gamut from pop to rock to R&B, much like Sparks' own collection.
"If you see my iPod, it's the craziest mix of stuff," she says. "I like post-hardcore, country, rock, hip-hop, '80s music. I'm all over the place."
Although the Idol says she spent most of her summer listening to the songs she was recording, she still manages to name some things she's had in heavy rotation this year.
Rihanna: I love her song "I Hate that I Love You," the one she does with Ne-Yo. The first time I heard that song, I knew it was going to be a hit. I have it on repeat on my iPod. It keeps growing on me and I never get tired of it. I like the way their voices blend together."
Chris Brown: I haven't heard his new CD [Exclusive], but two years ago, when his first CD came out, all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday was his album. I'd love to tour with him. It would open me up to his R&B audience, and it would open him up to my pop audience. We're both somewhere in the middle.
Plain White T's: I remember hearing "Hey There Delilah," and it was so simple — guitar, voice, and strings. [It shows] you don't have to make a complicated song to have a hit single.
Kanye West: Yeah, I listen to hip-hop. I hope my mom doesn't kill me [laughs]. I like Kanye West and 50 Cent, and I didn't take a side in that whole battle. But I did buy [West's] Graduation, so I guess I took a side. The album is in heavy rotation on my iPod. "Stronger" — that song is genius.
Post-hardcore and screamo: I like Silverstein, and a local band called Greeley Estates that 's doing really well. My favorite is a band called Dizmas. They're really good, and I love their music. They came and performed at my church [Calvary Community Church in Phoenix], and it was really funny, because people were like, "Are they screaming?" But I like post-hardcore because it's really cool for when you're angry. Anybody who can scream like that and not blow their voice out is amazing. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to do that. I can't do it.
Alicia Keys: I haven't heard all of her new album [As I Am] yet, but I like her new single ("No One"). Alicia Keys just amazes me. She plays piano like no other, she's got a great voice, and she writes her own songs.
— Niki D'Andrea
The Kronos Quartet's founding member reveals his eclectic, worldly tastes.
San Francisco's world-renowned Kronos Quartet has charted an impressive course around the globe, commissioning more than 600 works — and releasing more than 40 records — with composers from China, Russia, Vietnam and Iraq since its inception more than 30 years ago. Founding member David Harrington cites an unusual source of inspiration for working with composers from other countries: American foreign policy. Whenever the U.S. gets into a conflict or war, Harrington says it always makes him want to find out about the other country's music. It's a way of connecting to and partnering with cultures that American politics tear apart. "We are trying to be a witness to some of the things that are happening," he explains. "Every concert we play is an attempt to find balance in a world that's very unbalanced."
This year, the string quartet released a recording of Icelandic act Sigur Rós' "Flugufrelsarinn"; performed with Tom Waits at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit, and with the queen of Bollywood film soundtracks, Asha Bhosle, at WOMADelaide; and collaborated with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. Kronos also released music by Polish composer Henryk Górecki and recorded Terry Riley's quintet The Cusp of Magic with pipa virtuoso Wu Man for release in 2008, among other projects.
Harrington has an insatiable appetite for not just new music but the entire universe of sound. Over the course of our three-hour conversation, he gushes over everything from Swedish pop act Shout Out Louds (a recommendation from his daughter) and cellist Erik Friedlander to field recordings of underwater seals, Southwestern beetles and the singing dog teams of the Canadian north.
"If somebody really loves something, I have to find out about it," he says, sitting in the Kronos practice space next to a plastic shopping bag of his favorite CDs. "If somebody really hates something, I have to find out about it. And as much as I like to go to Amoeba, I don't believe in categories. They have no meaning for me."
With tastes both esoteric and populist (The Lawrence Welk Show first inspired Harrington to pick up the violin), Kronos' leader offers a list of musicians who brought his continents a little closer in 2007.
Damon Albarn, Monkey: Journey to the West: Damon made this fantastic [theater] piece using a Chinese legend. It's like an opera, but it has acrobatics and dance. I met Damon in July and he's now writing a piece [for Kronos]. But that event that he and his team created was just beautiful. He's really inspiring.
Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden: Combine John Cage's touch on the piano with Morton Feldman's touch on the piano with my granddaughter's touch on the piano and you'll get the touch of Valentin Silvestrov. He's just exquisitely beautiful. He's from the Ukraine.
Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Music of Central Asia Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan: Alim Qasimov is one of the great singers of the world; after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there's Alim Qasimov. Fargana is his daughter. She's sung with him since she was a little child.
Joe Henry, Civilians: I don't think enough people know about him. He's a great producer. He visualizes sound in a really complete way. His band is fantastic, and he's someone we'll be working with in the future.
Amiina, Kurr: This is a group that started out as a string quartet. They're from Iceland. I think one of them is married to the keyboardist of Sigur Rós. I met them on tour when we were in Iceland and we rehearsed with Sigur Rós. A lot of people probably wouldn't call Amiina a string quartet on recordings because there isn't a lot of violins and viola and cello; there's a lot of other instruments and sounds.
Valgeir Sigurðsson, Ekvilibrium: Valgeir is an amazing producer. He produced a recording that we made with Kimmo Pohjonen. I would define Kimmo as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. We played with Kimmo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening their 25th season, and he wrote this amazing piece we did with Kimmo on accordion.
Múm, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy: This is their new album that just came out. There are so many sounds and instruments you feel like you're discovering music. I love that feeling, like, "Wow, I've never heard that before; what an interesting way to combine things."
Ruby, Misheet Wara Ehsasi: What I love about this album is not necessarily the songs but the sounds of the instruments; there's some strings in some of these songs that are really cool. Ruby is from Egypt. I don't really know much about her, but I just love the sound of her voice. You can think of the voice as another instrument when you don't know the language, and I almost think of that as an advantage.
M.I.A., Kala: I love it when somebody does something and the bar just gets higher. That's what happened here. [British-Sri Lankan M.I.A. created Kala at different locations around the world after being denied a visa into the U.S. to record.] Our government is harassing a lot of people. It's getting more and more expensive for presenters to bring musicians in from ... Islamic countries. It's getting harder to get good information and music is information.
Nathamuni Brothers, Madras 1974: This is a cool record that was made on somebody's porch in India. The Brothers' group is called a brass band, but it's not really a brass band. There's a certain genius in India for taking something and just making it become something else.
Michael Hearst, Songs for Ice Cream Trucks: Everybody likes ice cream! When I heard this I was like, "Oh, I want to make a kids' album" — maybe because I'm a kid myself.
Ge Gan-Ru, Lost Style: Margaret Leng Tan [who performs on Lost Style] is, like, the foremost toy piano player in the world. On ["Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!"] she's playing all kinds of toys that she found in Chinatown in New York.
Various, Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Laos: [This] is one release of some 35 [releases] on that label. I think I have all of the Sublime Frequencies releases. The Iraqi piece we play I first heard when this particular label released a collection of Iraqi pop music from the '70s and '80s. Basically, I get everything they do — you never know what you're going to hear. There's amazing stuff on this.
Joe Meek, Vampires, Cowboys, Spacemen & Spooks: The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals: Some people will say this is cheese; I think it's cool. This is a great double CD. Before [Beatles producer] George Martin, this was the guy, but he died tragically. I think through an accident of timing he got overshadowed but I love him. I feel better every time I hear "Night of the Vampire."
Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime: Someone sent me The Scene of the Crime, which I can recommend. I have a great idea — at least I like it — for an album of songs, and now I've finally heard the right voice to join us. We'll see if she might be interested.
— Jennifer Maerz
Miami turntablist whiz DJ I-Dee scratches out his favorite tunes of the year
Unlike possibly 90% of his neighbors, turntablist wunderkind Isaac DeLima did not, in fact, choose his South Beach digs for their proximity to the neighborhood's non-stop party. Rather DeLima, a.k.a. DJ I-Dee, initially landed in Miami almost three years ago from the D.C. suburbs with a plan to attend culinary school. But then his DJ battle career blew up in a big way: In 2005, at barely age eighteen, I-Dee would be crowned one of the youngest DMC competition national champions. He'd quickly rack up a string of further national and international prizes before retiring from the battle circuit just two years later.
Growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, DeLima still remembers when his bedroom DJ brother showed him his first battle video: the 1994 DMC World Championships (Roc Raida was the winner). He was hooked, but only ten years old. No matter; he learned his way around the decks in secret, standing on a box to reach the turntables.
DeLima attended his first regional DMC competition as a spectator in 2001, at age 14. Three years later, he won and qualified for the national DMC championship. In 2005, he won that (and was summarily kicked out of the 21-and-over club as soon as he grabbed his trophy). He would then go on to place third at the international competition in London. In 2006, he took the two biggest remaining U.S. titles on the battle circuit, at the Gong Supremacy and Scribble Jam championships. By age nineteen, he was done, ready to concentrate on his own original music. And he had moved to Miami Beach — for peace and quiet.
"I'm traveling a lot of times during the week, so I love to keep this place in Miami for a feeling of home," DeLima says. "This is my space to relax." It seems that his enviable precociousness has led him to find one of the city's few quiet, pedestrian-friendly pockets amid the chaos.
It's a suitable environment, then, for DeLima's constant tinkering. While battles are behind him, he still obsessively creates new routines, drawing unlike sources like old new-wave records into chopped, stuttering scratch-a-thons that explode into danceable breakdowns. Besides being regularly uploaded to his sprawling web presence (, www.youtube.com/djidee, ), the keepers find their way into his party-rocking sets, for which he's booked and flown worldwide. (He shares a booking agent with the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Q-Bert, and Kool DJ Red Alert.) In fact DeLima recently finished a nearly month-long series of residencies around Shanghai and other points east.
Beyond that, though, I-Dee's got big plans for his own musical productions, genre-and media-crossing creations. For example, industrial rock remixed on the decks in a truly humorous, faux-horror video? Sure, why not? So he's holed up in the lab, doggedly working to finish his first album of all original material, due out next year.
Still, as any worthy party selector, record collector, and post-modern music-maker, DeLima devours new music like Tic-Tacs. But as a true child of turntablism's cut-and-paste ethos, he's more into individual tracks than complete albums.
"Honestly, the last album I listened to in its entirety was Chromeo's Fancy Footwork," he says. "In the new digital age and as a DJ, I usually download the singles that I need, and if there's more than one song that grabs my attention, I'll download the whole album. That happens very rarely for me personally, though."
Here, then, are his favorite bangers from 2007.
Talib Kweli, "Hot Thing" (remix feat. Ne-Yo and Jean Grae). Jean Grae is about to be revealed to a lot of mainstream hip-hop fans and really bring back the female emcee. Nowadays, majority of them are in trouble with one thing or another. She's been around for quite sometime, however, be sure to look out for her major debut on Kweli's label, Blacksmith.Justice, "D.A.N.C.E." (Benny Blanco remix feat. Mos Def and Spank Rock.Definitely one of the best songs of the 2007 for me. The remix, though, features the mighty Mos Def, B-More/Philly booty-mover Spank Rock, and production from 19-year-old Benny Blanco. Cop the Bangers & Cash EP from Benny and Spank while you're at it.RJD2, "You Never Had It So Good." RJD2 goes a different route this time around with his latest album, The Third Hand, by singing on a majority of his tracks rather than strictly producing. Reason I liked this song is because I believe he got a sample off Super Mario RPG for SNES, it had me thinking back to '95/'96.DJ I-Dee, "Eclectic Dreams" feat. Rites of Ash. The first single off my upcoming debut album on Adiar Cor Records. It features Rites of Ash, an industrial rock band from my hometown of Washington, D.C. Be sure to check the music video for it on YouTube.com as well as my album coming in 2008.Tay Zonday, "Chocolate Rain." Best song of the year. Hypnotizing ... 'nuff said.Madlib, "Movie Finale." This is one of those songs that I'll play over and over during a long drive. Very soothing and has a slight Bollywood feel to it. Check Madlib's Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4: In India on Stones Throw.
— ARIELLE CASTILLO
Los Angeles luminaries Dave Navarro and Margaret Cho share what rocked their 2007
Margaret Cho has had her own TV show, a couple of best-selling books, a Grammy-nominated comedy album, and two feature films based on her national tours. But 2007 saw a new conquest for the comic: She became a viral video queen. Cho's sexy, traveling circus-like spectacle, The Sensuous Woman — which melds music, comedy and burlesque and is performed by herself and a myriad of her talented pals — was a critical success in LA, New York and Chicago.
But when a clip from the show showing the comedienne twirling her ta-tas with awe-inspiring speed, clad in nothing but panties and tassle'd pasties, was posted on YouTube and subsequently every blog on the net, Cho became not only a national cyber sensation, but a champion for voluptuous women everywhere. "I got really good at twirling those tassels. It was very popular online and quite controversial," she says. "Women loved it and felt empowered but a few straight guys were furious because I challenge the stripper archetype."
But then again, challenging pre-conceived notions and stereotypes is what Cho does. The Korean-American funny lady has always had a strong political and cultural viewpoint, and her work has explored not only her Asian background and upbringing, but also her views on homosexuality (currently married, she claims to be bi-sexual) and the government (big shocker: she's anti-Bush).
Perhaps inspired by the hubbub her half-naked gyrations caused on the web (but more likely just another extension of her never-ending quest to challenge the status quo), Cho's next project, titled Beautiful, will be a stand-up show that ponders the age-old question of what real beauty is. It will be her first stand-up show since the Assassin tour in 2005, and her personal blog will play a role.
"Right now I am doing a big list of who I think is beautiful," she says. "People can log on to margaretcho.com to see if they made the list. It's [everyone from] famous people, to friends, to anyone who happens to catch my eye."
Surely, there'll be some music artists on the list. Cho, who just got tattooed like a rockstar on TLC's LA Ink and made a splash emceeing Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour this past year too, is definitely a music enthusiast and her tastes are diverse. She can be seen in the Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California" video (which parodies David Lee Roth's "California Girls" ), and even directed a clip for one of her '07 faves. Here, the sounds she wiggled to this year.
Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger (Lost Highway). The best album of this year. I just listened to it over and over and over and over. It makes me feel like I am one of those girls who can wear a very, very short dress with cowboy boots and I don't have to wear tights because my legs are perfect and tan. I also saw him play with his band the Cardinals at the Wilshire Theatre and I screamed myself sore.
Girl in a Coma. So cute... so young... They opened for Morrissey at the Hammerstein Ballroom and rocked it.
Crowded House, Time on Earth (ATO). It's amazing. I love Neil Finn and have had a solid crush on him for nearly 23 years. I got to tell him so after their awesome show at the Greek Theatre this Summer. Love them.
The Cliks, Snakehouse (label) An incredible record. I went on the True Colors Tour with them and also directed their video "Eye in the Back of my Head."
Bjork, Volta (Elektra). This was in heavy rotation. I love her and she is insanely cute. On the cover she looks really Super Mario Bros or Donkey Kong... Her fashion sense is crazy. So cool.
Antony Hegarty. When he's singing he sounds like he is clutching the pearls around his neck and spilling a gin and tonic all over the place.
Looks like Dave Navarro is going to be all about instant gratification next year. The L.A.-born-and-bred guitarist, who launched his own Internet TV show and directed his first porno in 2007, is obviously inspired by both the immediacy the web provides and the quick turnaround of the adult film industry.
"These things come out during that burst of inspiration" — no pun intended — "whereas with records, by the time you're talking about it, it's something you created long ago," he explains. "That's one of the things I'm looking forward to with future music projects — I'm just going to immediately put out stuff online as I record it, song by song."
And though the status of Navarro's last proper band, The Panic Channel, featuring his former Jane's Addiction bandmate Stephen Perkins, is "up in the air" after a less-than-well-received Capitol release in late '06, Navarro still has music to make and fans eager to see what he'll do next. That might include performances with his all-star cover band Camp Freddy (also the name of his radio show on LA's Indie 103.1), jamming on live guitar over his pal DJ Skibble's scratch attacks for select club dates, or one day maybe even reforming Jane's.
"There haven't been any conversations, but at the same time it's something very close to my heart," he says. "It seems there's such a space right now for great live bands. If the Eagles can get together and do another tour, I don't see why we can't."
In the meantime, making more artistically minded porno films might be in the cards. In fact, he got an email during our interview notifying him that Broken, the flick he co-wrote and directed for Tera Patrick's production company Teravision, had just earned five Adult Video Network Awards nominations, including best director.
Spread TV, the talk show he launched this past Spring on Mania TV (the same web station where Tom Green calls home) is definitely his main focus. Airing every Thursday at 5 p.m. Pacific, the show features everyone from actors to local freaks to people with problems (he often brings on a psychotherapists to help). Think Dr. Phil, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart with a rock & roll twist.
"The overall feel of the show is fun and lighthearted, but at the same time we want to get into serious issues as well," says Navarro, who did his time on "real" TV, co-hosting both editions of the CBS singing competition Rockstar and starring in a reality show with ex-wife Carmen Electra. "My show is anything and everything me and my partner Todd Newman find captivating."
That includes up and coming bands, which often play live on the show. A few have become favorite artists for Navarro to listen to off air as well. Here, Dave's current musical addictions:
Gravenhurst, The Western Lands (label). I discovered them watching The Unit, the TV show about an undercover military group. During the end credits on one of the episodes, I heard this song called "Black Holes in the Sand." It just struck me. I'm never one to search something online that I happened to hear on a television program, but it just really hit me hard. They're pretty mind-blowing — my favorite band right now. Instant melancholy. I have to be careful what time of day I put them on because I could easily find myself in a suicidal state, which is actually saying quite a lot if a band can evoke that much emotion out of you.
kHz, Reality on a Finer Scale (label). I played on a track from their next album. They're a metal band from New York with an amazing lead singer named Raiana. She's got this beautiful operatic voice that goes on top of this real hardcore metal. Just a really nice juxtaposition. A lot of females in the metal world try to emulate the singing chops of men. She remains feminine and the combination is really sexy.
The Start, Ciao, Baby (Metropolis). A great band. Love Aimee Echo's vocal abilities. They're close friends.
Mickey Avalon. Don't believe he's put anything out this year, but I think he's just an incredible genius. His personality really comes through in his vocals. The music is very simplistic and there's something to be said for that. It's all about highlighting the personality and he does that really well.
The Procussions and Mr. J. Kind of a hip-hop thing. Real emotional. Stripped down and positive lyrical content. These guys came on my show with a microphone and a drum set and pretty much blew everybody away.
Datarock, Datarock (label). Fun. Kind of reminds me of Love and Rockets with the sax and the hokey guitar stuff.
Daniel Johnston. He's a bipolar schizophrenic who's a really brilliant songwriter. Heavily influenced bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I would highly recommend looking into this guy, and the documentary about him.
— Lina Lecaro
Come peer into the ears of Minneapolis mainstays Dan Wilson and Al Franken
The Dixie Chicks' Grammy-winning-song collaborator Dan Wilson released his first solo album this year, the Rick Rubin-produced Free Life. The Semisonic songwriter and former Trip Shakespearean still lives in Minneapolis, still shops at the Electric Fetus and plans on holing up and writing songs for the next few months. He recently finished producing Mike Doughty's Golden Delicious, due in February 2008.
Replacements, "Skyway." I got so excited about Walsh's book [Replacements oral history All Over But the Shouting] that I got digital versions of songs I already had on vinyl. I tried to listen to others, but I just got stuck on "Skyway." It's so short and so perfect, it makes you want to listen to it again and again. I wonder if people who don't have skyways even understand what it's about.
Sufjan Stevens, "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois." One of the guys from Absent Star came up to me with his iPod and commanded that I listen to it. It's important to musicians — they'll be like, "You have to listen to this," and I'll obey. I have the whole album [Illinois], but I just listen to this. It's a really mysterious song.
Mitsuko Uchida, "Mozart Sonata in C, KV 545." I first heard this as a child, at a piano recital. This very brilliant boy played it, and I was transfixed. Jacob from Semisonic gave it to me when I was recovering from surgery, and I listened to it for a month. It was a source of peace and comfort—the Percocet was also very helpful.
Radiohead, In Rainbows. I tried to pay for it twelve times, and got hung up on by their server—it kept kicking me off. I gave up, and then someone gave it to me. I'm going to buy the geek version anyway. I'm a fool for them.
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces. My daughter Coco is an obsessive Chicks fan. She made me listen to it 100 times this summer. I mentioned it to Emily [Robison], and she said, "I hope it hasn't ruined the music the way my son has ruined "We Will Rock You" for me."
Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Superwolf . Rick Rubin made me listen to this over the phone. He said, "Check it out!" and held his phone up to the speaker. This is the album I wore out. It's very tender and really rocking at the same time—full of amazingly surprising moments, really proportionate and beautiful, but also kind of "off."
Keith Jarrett, The Carnegie Hall Concert. I got hyped on that from reading reviews. Jarrett's got this crazy ability to have each hand do completely different things, both very wildly — and then it snaps into place as this gospel, vampy, swinging thing. He's just so audacious.
Mike Doughty, Golden Delicious. Technically speaking, I listened to this album more than any other on the list, but now I'm listening to it just for enjoyment. Usually it takes me a couple years to have the distance, but for some reason I've been able to really enjoy this album. John Kirby played a lot of loose, free, very spontaneous melodies—a lot of it was really unscripted.
Ray LaMontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black. I really liked Trouble a lot. When I got this one, I listened to it a bunch of times and I thought, "Oh, okay: This is his masterpiece; he's a genius," and then it turns out, it was received as a turning-inward.
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde. This album had always seemed sort of jumpy to me, but this year, not at all. Now it seems very spontaneous, and what I used to think of as "jumpy" is people listening to each other having fun and following Dylan's crazy lead. Some of it is just so funny: "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" makes me laugh every time.
Former Saturday Night Live cast member, screenwriter, and New York Times best-selling author Al Franken is currently living in Minneapolis and campaigning for a seat in the United States Senate.
"First of all, I have to make a confession. My favorite music of 2007 bears a striking resemblance to my favorite music of 1975. Also to my favorite music of 1976, 1977, 1978, etc., etc.
See, I'm a Deadhead. As anyone who listened to my radio show knows, I used the Grateful Dead as my bumper music going in and out of breaks. And there's a real community of Deadheads out there. At an event the other day, a guy handed me a new remix of 'Cornell '78.'
That said, I do allow a few new influences into my musical consciousness every once in a while. So, here's my list of five non-Grateful Dead things I've been listening to in 2007:
Bob. That's the format used by KLCI (106.1 FM), and it's a mix of contemporary and older country that is apparently mimicked by many "Bob" or Bob-like stations across the country. I love country music because I like the unabashed melodrama.
Trampled by Turtles. Speaking of country, I'm a big bluegrass fan. I got turned on to this band by Tom Saxhaug, the state senator from Grand Rapids. I thought it was a little suspicious that he spent most of our first meeting telling me how great their new album was. And wouldn't you know it, his son turns out to be the bass player. But the album really is great. This New Year's Eve, Franni and I will be at the TBT show at the Orpheum.
Fountains of Wayne. Specifically, their song "Better Things," which is a cover of a Kinks tune. I think it's going to be our campaign song because of its message, which is that better things are up ahead.
The Grateful Volunteers. Okay, this is kind of a cheat. The Grateful Volunteers are a Dead cover band composed of some great DFLers who are kind enough to play at some of our events. And even kinder enough to let me sing once in a while. Specifically, "Brokedown Palace."
Call Time: The Musical
This warrants some explanation. As you know, running for Senate requires that I raise a great deal of money, especially since Norm Coleman has the deep-pocketed special interests on his side. So I spend hours and hours a week calling people to ask for support. To keep myself from going crazy, I've been entertaining myself and Kris Dahl, my "call time manager," by composing and singing hundreds — no, thousands — of songs for a musical based on call time titled Call Time: The Musical. Some songs are only 15 seconds long, such as "I Left a Message and I Hope They Call Me Back." Or, "I Don't Think That Was His Office Number (I Think That's His Home)." Most of the songs have original music, but some simply use existing tunes, such as "Pick Up the Phone, Arlen Lundahl," to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Evita. I should probably have just put "Springsteen" for this, huh? I really like his new album.
— Sarah Askari
A Monkee, an indie rocker, a Latin/soul DJ and the Ice-Man: Broward County's motley crew weighs in.
It's been awhile since Davy Jones was considered hip, if ever the Monkees truly were. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have an ear for music. The British drummer/singer is still in the studio frequently and trying to stave off old age by listening to new music.
"I'm mostly into music from the '60s and the '80s, to be honest," he admits. "I actually missed the '80s the first time around, so I'm catching up finally and listening to lots of music from that decade."
Okay, so maybe Jones isn't the best authority on new tunes, but he still hit us up with a list of what's on his radar.
Sir Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full. I got used to it after awhile. He's getting older but I especially like the song "Dance Tonight."
Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poems and Pirates. I kept hearing so much about the album, I figured I'd go out and buy it. I like it but I'm thinking, "Country Artist of the Year?" There's more meat on Willie Shoemaker's whip than there is on Chesney's whole body.
James Blunt, All the Lost Souls. It was a bit twee but he's got great songs on there and I liked it.
Norah Jones, Not Too Late. My favorite artist of the year was Norah Jones by far. My grandchild was born to Norah Jones' music. That probably says a lot about me. I'm old, man. I'm at the point where, when I walk up a flight of stairs, by the time I get to the top, I forget why I went there and walk back down again.
On the surface, you might think rapper/hardcore veteran Vanilla Ice wouldn't know good music if it bit his ass. He's been the butt of a million jokes from his early days as the man behind "Ice Ice Baby." But the Palm Beach County-based emcee has fairly eclectic taste in music. He's keeping his career afloat by recording with rapcore legends Insane Clown Posse and making fresh tracks himself.
As Ice, a.k.a. Rob Van Winkle, puts it, "I've got a subculture following in the hardcore hip-hop scene. I've got the 16-to-25-year old market. They totally missed the 'Ice Ice Baby' stuff and that's a good thing."
The White Stripes, Icky Thump. They're just an amazing band. Jack White is one of the most amazing musicians in the world, ever. Just to hear him put it down, he's one of the most original artists out there right now and this album is incredible.
Slim Thug, Serve and Collect. He's really doing it for Houston right now. I like his whole style
Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory. I really like that slow flow. Ever since [DJ Screw] started slowing everything down and screwing up the beats, I've really been into this music. Chamillionaire is just a dope rapper. I'm feeling this one.
Korn, Untitled. They keep reinventing themselves. They've got a great live show and just when you're think they're whole style is dead and gone, they find a way to stay on top of the game.
Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Man, I never liked him when he was a Disney act, but he's laying it down right now. I've forgotten about all that 'N Sync shit. You gotta give credit where its due and this album is solid.
Slipknot, Collector's Box. They're one of my favorite heavy metal bands of all time. You gotta realize they get no radio play, no real support, and still sell millions of records without MTV. That's phenomenal. I've recorded with them before and they're just great guys in person as well.
Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad. That's a bad-ass album. She's crushing it right now. That song "Umbrella" is sick. I don't know who wrote that song, but it's great. Aside from that, the whole album is good.
Young Jeezy, The Inspiration. He's holding it down man. He's got the Midas touch right now; all of his songs are like gold.
Jay-Z, American Gangster. This album is just ridiculous. Everybody in the world knows that Jay-Z is the hottest rap act in the world right now. He owns hip-hop and since Biggie and Tupac are gone, somebody's gotta own it.
Guitarist Jon Wilkins has had a whirlwind year. As a member of South Florida indie darlings the Postmarks, he was on the road for most of 2007 pushing his band's self-titled debut album. Lucky for him, constant touring also means finding lots of new record stores and under-the-radar releases.
"Most of my picks are from the various tours I've been on this year, exploring new record stores and meeting other musicians with great recommendations," he says. "The Jonny Greenwood mix for Trojan is my favorite. And I've been a big fan of Mavis Staples and all the women of soul like Esther Phillips and Betty Wright.
"As for pop music, it was an amazing year, most notably the Clientele record. Touring with the Apples [in Stereo] really got me into their latest and also turned me on to Aqueduct, both incredibly great records and the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. And I can't help but put John Ralston's record on there. I really do listen to it and it will always be special to me."
Trojan Records, Jonny Greenwood Is The Controller
Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back
John Ralston, Sorry Vampire
The Clientele, God Save The Clientele
The Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder
Aqueduct, Or Give Me Death
Sondre Lerche, Phantom Punch
Jason Falkner, I'm OK, You're OK
The High Llamas, Can Cladders
Josh Rouse, Country Mouse, City House
Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba shares his un-annotated top ten:
John Ralston, Sorry VampireSpoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga GaBruce Springsteen, MagicSay Anything, In Defense of the GenreAgainst Me!, New WaveKanye West, GraduationMotion City Soundtrack, Even If It Kills MeMinus The Bear, Planet of IceChuck Ragan, Los FelizAlbert Hammond, Jr., Yours To Keep
— Jonathan Cunningham