By MARC MCDONALD
Politics (and life in general) can be such a extreme downer in the era of George W. Bush. So I thought I'd take a temporary break from politics and offer a list of the "Best Music of 2007." (Yes, exactly what the world needs: yet another "Best Music of the Year List.")
Actually, most of this music isn't even from 2007--it's just music that I enjoyed this year. However, most of these tunes do have connections to 2007, as explained below.
So for any of you who are sick to death of today's sickly pop parade of Britney, Justin, MTV, the Grammys, and mainstream corporate music, here's a dose of fantastic, potentially life-changing music that has been sadly overlooked by many. A lot of this music is challenging and can take time to appreciate. However, the time you spend giving this music a chance will often be rewarded many times over.
1. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte (1958) -- Stockhausen (1928-2007), a masterful and controversial German composer, died on Dec. 5. His experimental Kontakte shook up the sometimes stuffy world of "classical" music and still sounds revolutionary today. The Beatles took inspiration from Stockhausen in the 1960s (indeed, his image is one of those that adorns the famous crowd picture on the Sgt. Pepper's album. Go here to listen to "Kontakte" on YouTube.
2. Autechre: Gantz Graf (2002) -- There are countless experimental "Electronica" artists out there these days, pushing the boundaries of what music is. (Indeed, I suspect a lot of people don't even consider a lot of Electronica to be "music" at all). "Gantz Graf" is one of the most innovative pieces by Autechre, a band from Britain. Autechre have been around since 1987 and have a new album coming out in March, 2008. Go here to listen to "Gantz Graf" on YouTube.
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Never Understand (1985) -- A pretty tune, served up with a massive blast of roaring feedback, from this Scottish band. A lot of people hated The Jesus and Mary Chain back in the day. But time has been kind to this band. First, Sofia Coppola used their song, "Just Like Honey," for the touching final scene in her much-praised film, Lost in Translation. And now, a lot of newer bands (like A Place to Bury Strangers) are clearly inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain. You may well hate this band, but you know what they say: "if it's too loud, then you're getting too old." In 2007, the band reunited after an eight-year break and are now working on a new album. Go here to listen to "Never Understand" on YouTube.
4. Big Country: Harvest Home (1983) -- Another great 1980s band from Scotland. Die-hard socialists, Big Country were never the hippest name to drop for the 1980s trendy crowd. But for my money, their music was brilliant, honest and powerful. Tragically, their singer Stuart Adamson committed suicide in 2001, allegedly despondent over the band's declining fortunes, (although the band's final album with him, Driving to Damascus, was one of its best records). Big Country's surviving members reunited in 2007 and are reportedly playing live shows in Scotland. Go here to listen to "Harvest Home" on YouTube.
5. Neu!: Negativland (1975) -- Light years ahead of their time, this challenging German band changed the way many of us listened to music back in the 1970s. I've always thought that the Great Punk Explosion of 1977 owed more to Neu! than they were ever given credit for. As writer/musician Julian Cope has noted, it's obvious that the young Sex Pistols listened to Neu's Neu! '75 masterpiece album. Go here to listen to "Negativland" on YouTube.
6. Manic Street Preachers: Revol (1994) -- A Welsh band that has a bizarre, tragic history. Shortly after the release of this song in 1994, their guitarist, Richey James Edwards, mysteriously disappeared. He was never seen again. The band, however, carried on and amazingly has had enormous chart success in many countries (excluding the U.S.), despite songs with decidedly anti-commercial lyrical topics, ranging from socialist revolution to Richard Nixon. The band even played in Cuba, as a guest of Fidel Castro. The 2007 album, Send Away The Tigers, was one of the band's best and a big U.K. chart hit (and the first the band has had released in America in many years). Go here to listen to "Revol" on YouTube.
7. Magma: Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (1973) -- France supposedly doesn't produce great rock bands, right? Well, someone forget to tell Magma, a fantastic cosmic band that produced complex, challenging, Wagner-like epics about nothing less than the future destruction of the Earth. Classically-trained Christian Vander may be the greatest drummer in rock history. Actually, to even call this music "rock" doesn't really do it justice at all---it actually trivializes the mighty power of Magma. Go here to listen to "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" on YouTube.
8. Pete Seeger & The Weavers: Solidarity Forever -- Has George W. Bush's evil era got you down? Then I recommend that you put on a album or three by folk legend Pete Seeger, who turned 88 this year. Last year, Bruce Springsteen recorded a touching tribute to Seeger in We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Go here to listen to "Solidarity Forever" on YouTube.
9. Monks: Monks Time (1966) -- One of the ultimate cult bands. Incredibly strange and savage punk rock from 1966 from five American soldiers posted in Germany. None of their music was released in the U.S. at the time and they remained totally forgotten for many years. Sometimes, I think the best and most vital rock music ever made was made by obscure bands like this----bands that followed their own muse and had absolutely zero commercial considerations to take into account. God knows how many other completely forgotten (but worthy) bands out there await rediscovery. When you consider all the absolute dogshit that has clogged up our nation's radio airwaves and pop music charts over the years, it makes one want to cry (especially when you consider all the truly worthy bands that never got the credit they deserved). Go here to listen to "Monks Time" on YouTube.
10. Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers: Sidewalk Blues (1926) -- One of the true giants of jazz in his prime. In 2007, Rounder Records released a massive eight CD collection of Jelly Roll's recordings that surely represents one of the peaks of 20th Century popular music. It's hard to fathom that our nation's now-dismal pop charts once contained music as great as this (instead of the Britney/Justin dogshit that clogs it up today). Go here to listen to "Sidewalk Blues" on YouTube.
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