The two best albums of 2007 are Cease to Begin by Band of Horses and Boxer by The National. Which one is number one and which one is number two? I’ve been arguing with myself on that note for a long time and the best I can do is that Band of Horses made my favorite album of ’07 and The National made the best album of ’07. Since such arguments are completely arbitrary, I’m pretty sure I can make my case.
Look: the first time I heard “Is There A Ghost?”, the lead-off track from Cease to Begin, I was seeing Band of Horses open for the Decemberists at The Hollywood Bowl. I was fully prepared to dismiss them if Ben Bridwell couldn’t pull off live what he does on their albums. As the band came on and he sang in that soaring-ass voice of his, “I could sleep… I could slee-eeep…”, I realized two things: 1) Bridwell most definitely can sing live like he does on his albums and 2) Those vocals, over those lazy arpeggios and whispering cymbals, were giving me fucking goosebumps. It was holyshitomigod good. Somewhere later in the same set, Band of Horses unveiled “The General Specific,” which is wrestling with LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” in my head for the honor of being the Best Song of 2007.
But consider The National’s offering. Boxer opens with an earnest meditation on American complacency called “Fake Empire,” and it features a chorus that is piercingly true, sung in a weary baritone by Matt Berninger: “We’re half awake/ in a fake empire.” And if Band of Horses and LCD Soundsystem’s aforementioned tunes are duking it out in my brain for song of the year, perhaps “Fake Empire” is standing back, watching the melee with amused detachment, waiting for the two songs to kill each other so that it can ride in and claim the victory for its own. Boxer doesn’t let up after its stellar opening, either. “Fake Empire” is followed by “Mistaken for Strangers,” which ruminates on “another uninnocent elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults.” “Mistaken for Strangers” has the uncanny ability of reminding me that I had a job, briefly, where I had to wear a suit and tie every day and was supposed to feel real grown up about it – I have an image of myself in a suit and tie, clean-shaven (gasp!), as Matt Berninger sings, “You wouldn’t want an angel watching over you/ Surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch”.
In a head to head battle, you have to consider that Cease to Begin only has 9 real songs on it. Now, those 9 songs are pretty fucking effective. Bridwell has injected his jangly indie rock sound with some soul flavor and more than a little bit of that awesome sort of country rock that The Band imported for us from Canada. “Marry Song” is a prime example of this, complete with the beautiful harmonies and electric organ (a hard instrument to use without pissing me off, so kudos to Band of Horses for that achievement) you might find in, say, “Long Black Veil,” or “The Weight.” But Boxer is packing 12 tracks and here’s the kicker – I can’t find a bad one. “Slow Show” is probably my least favorite, but it’s like saying it’s a Newcastle Brown in my case of Guinness. Hardly a bad thing.
So I dunno. I love these albums and if you love awesome music, you will love them too. I think Band of Horses is put over the top by the three stellar live performances I saw them give (2 of them were opening gigs where they easily upstaged the headliners in my estimation) last year.
Incidentally, here’s a retread of my 10 best albums of 2007:
10. Emma Pollock, Watch the Fireworks
9. Pharoahe Monch, Desire
8. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living With the Living
7. El-P, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
6. Soulsavers, It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land
5. Okkervil River, The Stage Names
4. Jesca Hoop, Kismet
3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
2. The National, Boxer and 1. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
2. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin and 1. The National, Boxer
It’s a toss-up. It’s also worth mentioning that Grand Buffet released an awesome album in 2007 called King Vision, which I’ll review here later ’cause I just got it.