A few months ago, Stephen King, who I respect in the same way I respect Nick Hornby, as a writer whose work I like who also has a pretty good critical perspective on popular culture, wrote a piece for Entertainment Weekly about coolness, and who was cool and who wasn't, specifically in terms of pop artists. (Find it here.)
It was actually surprisingly curmudgeonly and, in my opinion almost as off-base as Sasha Frere Jones' article about how indie music has disconnected itself from black music.
However, it gave me permission to use coolness to define my best-of-2007 list, so here goes, the coolest records of 2007 as per moi.
1. Okkervill River The Stage Names
Okkervil River has plenty of indy cred -obscure lyrics, wandering melodies - but at their heart they are a very powerful rock band.
Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails
2. Sorcerer White Magic
I think this is my favorite discovery of the year. Sorcerer is Daniel Saxon Judd, a musician/producer from Oakland, CA. Sorcerer is his vehicle to present his odd combination of laid back California yacht rock and disco. It shouldn't work, but, of course, it does.
The Sorcerer - Hawaiian Island
3. Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala
Swedish guy from Gothenberg, the Austin of Europe. Many people compare him to Jonathan Richmond, which is definitely not cool. But since all those people are wrong he is still cool. Charming lyrics (at least they seem to be, maybe it's the Swedish accent), surrounded by astute samples from all over the musical map. Like a great storyteller, he lays out conflicts and then subtly but inexorably increases the emotional pressure.
Jens Lekman - Postcard to Nina
4. Silent League Of Stars and Other Somebodies
Their MySpace site proudly proclaims, "Soft rock is not a guilty pleasure."
Silent League - Before You Started
5. Of Montreal Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer
Mixing '70's and '80's soul with George Bataille.
Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kingsvonger
6. Lewis and Clarke Blasts of Holy Birth
I believe Lou Rogai may be the best songwriter in America.
Lewis and Clarke - Blasts of Holy Birth
7. Panda Bear Person Pitch
Complicated, layered pop music.
Panda Bear - Comfy In Nautica
8. M.I.A. Kala
Her second album, even stronger than her first. This time next year she is the Next Shakira.
M.I.A. - Paper Planes
9. Chromatics Night Drive
Post modern neo-disco? The next cool sub-genre.
Chromatics - Night Drive
10. Feist The Reminder
At this point she is too popular to be a cult figure, but too smart to be mainstream. Okay, she's already been on "The Today Show" twice. I guess that makes her mainstream. That only adds to her subversive coolness.
Feist - 1234
11. The National Boxer
Supposedly inspired by Jonathan Ames' The Extra Man.
The National - Fake Empire
12. The Dreamers - Day For Night
Representing all the Swedish pop music I listened to this year.
The Dreamers - Michael
13. Paul Duncan Above the Trees
I don't know much about this guy, except that his songs are shiny bright acoustic gems.
Paul Duncan - Red Eagle
14. The Heart Strings Try Fly Blue Sky
I found this band on MySpace, under their cover band name Hot Air Balloonists. I blogged about a song of theirs. Their manager sent me their record when it came out a few months ago. I really like it.
Heart Strings - Pedalo
15. National Lights The Dead Will Walk, Dear
A concept album about dying. More fun the Lou Reed's Magic and Loss.
National Lights - Better For It, Kid
Honorable Mentions: Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; Dan Deacon Spiderman of the Rings; The Field Over the Ice; Iron and Wine The Sheperd's Dog; Richard Hawley Lady's Bridge; Taken by Trees Open Field; Ulrich Schnauss Goodbye; Mono in VCF Mono in VCF; Arcade Fire Neon Bible; Great Lakes Swimmers Ongiara.