Miami's Best Albums of 2007
It's that time of year again — the end, that is, when High Fidelity-style geeks compile High Fidelity-style best-of-the-year lists. There are slobbering dissections of Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga, blathering babble about Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, and a crock of criticism of M.I.A.'s Kala.
If that's what you want, look elsewhere. All I got is albums by South Florida artists.
Of course I'm supposed to mention Pitbull's The Boatlift, Rick Ross's Rise to Power, and whatever Slip-N-Slide released this year. Okay, there, I just did — but everyone knows about them. Oh, and there's Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog. If you like precious acoustic ballads by portly bearded men, tailor-made for quarter-life-crisis-movie soundtracks, scoop it up. But really, the guy was raised in South Carolina, lived in Miami for a few years, and is now in Austin, Texas. South Florida needs to stop claiming him already.
Forget about all that. Here's a list of worthy local releases in 2007 that go beyond outsiders' expectations of Miami's music. There actually is music here beyond shake-ya-ass anthems. These 10 selections are presented alphabetically, because they come from such disparate genres that it's impossible to rank them.
The Eat, It's Not the Eat, It's the Humidity (Alternative Tentacles): Okay, this is definitely not new — it's a reissue, but so much time has passed since its original release, it'll be new to pretty much anyone under the age of at least 30. The Eat was probably the city's most revered early punk band, one of the first to play sets of all-original songs in the cover-band climate of the late Seventies. But the extremely limited run of the group's seven-inches and full-length made its work the stuff of legend. Jello Biafra — formerly of the Dead Kennedys, and head of Alternative Tentacles — did everyone the favor of compiling them all and commissioning new album art by local guy Chuck Loose. This is essential listening for anyone who pretends to care about South Florida rock history.
Garcia, Life Unscripted (Crazy Hood/Latchkey Recordings): Garcia is hands-down one of the most focused and hard-working local MCs. Seriously — the guy plays something like 100 shows a year. Luckily he has the mike skills to make it all worthwhile. On Life Unscripted, he displays his full range on everything from introspective, DJ Honda-produced tracks to the lascivious club bounce of "GaveHerDat" (which also features Crazy Hood pal and hip-hop prodigal son N.O.R.E.). Garcia has the lyrical talent and sense of history to impress the underground kids. He also has the swagger and knack for hooks to get everyone else shakin' their shit.
Guajiro, Material Subversivo (I Scream): This band is made up of two Cubans, a Puerto Rican, an Irish guy, and absolutely no gimmicks. Though they could go all cheesy with the Latin rock thing, they just happen to switch in and out of Spanish when they feel like it — hey, that's true Miami. Plus their blistering, old-school-style hardcore will kick your ass and make tight-pantsed-come-lately bands weep, their guyliner running with shame. (Drummer Doug MacKinnon played with both Slapshot and the Vandals — how's that for punk cred?)
Jacob Miller, Who We Are (Dogleg Music): This Miami Shores-raised, New World School-educated singer/songwriter loves Bob Dylan — looks like him, even sounds like him. But not in a ripoff or imitative way. The incredibly young Miller already has an old soul's grasp of searching lyrics, rollicking piano, and perfect harmonica hooks. And his totally humble, calm, but slightly fragile persona makes you want to hug the guy. All he needs is a soundtrack placement on prime-time TV, and stardom awaits.
The Postmarks, The Postmarks (Unfiltered Records): This is one local release that had everyone at Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, et al., freaking out — and for good reason. It's a collection of whip-smart, wistful, British-influenced indie pop, sounding staggeringly miles away from South Florida. Thank God the sun didn't destroy their twee little souls, because we wouldn't have gotten the sweet, reedy, female-sung goodness of tracks like "Goodbye." Also their frontwoman's first name is Tim.
John Ralston, Sorry Vampire (Vagrant): I'm reaching a little far afield here, to Lake Worth, but this album is so damn good I had to include it. The former Legends of Rodeo frontman left behind the alt-country leanings a couple of solo albums ago, and instead reincarnated himself as a creator of mind-blowing, almost orchestral pop songs. Imagine Elliott Smith, perhaps, but happier, and often backed on a recording by a bed of, literally, 100 different tracks. Ralston must be a madman in the studio, but the songs are so strong that live and pared down to a regular band, they still work. Now if only he would play them around here more often. Did I mention he sets a high standard for the human face? Meow!
Otto Von Schirach, Spine Serpents of Sperm Island (self-released): This is sort of an unofficial record — Schirach's last studio full-length was Maxipad Detention, released on Ipecac in 2006. But he also knows his fans are voracious freaks, so he blessed them with this typically conservatively titled collection. It's more deliciously disgusting breakcore, electronic noise mayhem obsessed with bodily functions and ghouls. Song titles like "Satanic Unicorn Orgy" or "Ovulation Celebration"? Yes, please. Schirach is so on another level that even a bootleg makes the cut.
Spam Allstars, Electrodomésticos (self-released): What Miami music list could leave off these live warriors? Unless you live under a rock, you've partied to their juicy, slightly retro Latin funk — they're one of the few groups working that seem to unite almost everyone with a pulse. They're really all about their real-time descargas, but Electrodomésticos does a fine job of harnessing that energy into studio compositions.
Torche, In Return (Robotic Empire/Rock Action Records): All right, this is an EP, not a full-length. But anyone who reads this column knows I will sing the praises of this band to the high heavens. A little snack after their 2005 self-titled debut, this disc is a collection of more face-peeling, down-tuned, but melodic mayhem. A dare: Listen to the title track without snapping your neck and immediately hitting "repeat." See? You lose. Torche has already recorded its next full-length, to be released on the legendary Hydra Head Records next year, and it's going to be so good. So good.
Jason Tyler, Model Tested, Rockstar Approved (Snapshot Recordings): Chicago transplant Tyler wrote most of this record on a laptop he kept in a backpack while he was temporarily homeless in New York. And yet it still sounds magically pristine. A former straight-up Chicago house DJ, he has infused some of that style's swing and funk into his new compositions of shredding, dirty electro. The album's most bangin' tracks are driven by piercing treble and filthy low-end bass, while at other times, things take on a shiny, New Wavey, almost pop feel. It's like the soundtrack to someone's particularly glamorous life.
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