The 'Boat's best of 2007

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Contributors

David Caddell, Melinda Dudley, Margaret Hair, Liz Kuzmkowski, Nick Marzano, Mike McCollum, David Taylor, Jeremy Wingert

— This year's most outstanding national releases, as selected by contributors from the Steamboat Pilot & Today staff and music fans around town

1. Kanye West

"Graduation"

Kanye West can, and does, get away with pushing personal lyrics into mainstream rap because of his production. The guy has a killer taste in music and a diverse palette for what will work in his songs. It's how he's able to show weakness, cocksureness and hopeful defiance on alternating tracks, and pretty much guarantee radio play for all three. On "Graduation," as he did with samples from Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding on "Late Registration," West mines his own record collection to reinvent songs that can stand on their own.

2. Spoon

"Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"

Augmenting its sparse rock with Motown and soul, Spoon maintains its clean, carefully selected sound and still manages to branch out on "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga."

3. The White Stripes

"Icky Thump"

It's nothing new for Jack White to be making two-man blues rock that draws on everything from Muddy Waters to Patti Page. He's just more comfortable doing that on "Icky Thump" than on any other White Stripes record. There's "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)," an honest country-tinged telloff; "Conquest," a maddened romp through mariachi; or "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn," a lyrical Celtic bash. Everywhere on "Icky Thump," White shows his passion for everyone else's music, as well as his own.

4. Feist

"The Reminder"

With a voice that floats innocently over her singable melodies, Leslie Feist charms music fans with her second album, "The Reminder." While the basic concepts of her songs are easy to grasp, Feist has filled this record with instrumental interplay and careful arrangements. She shifts easily from light-hearted love songs ("1234") to self-reflective duets ("How My Heart Behaves"), making the eclectic choice of styles on "The Reminder" a natural fit.

5. Iron & Wine

"The Shepherd's Dog"

On Sam Beam's latest LP, "The Shepherd's Dog," the Miami native mostly discards the bare bones approach of his previous offerings, and despite all the critical accolades and a legion of indie fans, Beam continues to warn that danger is around the bend. The songwriter's expanded musical palette - with more attention to percussion work - exhibits a maturation and departure from coffeehouse folkiness.

6. LCD Soundsystem

"Sound of Silver"

James Murphy makes dance music with a mission, exercising himself on "Sound of Silver" as a songwriter first, and a master beat-maker second. Building his music on pieces of Diplo electronica, Bowie pop, and London punk, Murphy has a way of guiding LCD Soundsystem tracks through a fugue of separate parts. Even when songs take three-plus minutes to really start happening, you never want these thing to be rushed.

7. Arcade Fire

"Neon Bible"

As it did with 2004's "Funeral," this Canadian-bred, Merge Records-signed band has crafted a second album that cannot stand on its tracks alone. Without the build, without the emotional and musical crescendo, "Neon Bible" would be pretty, overwrought and purposeless indie pop. But when taken all together, this album is, as "Funeral" was, hard to topple.

So long as the band has a keyboard with string and organ functions, Win Butler's classic rocky vocals and a snare drum, the formula that made "Funeral" stand will continue to yield positive results.

8. The Shins

"Wincing the Night Away"

On their third album, members of The Shins take the Lennon-McCartney-style songwriting of their first two efforts, add flair throughout, and end up with their most diverse effort to date.

More so than before, The Shins are unabashed about making a record full of songs that take time to develop, without ever reaching any real crescendo. That might seem like a bad thing, but it's not; so many of the tracks on "Wincing" reach their peak in the first 30 seconds, there's nothing to do for the remaining five minutes but sit back and take it in.

9. Band of Horses

"Cease to Begin"

For "Cease to Begin," South Carolina-bred Band of Horses left behind whatever fun it was having on its well-received debut, and embraced sweeping indie rock with a whole, slightly scarred heart.

10. Josh Ritter

"The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter"

Josh Ritter doesn't take making modern Americana music lightly. On his "Historical Conquests," Ritter fills his songs with familiar chords and styles, but keeps himself out of easy traps. That means getting a girl back with musical metaphors on "Right Moves," finding love at the end of the world in "The Temptation of Adam," and backing his endearing vocals with a renegade orchestra on "Rumors."

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