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Top 10 Genre-Busting CDs of 2007, from WNYC

When you're looking at this season's crop of Top 10 lists, try to remember that everyone's "Top CDs of 2007" list should really be titled "The Top CDs of 2007 That I Happen to Know About." Nobody has heard it all, try as they might. Great music has gone unnoticed — I feel it in my bones, and hope to someday hear it in my ears. My WNYC show, "Spinning on Air," features musicians whose creativity has led them across stylistic and genre boundaries into unusual, personal territory. It may be hard to say what kind of music this is, but it's great.

Widow City

As The Fiery Furnaces, brother and sister Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger make albums with many layers of narrative, intention and purpose. Their songs feature Eleanor's passionate delivery of plentiful, peculiar lyrics, and may end up obliquely expressing more about the songwriters themselves than most conventionally self-expressive songs do. 'Widow City' sounds fantastic, too. Matthew's instrumental textures shift, change, surprise and engross. (Listen: "Wicker Whatnots")

World of Beauty

This is the second album by Vancouver-based songwriter/painter Kevin House, and in it he manages a difficult thing: plainspoken musical eloquence. His unpretentious singing is set in carefully considered but un-fussy arrangements, and the songs sound satisfyingly deep, true and comfortable. (Listen: "World of Beauty")

Rainy Day Song

Ed Askew could be considered an "outsider" artist -- he certainly operates outside the mainstream -- but there's nothing arcane or closed-off about Askew's songs. His first album, recorded in 1968, is available as 'Ask the Unicorn' on ESP Disk, and his 1970 follow-up, 'Little Eyes,' has just been released for the first time by De Stijl. But Askew is still in touch with his unique muse, and he's still a very active songwriter, creating music that's disarmingly full of heart. Askew put out 'Rainy Day Song' on a very small scale this year, and it'll have wider distribution when it's released by Spinning Gold Records in 2008. (Listen: "Blue Eyed Baby")

Bride of Dynamite

This dangerously tuneful record displays the virtues of Danielle Stech-Homsy's Rio En Medio: imaginative, compelling use of melodies, words and sounds. Danielle's voice and baritone ukulele are always at the center, but they can be surrounded by a colorful swirl of electronics and recorded spoken phrases. As spontaneous and dreamy as it sounds, the same effect is achieved in live performance, and seems quite magical. (Listen: "Everyone Is Someone's")


Robert Wyatt means a lot to me, because seeing him perform with the band Soft Machine back in 1968 was for me what I'd call an I (as in first-person singular) opening event. Wyatt continues to nourish and challenge with his music, and 'Comicopera' is a wonderful album. The surprisingly frank "Just as You Are" is the result of Wyatt's friend Brian Eno challenging Wyatt and Wyatt's lyricist/wife Alfie to write a song in just a few minutes. (Listen: "Just as You Are")

Love Is Simple

Go see Akron/Family perform live. That's the best way to experience its scope and power, and it's the best way to participate in the communal joy the band generates. "Crickets" represents just a little, quiet corner in the huge, dynamic musical world of Akron/Family. On this song, drummer Dana plays banjo, guitarist Seth plays piano, bassist Miles is the featured vocalist and guitarist Ryan displays his skill if not his instrumental variability. (Listen: "Crickets")

Cloud of Unknowing

Young British guitarist James Blackshaw has put out several albums in the past few years, but this is the first to be easily available. Blackshaw creates 12-string guitar epics that move from minimalism and meditation into transcendence and joy. (Listen: "Cloud of Unknowing")

Ondes Silencieuses

One of the loveliest albums of chamber music this year is probably unknown to classical-music listeners, and comes from French composer and multi-instrumentalist Cecile Schott, who records as Colleen. Having used electronics and samplers in the past, Colleen's music has gradually grown more acoustic, and on "Sun Against My Eyes," she uses classical guitar and clarinets. Elsewhere on the album, viola da gamba, a Renaissance relative of the cello, is prominent. (Listen: "Sun Against My Eyes")

Sun Wheel

A couple years ago, Mike Wexler played a solo set on my show, and it remains one of my favorites. Some of those songs, including "Ecliptic," appear on 'Sun Wheel' expanded for a group which includes piano and percussion. But the focus remains the gentle virtuosity of Wexler's guitar work and his distinctive singing voice. (Listen: "Ecliptic")


Like Colleen, Battles is creating intricately composed music outside the usual auspices of classical music. It seems that some vital composers are just not bothering with the classical career paradigm. Battles, along with Zs, Seductive Sprigs, The Dirty Projectors and other bands, offers listeners the thrill and joy of complexity. (Listen: "Ddiamondd")

Copyright 2007 WNYC

David Garland