Sputnik Hall of Fame: 2007 [Second Tier]

Published: October 31, 2017

About The Sputnik Hall of Fame

Since its launch in January 2005, Sputnikmusic has been a site where metal heads and indie-rockers alike have flocked to discuss, review, and share their love for music.  Over the course of twelve years, some records have attained a certain sense of lore; this widespread recognition as what we often refer to as “sputnik albums.”   These are albums that thousands of users have listened to and rated over the course of a decade, with the general consensus being that, even compared to annual best-of lists, have stood the test of time and earned elite recognition.

The Sputnik Hall of Fame works like this: beginning in 2017, we will evaluate the class of albums that is celebrating exactly ten years of existence.  So this article is about the class of 2007.  A site-wide vote was held over the course of several weeks to determine which releases would be forever enshrined into the annals of Sputnikmusic history.  There are two classes of inductees: first tier and second tier.  First tier hall-of-famers were within the top 3 receiving votes, while second tier hall-of-famers were within the top 6 of vote acquisitions.  Our staffers worked together to celebrate and reflect upon each album via free-form discussions and debate.

Without further ado, we present to you the first ever class of inductees.  Read below for the second tier winners.


 SECOND TIER


 

Cities

(6) Anberlin – Cities

Release Date: 02/20/2007   |   Review   |   Download   |  Hall of Fame Votes Received: 22


 The Sput Staff Discusses Cities

…a superb alt-rock record that is further bolstered by the presence of a once-in-a-lifetime classic” ~Sowing

Sowing: Anberlin was one of the most consistent bands around during their tenure.  Fans and critics alike would agree that their discography was essentially devoid of any real ‘duds’ – just albums that stood out over the others.  What about Cities stands out to you?  Why does this comparatively uninventive alt-rock record deserve to be enshrined?

RowanAlright, I’ll preface this by disagreeing with basically the basis of your question, because I’m the worst like that – Anberlin aren’t really consistent. I say this as someone who kinda grew up on them throughout early high school, forgot about them for years only to quickly re-acquaint myself with their discography in time to see one of their last ever shows in Sydney, Australia. The thing is, Christian might be one of the most inconsistent lyricists I know. The dude can write the most generic, uninteresting relationship stuff you have ever come across – “The Feel Good Drag” aside of course – and then drop some of the most iconic lines in the entire genre once he gets on the subjects of religion and faith. Wish your drinking would hurry and kill you / sympathy’s better than having to tell you the truth is no write-off. But before we get to “Fin.”, I’ll talk a little bit about Cities and the show they put on when I saw them.

What stands out to me about Cities is, really, it’s the album where all of Anberlin’s disparate threads and ideas finally came together. (Perhaps the only one, although Lowborn was not far off at all). The skull-crushingly massive choruses of “Godspeed” and “Dismantle.Repair”, the gold standard of indie ballads set by “The Unwinding Cable Car”, the lightning-in-a-bottle passion of “Fin.”; it all just fell together on this one fantastic album. Even at their best, Anberlin were not quite able to dodge the trap of hyper-cheesy filler that would quickly become the norm on New Surrender, and the likes of “Hello Alone” and “Inevitable” truly go in one ear and out the other. But the album’s positives more than outweigh the negatives. Christian is probably one of the best vocalists to ever grace the scene, rising above occasionally bland instrumentation to give his absolute all – “The Unwinding Cable Car” would be nothing without those beautiful falsetto notes in the chorus. But all things said, it’s all just a prelude to that final track.

When I saw them live in Sydney, Anberlin structured their setlist in a way that left pretty much every single hit for the tail end of the show. This was a reasonable strategy I guess; it left me pretty cold for the first 40 minutes only to flail around like a fucking madman to the choruses of “Dismantle.Repair” and the like. Then they began to play “Fin.”, as I had always imagined in my wildest dreams, but after the triumphant “patron saint” middle section, they quickly segued into the closing moments of “Harbinger” to bring the show to a close. I was pretty pissed. Wouldn’t you be?

Turns out that Christian rarely (if ever? Open to being corrected here) plays the end of “Fin.” live, because those last three minutes were such a powerful moment in-studio he feels uncomfortable trying to recreate it. This is as disappointing as it is wonderful – can’t you hear the electricity crackling under every note that he hits, every word he sings, in that coda? How could that ever be replicated? “Fin.” is a true masterpiece, a song which combines the acoustic ballad, the proggy epic and a nearly post-rock build in a way that has pretty much never happened anywhere else. (Even Anberlin struggled to ever approach it with their other album-ending long songs, although “Miserable Visu” is a tune of its own magnitude). In summation, Cities is a deeply flawed album which became something so much more than itself almost by accident, a pretty good pop-punk band who stumbled on a hidden vein of the universe for approximately eight minutes and then recorded an album to serve as a prelude to it. But hey, when the other songs can bang as hard as “Godspeed” does, how mad can you be?

Sowing I think we actually agree more than disagree here.  I was speaking in a broader sense, as the vast majority of their discography got a positive reception from fans and critics (even the lesser ones, like New Surrender and Dark Is the Way…).  No one is going to argue against  “Fin” being far and away the best thing they’ve ever done, my only qualm with what you stated is that to me the rest of Cities serves as much more than just a prelude to “Fin.”  Sure, there is filler interspersed with the killer, but “Unwinding Cable Car”, “Godspeed”, and “Dismantle. Repair” (pretty much everything you mentioned, although I’d throw “Inevitable” in there – I mean it’s a little cheesy but so what, it’s romantic as hell) are all peaks in themselves.  This is a superb alt-rock record that is further bolstered by the presence of a once-in-a-lifetime classic in “Fin.”, which is what puts it over the top and squarely into HOF status.  So…I think we more or less just said the same thing in different ways?

Rowan: Uh, what’s that saying about great minds again?

AtariAs tempting as it is to just piggyback on other comments about how “Fin.” is God-tier Anberlin, it would be wrong to dismiss what leads up to the stellar closing track. The band generally sticks out to me for their songs — rather than their albums — but there’s something special about this one that stretches well beyond a few standout cuts. When revisiting Anberlin for the purpose of this feature, something dawned on me: the band’s formula was already largely perfected on Cities. Everything sounds so crisp, here. Whether it’s Christian’s enduring chants of “Clap your hands/all ye children” or the sly electronic touches here and there – this is the sound of a band at the top of their game.

Even if they went on to make more polished record’s (see percussion on Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place), there’s a certain charm on Cities that hasn’t truly been replicated by the band. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too easy to shift the focus to the album’s towering closer, and forget how great the other songs are on their own merit. From the glitch-heavy surge of “Reclusion” to the poignant strings on “Inevitable”, there’s one hell of a lead up to the excellent closer. We all know “Fin.” is a damn fine track, but it’s made even better by what comes before it. Not all their albums have been home-runs, but in the case of Cities, it’s simply hard to argue against its consistency – or the lasting mark it’s left on fans.

JomI think Sowing’s initial question is a fair one for Cities, and I have to agree with Atari: it is extraordinarily consistent. How many artists with this particular songwriting shtick – the alternating scream-shout vocals, the similarly multi-layered guitars, the earworm choruses – decide to front-load their records with their best material in the first third (where all the singles tend to be), and then phone it in with uninspired, paint-by-numbers drivel?

Not the case at all here. What’s the weakest song on Cities, anyway? Maybe “Inevitable” due to the amount of cloying melodrama, but I’m sure I said embarrassingly saccharine-sweet stuff like this ten years ago — even if I’ve tried to repress these memories. Anybody got one of those Men in Black neuralyzer pens?

There’s been a lot of love for “(*Fin)”, and deservedly so, but I am partial to choruses heard in the raucous “Godspeed,” “Alexithymia”, and the call-and-answer portions of “There Is No Mathematics to Love and Loss”. Cities might be a bit too slickly-produced, but I appreciate how it carries an air of stability and confidence despite Stephen Christian’s lyrical imagery suggesting uncertainty and doubt as it pertains to his faith.

I don’t think Somewhere in the Between should have been knocked out by Cities, but from a historical perspective, Sputnikmusic in 2007 – while still very “metal-centric” – showcased the shift towards expanding into and appreciating other genres.

Listen to “Fin” here:

A Decade of Stats: Cities

Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year. 

Anberlin – Cities  (As of October 23, 2017)

Number of Rating: 1470

Average Rating: 4.074 (4.04 – 4.11 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

User Usage Average Rating: 4.005 (3.93 – 4.08 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

Users whose only rating is this album: 4 of 1470 Users

Users with Four or less other ratings: 20 of 1470 Users

Month/Year with Most Ratings: July 2014 (45 ratings)


Boxer

(5) The National – Boxer

Release Date: 07/08/2007   |   Review   |   Download   |  Hall of Fame Votes Received: 27


The Sput Staff Discusses Boxer

…Boxer is the morning after the party when you check your bank account and realise how much you spent on the alcohol.” ~Rowan

Talons: The National are one of the most beloved indie rock bands of the century. In a run of the average highest rated albums by any band on Sputnikmusic, Boxer is generally viewed as their greatest achievement. The band’s evolution has been rewarding yet subtle, with not a low point to be found from the past decade. In that context, what about Boxer makes it resonate the most to fans in a run of similarly viewed albums (similar average ratings) that explore similar lyrical themes?

Rowan: It’s kind of nice to think of the National’s discography as a colour palette on an artist’s canvas. Sad Songs is an earthy sort of brown, unassuming and underrated; Alligator a vibrant green (of course), High Violet a pulsating, thrumming neon, Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast complimentary shades of light and dark blue, deep and mysterious (or so they desperately want you to think). In the middle of that spectrum sits Boxer, a sort of an old-timey, sepia-tinged grey. Yes, I’m going somewhere with this.

Boxer is beloved by critics and fans alike for being the sweet spot at the centre of the National’s perfect storm. Of course, when it came out in 2007 no one knew of the albums that would follow, but I think even then there was a sense that Berninger and the brothers had arrived in the fullest sense, bringing every aspect of their sound to the sharpest point they possibly could. It’s fun to speculate, but I wasn’t actually in for the ride at the time; Trouble Will Find Me had dropped before I fully engaged with this band and their blue-collar blues. To this day I don’t think Boxer is the best National album – Alligator all day, baby – but there’s something ridiculously magnetic about its mid-tempo, post-punky plod. In career highlights like “Green Gloves”, “Slow Show” and “Fake Empire” we find the band at their most inventive and most ordinary simultaneously, with Berninger’s slow-motion collapse of a vocal performance sounding like a man who has been worn down by the day-to-day bullshit of life for years upon years. If Alligator was the graduation into adulthood, all angular guitar parts and rough edges, then Boxer is the morning after the party when you check your bank account and realise how much you spent on the alcohol. It’s a brutal, lonely album, one which offers barely a glimmer of optimism until the twinkling piano chords of “Gospel” make an appearance. As the Simon & Garfunkel song which maybe, possibly gave this album its title put it so eloquently: “I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains.”

SowingThis is an interesting album for me to comment on, because (1) I view it starkly as one of their weaker albums and (2) despite that, it will always hold a special place as the album that got me interested in what has become one of my all-time favorite bands.  I can understand why so many fans of The National cite this as the group’s most palatable offering – as Rowan pointed out, it was an “arriving moment” for the band as they found a way to piece together all of their best traits on one full-length release.  Despite that, though, all I can think to myself is that had High Violet dropped in 2007 instead of 2010, would you all hail that record instead?  There was something about the climate of indie music at that time, and there was just enough different about The National’s understated rock elements and Berninger’s baritone vocals to fill this desperate void.  I think The National were destined for stardom regardless, and Boxer was merely in the right place at the right time.  Think about it: if we were to reshuffle their discography from 2007 on, do you really think people would still favor it over High Violet or even Trouble Will Find Me?  Or do you think they would have grown with either of those two records, formed the requisite emotional attachments/memories, and viewed them as the band’s crowning achievement while referring to Boxer as another great step in the band’s evolution (even though they’ve evolved at a snail’s pace – their brand is just so good that they don’t have to change much)?  I know you’ll all come at me with pitchforks, but before you do, let me say that I still think Boxer is a strong offering.  ‘Slow Show’ and ‘Apartment Story’ in particular are masterpieces.  The album as a whole just doesn’t hold up against any of the three albums that succeeded it – or Alligator – placing it in the bottom half of their discography and in my opinion calling into question its Hall of Fame credentials.  My opinion is just one red drop of negativity into a sea of blue optimism, however.

TreborI sort of agree with Sowing, Boxer has a couple duds, like Squalor Victoria and Racing Like a Pro that completely kill the flow of the album for me, but it has enough great tracks that I still consider it great, just not as great as Alligator, High Violet, or Trouble Will Find Me.

RowanI think Sowing has a definite point in terms of this being a right-place-right-time record. Interestingly, though, I can’t imagine the band being nearly as successful if we swapped High Violet and Boxer around. Boxer strikes me as a kind of necessary exhalation from the band, an exorcism of their most post-punky, blue-collar, mid-tempo desires that was just screaming to be let out. Once it had, they were free to shed that skin and evolve and give us the wanton experimentation of HV. I didn’t even listen to the band chronologically the first time I spun them, yet Boxer’s placement in their discography has just always felt so insanely right.

JomSorry, first-time listener here (although I listened to it straight-through several times now for the past week at different times): do I need to check out some of their other records in order to appreciate this more? The vocalist’s baritone reminds me of Leonard Cohen in songs like “Fake Empire”, “Slow Show”, and “Start a War”, which seem to be the most popular songs based off Spotify plays as of this writing. I like these songs – particularly the brass in “Fake Empire” and the way that the snare is mixed – but some of this is such a chore to sit through at a cerebral level. Am I going to be wasting my time with something like High Violet?

I realize I’m answering Talon’s initial question with a question, but when we do the Hall of Fame feature for 2010 and 2013 and get ready for the Year-End feature of 2017, is it inevitable that we’re all going to be talking about The National each time?

That said, for reasons that are irrelevant for this feature, the coda in “Slow Show” is something that has considerable staying power.

TreborThe National for me is almost impossible to talk about, but their impact is so strong and so constant it’s a challenging necessity. I could honestly see them releasing a stellar album every 3-4 years for the foreseeable future. Even at the end of their career I could see Boxer being their most talked about record.

SowingI believe it is inevitable that we will, Jom.  At least for 2010, anyway, as High Violet seems to have accrued more of a faithful following in recent years than 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me.  This brings up some interesting questions, though.  As one of the top indie bands of our time, do The National deserve multiple Hall of Fame entries?  Is the aforementioned assertion that they are “one of the top indie bands of our time” even true, or is it a flawed assumption that grew from years of spending time in an indie-rock echo chamber where everyone seems to share an appreciation for this band?  I suppose it is the Sputnik Hall of Fame for a reason, so if a band has had that much of an impact on this community, then it stands to reason that they may deliver what we deem to be multiple “classics.”  Only time will tell, so we’ll have to get back to you when High Violet is eligible in 2020, when we’re all inevitably still here, and probably still talking about The National.

Listen to “Apartment Story” here:

A Decade of Stats: Boxer

Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year. 

The National – Boxer  (As of October 23, 2017)

Number of Rating: 2219

Average Rating: 4.356 (4.33 – 4.38 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

User Usage Average Rating: 4.290 (4.23 – 4.34 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

Users whose only rating is this album: 2 of 2219 Users

Users with Four or less other ratings: 16 of 2219 Users

Month/Year with Most Ratings: May 2013 (51 ratings)


Untrue

(4) Burial – Untrue

Release Date: 11/05/2007   |   Review   |   Download   |  Hall of Fame Votes Received: 27


 The Sput Staff Discusses Untrue

…an album designed in and for foggy, gloomy London nights” ~Trebor

 Johnny: Untrue is an album of which I hold an unspoken reverence. I don’t really comment on the thread, and come to think of it, I might not even have it rated… (hol up maybe I’ll change that). I’m pretty content to just let it settle on a shelf, bringing it out only when the time is right. I like it to have as little presence in my life as I can otherwise resist. It’s best that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, as is often the inevitable case with my favourite albums. I actually have a tattoo of the pencil-drawn, brooding, coffee-guy on my wrist, which serves as something analogous to all of this – I forget it’s there 99% of the time, but I’m still happy it is. Anyway, this is supposed to be a query, so: in the event that Untrue is comparably important to you as it is to me, what provokes you to blow off the dust and revisit it?

TreborUntrue absolutely slaps; I can put it on any time. There was a period a few years back where I had insomnia, and I listened to Untrue every night as I tossed and turned, went for walks, I think I even masturbated with it on in the background. It really didn’t help my insomnia, it actuality it made it worse, but the atmosphere and the percussion are so addictive. I tend to revisit it when I’m in the mood for something electronic, and I can’t think of anything to listen to, and I’ve exhausted Autechre and Boards of Canada’s discogs, and yeah because I hate myself and it keeps me up and engaged. It’s odd living in the land of perpetual sunshine and smog, consistently spinning an album designed in and for foggy, gloomy London nights. It translates into any setting because more than anything I think Untrue sticks out for its songwriting and album feel.

SowingUntrue was my introduction to electronic music.  I can’t say that I spin it often or even enjoy it as much as most other people do, but I respect this record.  Anyone who listens to this can hear that it’s something special; you don’t even have to be a fan of the genre.  To this day my electronic ventures are highly limited, but any time I decide to wander outside of my warm indie-folk (with inviting hooks) for some dubstep, my mind always comes back to Burial and how this record shaped not so much a love  – but more of a genuine, objective appreciation – for a genre I once completely failed to understand.  That’s what keeps me coming back and knocking the dust off Untrue.  It’s my reminder that every kind of music – even the genres I don’t frequent – have a holy grail worth exploring.

JomIt’s with a heavy heart that I’m writing about Untrue because it is one of few albums (other than maybe 2014’s Goddess by Banks) where Deviant. was palpably passionate about a record at the time of its release (even though he didn’t get around to reviewing it a couple years later). That semi-kinship is reason alone for me to revisit it.

Another significant reason for Untrue’s siren-song quality is how Burial seamlessly weaves so many samples throughout the record. It’s almost as if each sample – buoyed by vinyl crackle and other sonic ornamentations – is a new character you meet throughout the journey. The ethereal vocals on “Etched Headplate” and “Archangel” are stunning. Rob mentioned how the album is ostensibly written as if a soundtrack to a foggy, gloomy night in the city, and several of the review summaries for this album have asserted that Untrue encapsulates feelings of loneliness or wistfulness. That evocative backdrop is something each of us can vividly imagine being in regardless of geographical location.

My only complaint is that this isn’t much of a gateway album, but I acknowledge that this is my own fault and not the artist’s. To briefly explain, I tried to branch out to other artists that allegedly offered the same level of enveloping immersion, but I always came up empty. I seem to recall feeling the same way after hearing Mezzanine for the first time, too. Although I anticipated that Untrue would serve as a doorway that would expedite new discoveries, it is more of a reflection on my mismanagement of expectations. Anybody else guilty of that — and not necessarily in Burial’s case? (PS: come on back any time now, Deviant.!).

Listen to “Archangel” here:

A Decade of Stats: Untrue

Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year. 

Burial – Untrue  (As of October 23, 2017)

Number of Rating: 1787

Average Rating: 4.243 (4.21 – 4.28 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

User Usage Average Rating: 4.139 (4.07 – 4.22 95% Boot Confidence Interval)

Users whose only rating is this album: 2 of 1787 Users

Users with Four or less other ratings: 9 of 1787 Users

Month/Year with Most Ratings: December 2013 (48 ratings)


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