I think the best way to discuss this is in order from least to most favourite.
Systematic Chaos by Dream Theater
I was really looking forward to this album. Octavarium wasn't that spectacular, but it was a decent enough album, and the comments the band made prior to the release made me think we were in for at least another solid release. I wasn't expecting anything exceptional, especially not after Constant Motion, the lead single, was released. But I still figured that this thing had potential.
It doesn't. Every time I listen to this clunker, I like it less. I can't believe this is by the same band that did some of my favourite albums. The first track, In The Presence Of Enemies, Part 1, is pretty good - Rudess's keyboards come across as cheesy and the lyrics are a little lame, but all told, this song is well-crafted and enjoyable. And then the album completely nosedives. For the most part, it's pretty musically solid, albeit lacking in innovation or new ideas. But what completely ruins the album for me are the atrocious lyrics. The lyrics are so appallingly bad that I can't take my focus off them, much like a horrific car accident. It seems John Petrucci, in a fit of writer's block, dug up some fantasy lyrics he must have written when he was twelve! What the hell is the nonsense that is The Dark Eternal Night? Or Part 2 of Presence of Enemies: "dark master, I will fight for you!" sounds like a twelve year old trying too hard to sound evil. It's also hard to go past Prophets Of War, and not just because it lyrically fails like every other attempt Dream Theater has made at writing political songs. Musically, you've got to wonder whether some master tapes got mixed up somewhere and this is actually a lost Muse b-side. And lastly but most importantly, the song that ultimately dooms the album for me, The Ministry Of Lost Souls. Even the title's shit. I never thought Dream Theater would ever release a song worse than You Not Me, but they have. The lyrics are so disgustingly cliche that it makes you want to vomit. And it's almost 15 minutes long! Dream Theater, what did we do to justify having this tripe inflicted upon us?
Time On Earth by Crowded House
Well, at least they still put on a good live show. The album sounds like a bland Neil Finn solo album meeting the second (i.e. crap) half of Woodface. I think its main problem is too many tracks. If some of the filler had been cut and a more concise album released, it would probably be more enjoyable; the boring moments that make me want to give up wouldn't be there. This is the same problem that plagued Woodface (pretty much everything after Fame Is, excluding How Will You Go, is dreary rubbish) and, it must be said, Together Alone to a lesser extent (cut Pineapple Head, Walking On The Spot, and perhaps Catherine Wheels, and it would border on perfect).
I suppose the reason the album's sparks fail to catch into a roaring fire of musical goodness is that the process through which it was created was pretty haphazard. It began as a Neil Finn solo album, and although it supposedly morphed into a Crowded House album, the entire Crowdies weren't involved - Mark Hart and the new drummer were brought in at a late stage and don't feature on many songs. Now, sure, pretty much anything featuring Neil Finn and Nick Seymour can rightfully pass itself off as Crowded House, but it would have really helped the overall quality of the album if its direction and objective hadn't jumped around mid-recording. I'm really underwhelmed, though I wasn't expecting much anyway. It will take a while for me to consider this part of the Crowded House canon. At this stage, nothing in particular stands out.
The Third Ending by, funnily enough, The Third Ending
Now we're getting on to the good stuff. Prog rock from HOBART? Apparently prog rock has made it to Tasmania. I thought Tassie was only in 1907! But these guys have done a really nice job. Initially, it seems a bit bland, like a stereotypical modern prog band whose Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and Pink Floyd influences are all too obvious. And it's true this isn't the most original prog to ever be released. But it very quickly grows on you as the melodies and composition are remarkably good for a debut. The vocals get stuck in your head. The final songs form one big suite and it's a memorable, sweeping epic.
Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde by Alcest
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
This just came out of bloody NOWHERE and stole "best of 2007" from Porcupine Tree's Fear Of A Blank Planet, a feat I didn't think possible. This album, recorded solely by French musician Neige, is quite simply one of the most beautiful and original compositions I have heard for a long time. Imagine positive black metal - yes, yes, I know, just try - and then merge it with shoegazer. Yes, shoegazer. This is probably what My Bloody Valentine would sound like if it were made up by the members of Opeth and Mikael Akerfeldt were the happiest man in the world. This really is something else. It is vast, sweeping, majestic, eerie, and beautiful. It is wonderfully consistent, with every song on the album of a high quality. Within its style, it has enough variation to keep things very interesting - just compare the opener, Printemps Emeraude, to the closer, Tir Nan Og (which, including Ciel Errant, are the three best songs). It also avoids cliches; at some points, I will think "oh yeah, I know where this is going", but then Neige heads in a completely different direction. It is a glimpse not just at another world ("autre monde", I believe), but at the future. This is unique, pioneering, and original. It is one of the single most intensely beautiful things I have ever heard in my life.
Well, at least one of my expectations regarding 2007 hasn't proved to be totally misplaced: on the whole, it is proving to be a good year for music. The best part is that this hasn't been entirely in the way I anticipated.