Stay tuned each weekday for the next two weeks as we offer our picks for the best albums and singles of the year, as well as our genre picks in hip-hop, country, Americana, R&B, world, jazz, electronic, indie pop and more.
The calendar pages flip and tear away in rapid succession and seemingly just like that, it’s the annual recap and review season again. Time to sit down, flip through the ever-growing collection of new releases and a year’s worth of reviews, reassess with the clarity of hindsight, and see what rises to the top. The last chance to hand out passing (or failing) grades on the year that’s passed before the excitement of the next planetary cycle’s possibilities grip us with either wide-eyed optimism or a sense of entropic decline.
Looking back on 2007, it initially seems like a year that will go down as a relatively quiet one for music. The greater popular culture consciousness wasn’t gripped with a sudden fever for any one artist or scene. It was a year where celebrity trainwrecks and tabloid gawking seemed to engage more people than the music, be it Amy Winehouse or Britney Spears. There were few substantial crossover moments in an industry that remains on uncertain footing, from the sudden decline of country music sales, to the somehow static returns of Jay-Z, Kanye, and 50 Cent. It was hard not to see marketing as the message in 2007. Radiohead grabbed headlines briefly for their distribution model, not their album, proving mainly that fame continues to matter. Product tie-ins like getting songs with your morning latte attempted to prop up flagging store-bought purchases, while soundtracking commercials seemed the most vital way for artists to be heard.
With such a soft year in the broad sense, it’s easy to assume that the music of 2007 was also underwhelming, and that a Best Of list will be boring and typical. But the real stories of 2007 prove this false. Underneath a blasé pop mainstream, the segmented genre scenes turned out some impressively strong work, and the diversity of the Top 60 compiled here reflects a year where any one genre could turn out a masterpiece, and quality couldn’t be measured by the size of the audience.
Check out the metal list for a perfect illustration. Though the genre has been once more gathering steam over the last few years, 2007 revealed itself to be the banner year that fans had long been waiting for, with a seemingly endless stream of defining moments rolling out each month from all over the metal landscape. Though many of these acts may never break into the iPods of the mainstream general public, this was a year which showed that a strong undercurrent could seethe with vitality nonetheless.
So it goes with Americana and indie pop, R&B and hip-hop, jazz and electronic, country and world music, on down to the singer-songwriters and even pop-country as well. In a year where no one thing completely captivated attention, you often had to dig a little deeper than the surface to find the treasure, but it turned out to be a bounty.
We’ll be adding new genre-specific Best Of lists throughout the week of December 10, and each one contains music worthy of your attention. Then, on December 17, we’ll reveal our official list of the best albums of the year, with more music lists to come as the year draws to a close. Spend time with each, because if you evaluate 2007 simply by our “Big List”, or that of others, you’re going to miss out on the more nuanced, less praised gems that really did sparkle this year, so grab a shovel.
You know what they say: It’s always the quiet ones.
Friday, December 21 2007
From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, PopMatters picks the best 60 albums of 2007.
Thursday, December 20 2007
From hip-hop to indie rock and in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 singles of 2007.
Wednesday, December 19 2007
From '60s soul to bluegrass and Krautrock to post-punk, PopMatters counts down the year's best re-issued albums.
Tuesday, December 18 2007
As a category world music is both useful and frustrating. It puts CDs on the shelves and prevents people picking them up. It is the other-than category: other-than rock, other-than indie, other-than everything. It is the whole world and nothing definite.
If 2007 didn't invite any gripping controversies, it was certainly filled with competitive comparisons -- between young and old, past and present, and among splintered factions -- and both surprising hits and disappointing misses. All in all, a dynamic and at times resurgent year for the broad scope of Americana.
Monday, December 17 2007
This is the best year for metal music we've seen in a very long time. Like other watershed years, such as 1983, 1984, and 1991, it's partially a case of artists peaking at the same time, and 2007 was no exception, unleashing a wave of superb releases from January straight through November.
Friday, December 14 2007
Whatever your taste in music, be it Country or Western, 2007 has been something of a disappointment when compared with recent years. You have to look a little harder to find the diamonds in the Van Lear coal-mine that was the year that was, but they're there.
Purists may turn up their noses at pop-country, but it produced more top-shelf music this past year than the stricter formal traditions on which it draws.
Thursday, December 13 2007
On this year's "Best R&B Albums" list, you will find albums that merit attention for the unique artistry each possesses, not because they sold half a million out of the gate.
What unites these artists is an individual presence -- a voice -- that is powerful enough to carry an entire album without retreating to the cozy confines of a band.
Wednesday, December 12 2007
2007 was a year of independent thinking, where fresh and experienced bands alike stubbornly set off on their own course.
Tuesday, December 11 2007
From Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five to a dope album named Desire, hip-hop showed growth in 2007.
In spite of the perception of jazz as an increasingly niche market, the year's best show a style of music that remains ever youthful in its exploration of new territories, expanding its diversity and range of expression.
Monday, December 10 2007
As electronic music's edges bleed out all over the genre map, some sounds have been resurrected, others minimally revised, but the sum total shows a genre that, diffuse identity or not, continues to exert its pull on rock, pop, and the dancefloor.
Double up with music's best Internet gimmicks of oh-sev -- here at PopMatters we're the club hollerin' "ay, meme," as it were.