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PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2007

60 best albums | 50 best singles | 20 best re-issues | genre bests. Watch for our picks for best film, TV, DVDs, books and events starting next Monday.

Edited by Sarah Zupko, Patrick Schabe, Dave Heaton, and Karen Zarker / Produced by Sarah Zupko

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.

-- Patrick Schabe





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