Music Picks

Wong's Music Year in Review

From Radiohead and Andrew Bird to bad grammar.

By Thom Wong 27 Dec 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong regularly writes about music for The Tyee.

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Radiohead: two-category winner.

Unlikely Rolling Stone cover story: "2007 -- The year Thomas bought a lot of CDs." While I am certain the editors of Rolling Stone know me -- they can't block all of my letters, postcards, e-mails and care packages -- I doubt they would report on this. As far as I can tell, I am the only person in the entire world who currently buys more CDs than he did 10 years ago. This year, in fact, I have bought more CDs than I did in any other previous year, including the watershed of 1995 when I decided I needed most of the Beatles' catalogue.

Considering the fact that the Recording Industry Association of America is currently employing the shotgun litigation approach in pursuing people who share music on the Internet (Take that, single mothers! And that, 12 year-old girls!), you would think people who want music would be scared off Soulseek et al., and have no choice but to flock to brick-and-mortars like me. But clearly this is not the case.

Mind you, Canadians apparently both download music and still buy CDs, all while walking and chewing gum.

And now, in the spirit of The Onion's Least Essential Albums List...

(Of course, if you need a top [insert arbitrary number here] albums of the year list, I hear some people on the Internet do that.)

Album I willingly parted with £40 to get, even though I could, and did, get it for free: When someone writes that Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, could fart in a paper bag and certain fans would buy it, it's conceivable that they are talking about me. (For the record, he'd have to cough.) In reality, Radiohead would have to price In Rainbows at twice as much to scare me away, and even then I'd probably even eat no-name mac and cheese if I had to so I could afford it.

Music packaged so poorly that even if I didn't own it I wouldn't buy it: Ignore, for a moment, that if you didn't have Radiohead's back catalogue you could easily buy all of it at any used CD store, or get it new from such obscure places as Best Buy and HMV. Ignore, also, that anyone who doesn't already have these albums probably doesn't even know Radiohead is the name of a band. EMI, in a stunning act of hubris, has packaged Radiohead's first six studio and one live album three different ways, all woefully overpriced. You can get it as compact discs for $82, or, somewhat confusingly, as digital downloads for $70.

But both of those are relative bargains when compared to the $165 4GB USB stick. Even if you factor in the cost of a 4GB flash drive, this still works out to about $120. I guess part of the price is for the commemorative bearhead tin, a symbol Radiohead stopped using about six years ago.

Honourable mention: Jeff Buckley's So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley

Best tourism ad for Iceland: Sigur Ros' Heima (DVD): a gorgeous pastiche of landscapes, towns, and incredibly thin lead singers.

Favourite album: This goes to the album I played the most in 2007, and it's a bit of a surprise winner considering Arcade Fire and Radiohead had 2007 releases. While I thoroughly enjoyed both, neither could capture the sheer exuberance of Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha. On Armchair, Bird eclipses his already stellar loquaciousness: "I dreamt you were a cosmonaut of the space between our chairs / And I was a cartographer of the tangles in your hair."

The rest:

The mangled English award -- album title:

Winner: Maroon 5's It Won't Be Soon Before Long

Runner-up: Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton's What is Free to a Good Home?

Honourable mention: Public Enemy's How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul

Funniest reference to sex - album title: Jagged Edge's Baby Making Project

Best film that was also a soundtrack: Critics loved it, everyone I told to go see it adored it. Once was one of those rare films that was better the second time I watched it, and even better the third time. For about a month the soundtrack accompanied me to and from work.

Best film you probably didn't get a chance to see and the music in it: If you aren't a graphic designer, know graphic designers, or happen to subscribe to Creative Review, chances are you missed Helvetica, the documentary by Gary Hustwitt commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the now ubiquitous font. While it focuses heavily on Helvetica and its proliferation in public space, it also acts as a primer for all things design and type.

Since much of the film is made up of relatively static shots of Helvetica around the world, the film's soundtrack must carry an even heavier load than might be expected. Luckily the music by El Ten Eleven is more than up for the task. Their brand of "Silverlake-style Sigur Ros" provides the perfect counterpart to a film that celebrates the role of type in our lives.

Least essential media coverage: Leave Britney Spears, and now her sister, alone. If you don't find that whole family pitiable I don't know what's wrong with you.

Favourite podcast: Sound Opinions continues to be the best reason to have an iPod. While all of them are worth listening to, you can't go wrong with their Lupe Fiasco interview.

Song Most Likely Still Stuck in Your Head: "It's too late to 'polagize, it's too laaaaaaaaaate. I said it's too late to 'polagize, it's too laaaaaaaaate."

Most inexplicable greatest hits:

Natalie Imbruglia's Glorious: The Singles 1997-2007. I can think of one -- "Torn" -- and it wasn't even her song. Did she even release anything in 2007, or was that just a convenient end date? 2006? 2005?

Runner-up: Amy Grant's Greatest Hits

What I'd Like to See in 2008:

Related Tyee stories:

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