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4:48 pm

December 4th, 2008

Listless

Sheesh, “Year-End List” season has really stirred up some heated emotions this year. Idolator pondered, “What Use Are ‘Best Of’ Lists, Anyhow?” And today, Scott over at PGWP posted a long, detailed diatribe about the aspect (or rather absence) of trust with regard to the lists. He points out,

I’m detecting an odd, if fascinating tone to the usual kvetching this time around. It’s not the same old sux/rulz dichotomy: rather, there seems to be a distinct lack of trust, a suspicion of the listmakers’ motives.

Scott also points out this post from BG’s Tumblr (who wonders just how often you listen to those albums you called “Best” last year) and the inevitable ILM thread which I’m certain you don’t want to get involved in.

Ultimately, I came to Raptoravatar‘s response to Scott’s post, in which he proffered this:

I know that No Age’s Nouns is going to be in my top five and that I can make a case for it being a good record.  However, I know that when I’m talking about that record I’m also talking about this whole past summer where I listened to it almost every day.  My case for that record is as much about drunken late night bike rides where every speck of grime takes on a secret life, hitting taco trucks at 1 am, poetic graffitti in weird industrial areas, and giddy mosh pits as it is the hermeneutic of “Epic Punk” as understood through the influence of Husker Du.

And what struck me about that is that it rings of exactly what I think a Top/Best/Favorite list should be. It should be the music that, for whatever reason, just really resonated with the listmaker. The music that became part of their lives, instead of part of their “collection.” I realize that makes the lists WHOLLY idiosyncratic and subjective… but I feel like that’s the whole point. Music ain’t science, it ain’t statistics. It’s lust, and heartbreak, and anxiety, and confusion. It’s Elvis’ hips, and Joe Strummer’s guitar. It’s the too-short life of Ian Curtis.

It seems like at some point in the past few years, we decided that it was more important to value music against some nebulous set of criteria that we can apply numerical values to. Let’s keep it up and maybe one day, we can finally squeeze ALL the fun out of this.

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10 Responses to “Listless”

  1. jay Says:

    yes. i think a list of people’s favorite things that came out in a year are way more fun to read that what people think is “best” or whatever.

    i also think that even more interesting is to just think about what music generally resonated the most with me in the year, regardless of when it came out. i mean, i look back at this year, and the music i listened to most is at least as much old stuff that i got into for the first time or got back into after a long hiatus as it is all the great new stuff.

  2. catbird Says:

    It’d be more interesting to me to read a list where *every* entry has a personal story attached to it, the way raptoravatar describes. I feel like the lists as a sort or “buying guide” or even just “critical consensus” don’t serve much purpose in today’s rapid, always-on-internet world; chances are, we *already* know about all the “good” releases from the year– because we’ve been following along with all the writers all year long.

  3. Evan Payne Says:

    That’s my biggest peeve about the whole list making tradition, that it has become about the top howevermany albums of the previous year that the writer thinks you should like. I don’t care what you think I should like, I want to know what you liked!
    I’m not posting a list on my site, but if I were to, one of my top ten would be Joanna Newsom – Ys, which came out in 2006! But I heard it for the first time this year, and it beat out Deerhunter – Microcastle for sure.
    So, yes, if you’re suggesting we all quit trying to sell bands and start remembering to share experiences… I’m all for it.

  4. BMIML Says:

    When the standard deviation charts surfaced a few years ago w/r/t Pazz n Jop, I couldn’t tell if people were cheering for being in line with those nebulous criteria or for wearing their weirdness like a badge of courage.

    I think these lists seem less meaningful to me because we’re watching music criticism transform into something far more democratized. At this point, there’s really nothing that differentiates a Pitchfork writer from an unknown blogger in terms of what he or she hears.

    What seems to have squeezed the fun out of a lot of this for me is that there’s less time than ever to actually listen to these albums in order to form a real opinion about the music. I know it sounds curmudgeonly to say so, but to a certain extent, the hype cycle have turned critics and fans into termites who’re just gnawing their way into something new, without savoring what they just consumed.

  5. BMIML Says:

    Having said all that, I’m a little surprised that I haven’t heard a whisper about Idolator and Pazz n Jop ballots this year.

  6. brian Says:

    I’d agree that a list with anecdotes is much more interesting than one born of critical opinion, though I’ve found that separating The Best from My Favorites is much more difficult in practice than in theory. Somehow, I think having stories as wistful and wonderful as Raptoravatar’s would make this easier.

  7. ChrisD Says:

    I like what BMIML said in comment #4:

    “the hype cycle have turned critics and fans into termites who’re just gnawing their way into something new, without savoring what they just consumed.”

    This is quite true. And while I try to resist this tendency, I also find myself hungry for more everyday. And since I subscribe to 60 or so music blog RSS feeds, I know that there’s always going to be something new to hear. The downside is that I don’t find myself connecting as fully with albums as I used to.

    That said, the criteria that I used for my Top-10 this year was simply which 10 new albums did I listen to the most. Not which 10 albums were the best critically speaking. Not which 10 albums were the most groundbreaking. Just, which 10 did I listen to the most. It was a hell of a lot easier than trying to play a game of critical one-upsmanship.

  8. BMIML Says:

    @ChrisD: Only 60? Give yourself time. Before you know it, you’ll be reading the same PR pabulum on hundreds of feeds!

  9. My year in lists « It All Started With Carbon Monoxide Says:

    [...] addition to the blogroll The Catbirdseat posted an interesting response to this article about whether or not you still listen to your ‘best of’ albums a year [...]

  10. hearsay » favorite songs 2008 Says:

    [...] I used to do yearly mixes with a selection of my favorite tracks. It didn’t really fall into listmania, because the mixes were more organically selected than a top 10 or so. I would normally post this [...]

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