There’s nowhere to run or hide. Soon, you’ll be inundated by top 10 lists for the year. To ensure that this cycle continues, editors send out notices to writers, reminding them to collect their faves for the publication. Labels also send (kind of) gentle reminders of their offerings for the year so that you’ll include them on your list.
And then we writers pretend that we’re omniscient and that we actually know what are the 10 best albums that came out this year… as if we had time to listen to even a fraction of them even once, much less enough times to try to really appreciate many of them.
What we don’t like to say is that we don’t know about most of what’s happening in the music world and that our list is actually just a subjective bunch of things that we got to hear out of a big pile of music that we managed to get sent or download.
The fact of the matter is that no one could possibly give every release that came out this year (or any recent year) the time it would take to listen and evaluate its worth. It’s just physically impossible. At best, we writers rely on other scribes and publications, word of mouth, blogs, social networks, instinct, luck, etc. to find all the goodies that we can and then chop it all down to a list of ten records.
And even though we may grumble that we hate them, lists are here to stay. Just ask Blender. Similarly, you’ll be seeing the Voice’s Pazz/Jop poll, the Idolator poll (hopefully) and just about any other music magazine will be polling their own writers and have them come up with lists. And no, I’m not excluding myself ‘cause I’ve already contributed lists to a few publications and I’ll likely do the same for other pubs (if they’ll have me) and I’ll even do one for Perfect Sound Forever.
At the very least, one good function of these lists is that you learn something, namely what came out that you missed and should hear. That even happens with the lists I collect from other writers for PSF and I’m definitely gonna scour the lists at Pazz, Idolator and Pitchfork to see what I missed.
Also, these lists provide great fodder for discussions and arguments. “How would they forget…?” “How the hell could they pick…?” That’s what we all think at one point when we read these lists and more than likely, none of them are gonna exactly match what you came up with (though it would be pretty cool if they did).
Another thing about these lists that I wonder about is how self-conscious we are when we put them together for public (and peer) scrutiny. I was arguing with a fellow scribe about what people came up with on their lists- that’s always a fun bit of discussion (“that one was so cool” or “they’re so lame!”). One writer had picked a list of pretty obvious releases that were either best-selling or from some of the most important and talked-up artists of the year. I didn’t know for sure but I thought that the writer might actually like those releases, regardless if they’re the hottest things to come out that year. I’d much rather that writers just pick the records that they really like instead of worrying what is or isn’t on their list. Of course, we’d all like to think that’s what we’re doing when we put our lists together, even if we can’t really do it in the end.
But wait, isn’t the album supposed to be dead or dying? Why do we bother with these lists then? Don’t ask me… I’m working on another list for another magazine…