top 10/20/etc. lists are the equivalent of stealing money from your parents to go buy plastic handles of spiced rum (haven’t done it since i was 19, in my defense), or, probably better, they’re the equivalent of drinking that rum too quickly, hooking up with a long admired crush, and then emptying everything but the teeth in your mouth into their bushes (haven’t done that in probably about the same span of time). They’re both immidiately enjoyable, but i always feel guilty and a little cheated at the end of them. I mean, if normal reviews of CDs are, what, between 400 and 600 words at this point, right? And then, in lists, be they “end of the year extra-vo-gan-zas!!!” or “the best of shoegaze (except for my bloody valentine, those fucking sellouts),” a write is trying to convince you that there is something even more special and deserved about the albums, bands, etc, than even a normal review. And they do it in 50 words. And sixteen of those words are “RIYL: gnawing down on Wolf Eyes CD-Rs, throwing the reunited Beach Boys into a divergent plate boundary.” There is something that caters a little too much to our short attention spans about such lists, and also something that almost always removes any remaining illusion of passion from such journalism. Ok, when you’re done screaming responses to your laptop monitor, read on.
I do not mean to associate length with quality, absolutely not. One of my favorite webzines tackles the scope of albums in 300 words. And i certainly, by no means, am saying that these lists make it too easy for people to discover a genre or artist, because there’s little better than someone finding a new favorite band or song, and who really cares whether they get it from a webzine list, a target commercial, or blearing over the loudspeaker during the payless doorbuster sale.
What i am saying about these lists is that people spend so much time putting things in order, really quantifying it all out, that a lot of them never really explain why they did it. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. My end of year list last year (there is never a time when i don’t get embarassed when i link to old criticism i’ve done. it is so much each easier [and so much less vital] to critique the critics than it is to write about music. That’s what POS blogs like idolator thrive on.), ended with me trying to explain why Regina Spektor’s Begin To Hope was my favorite CD of the year. And i couldn’t.
Even now, i try to excuse this, because i was so emotionaly tied to the album that i loved the album as much for the music as for what i did while listening to the music, but looking back, i didn’t try hard enough. Hopefully it was apparent that i had a connection the album, but i don’t actually spend enough time talking about the music, about Spektor, about the album. I love writing music journalism that’s actually all about me. I mean, come on, that’s why something like this exists. But i think the end of year list, the list in general is such a dangerous route to go, they’re so easy to become little more than poorly written lightning rods for message board trolling (see Stereogum’s recent coverage, or the pithy little whiners at Idolator’s sneering take).
Keeping all that in mind, in the next few weeks i’ll be posting my own year end list. Best albums, biggest dissapointments, best concerts, and gabe’s biggest discoveries. I usually end up finishing it on Dec. 31st, and forgetting an album or two, but hopefully you’ll actually get a real idea of why the stuff matters to me in the first place.
On an entirely unrelated note,
Captain’s Dead posted an amazing live set that Centro-Matic did when they were opening for EX-Drive By Trucker Jason Isbell. The whole thing breaks my heart, then runs around the room with it until it works again.