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December 04, 2008

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A couple of quick thoughts:
I think there's a lot of anxiety playing out in those doubting comments, as if albums that the bloggers haven't heard can't really be that good ... can they? Since no one but Christgau's on everybody's list, there are substantial holes in almost everybody's listening. I'm bowing out of a couple of polls because I didn't hear enough in the area - not out of lack of interest, but lack of service - to feel like I have anything meaningful to say.

Year-end lists strike me as problematic because they suit certain types of people (people who like lists) and certain types of listeners. My own lists tend to be short and reflect the albums I remember enjoying the most and talked about the most during the year because a) I'm not a list person, and that's not a way that I organize my thoughts or think about things, and b) most of my listening is either focused on new releases that I'm thinking about writing about, or songs I like for recreation, some of which may be from this year, but many are not. And if I have to review the year's albums to decide what was good (or, more accurately, what I liked), then I'd be a little dishonest recommending albums that didn't make enough of an impression to stay with me for 11 or fewer months.

Not to burst the premise bubble at the heart of your post, but the Girl Talk reference at the end of that particular post was a joke. Possibly (probably?) not a funny one, but a joke nonetheless. In fact, in the rundown of the Paste list, I wrote "I'm sure any Idolator reader could pick out a record they don't particularly care for and go all critically nutzoid, but Girl Talk at No. 7 seems like an odd slap in the face to the parade of "real musicians" who fall afterwards. I like Girl Talk; I downloaded the disc, and it stayed in my car stereo for a few months." For that statement, I was diced up a bit in the comment section, hence the reference you quoted. I can assure you, I've heard the Girl Talk disc. I'm a little mystified that it would make anyone's top ten, but I have heard it.

To your point, I personally can't hear everything, especially the sort of "genre" discs that can appear in lists like Paste (or to a lesser extent Mojo or Q, recently). Possibly naively, I have some trust in our readership that they might give a bit more insight to what makes a disc interesting or good than just the title and artist appearing on a list published on a webpage. That's what I was trying to do with the Kasai Allstars mention in the post you've quoted, and while that particular post didn't prompt many specific recommendations, other posts in the year-end wrapup series have prompted me to check out a few discs in the last two weeks. Believe it or not, I'm still a fan of music at heart and love hearing new and exciting things (the Krautrock mix that was mentioned in the Quietus list was a great listen yesterday, for example). It certainly isn't that I distrust all bloggers everywhere; it's just that with the massive amount of information out there I'm hoping for a bit of a filter or if that doesn't work out, a healthy conversation. Mostly I had a sincere question ("Has reading any of these lists actually inspired you to make a music purchase this year?"), and by and large, people answered sincerely (not yet).

I missed your comment in the Paste post, so I guess I missed the joke. Anyway, I wasn't really trying to go after you - but I think the way I read your Girl Talk comment still resonates with a general feeling readers of these lists have. That is, they see the same name come up over and over again, and it just makes them wonder, "is it REALLY good?" - like its appearance on many lists just isn't enough to make them believe.

I appreciate the clarification. There's a ridiculous nature to this whole exercise trying to determine what's "great" after a few months, especially among the sort of people who listen to multiple new albums each day. Especially when lists are aggregated, the stuff that floats to the top is largely music nearly everyone who's likely to read a list of albums anyhow has already heard (LCD Soundsystem last year or Fleet Foxes this year). It's not that people are cynical about which whether the listmaker(s) are telling the truth, just that it's difficult to find the diamonds in the rough. Even when you do find something you haven't heard, there's no context to what makes the album great or even good (outside of good ol' Google hunting). I guess I'd just like to see fewer straight ahead lists and a little more explanation.

Great post, man. Indie rock definitely let us down this year -- the so-called "best" albums are pretty Emperor's New Clothes to me, though I think Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend are both great new bands.

As for lists -- I've always felt that lists are great, as a consumer, to see what you missed. In 2008, though, anyone who makes a list has likely heard most of what makes it into the magazine lists, and the vast majority of blogs somehow end up circle-jerking the same lowest-common-denominator electro/rock (read: Girl Talk, MGMT).

As someone who has always tried to seek out things that rise above that, it's disappointing, but then, a blog list should be a statement of personal taste, and the older I get, the less urge I feel to call out people for liking boring bands. All I can do is post my list and the requisite MP3s and hope for the best. Evangelizing is a young man's game.

To clarify, the consumers have become the list-makers. Blogger or not, anyone who reads lists likely posts on message boards and has long since downloaded most of these records -- making vote-driven, magazine-y lists little more than, like you say, predictable water cooler fodder.

They're still kinda fun, though.

Smart, observant post. I enjoy the year end lists, if only to see what I missed out on throughout the year (which is often a lot).

This year, however, I'm admittedly not impressed with the music. The lists do have a tendency to crossover a great deal, and that's to be expected to a certain degree, but the stuff that's on everyone's list is just sort of...I don't know..."safe" is the best word I can think of. Not that I need my music to be some sort of constant cutting edge sound or whatever, but I don't feel like Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver are breaking any new ground out there, as easy to listen to as they may be.

Maybe that's what it's come to: easy listening music is what rises to the top. Seriously. It's hard to ignore the commonalities in sound that those three bands have with 1970s easy listening music. Which was, at its time, exactly what it's categorization implies. And has since become, at turns, mocked, disposed of, kitchy cool, and now emulated.

And why is the Of Montreal album on no one's list? It wouldn't be on mine either, but it got massive swooning when it was released, and now it's like it caught the blogger plague or something. Do bloggers feel as I do--that I'm glad Kevin Barnes exists and is making his kind of music, I just don't want to have to listen to it much?

In summary, I think it was just an unimpressive year for music. There were some totally excellent songs, some very easy to listen-to albums, but no absolutely stellar album in the bunch, much less ten.

Biff, I was having an email conversation yesterday about exactly what you're talking about in the first part of your comment - hopefully I'll have another post up soon to expound on that, but yeah - I think there are a few trends going on in indie rock right now (one of which is 70s-influenced--add Feist and Midlake to that list) that are due to expire soon. That is, someone's going to come along soon--hopefully in 09--that won't sound like the 70s, that won't sound like shoegaze, that won't be grunge redux, that won't be punk-disco. I don't know what it'll be, but it will feel like a new voice. I hope, at least.

As for Of Montreal, I can't speak for anyone else but I was disappointed with it. Never did get around to writing about it but I think Barnes misfired. I still think he's capable of stunning us all, but Skeletal Lamping didn't do it. I'm sure it will wind up on at least one guy's EOY list (rhymes with "bluxfog").

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