Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yours, Mine and Everyone Else's 2010

What's that, Jaybee? Still with the 2010? That’s so…last year!

Well, I’m sorry, but that’s how long it takes to get a grip on a year of music, as cramped and limited a grip as it is.

And I’m still catching up on the various year end Best of 2010 Music Polls.

Yes. I admit it. I’m a list nerd. And since I love music, you can imagine how much I love Top Whatever Albums of Whenever lists.

As silly as they may seem, these polls have the advantage of giving you some perspective on a record after the initial enthusiasm (and hype) surrounding it dies down.

And it’s that time of year for everybody’s “Top Albums of 2010” lists. Some people can’t even wait that long. For them it’s been that time since mid-November. I don't know where they get off doing this - it’s like saying screw December. Talk like that will get you on Santa’s naughty list.

So I say wait, not only until January 1 of the following year, but until everything from the year before has sunk in, which in my case could take decades. I do get around to a vague and non-committal statement by mid-January, though.

My Old Pazz and Jop:

At least some people understand this need to wait. Like the Village Voice with their Pazz and Jop Poll, which only came out, what? Last week? And that’s pretty good for them.

I always looked forward to Pazz and Jop. In the seventies, because it was great for seeing how familiar music measured up. It wasn’t that hard to keep up. Radio stations weren’t awful yet, and I liked to buy records.

Over time, though, it got harder and harder to keep up. I still liked music, but radio was getting steadily worse. By the early 80’s, I deemed commercial radio to be Officially Useless. I had no recourse but to wait months to hear about what a whole swath of music critics and fans were experiencing.

Eventually Pazz and Jop would be the first place I’d hear about something. I remember seeing a Pazz and Jop from the mid 90s and thinking who the hell is Liz Phair? She’d won that year, for “Exile in Guyville”, which is now one of my all time favorite albums.

This scenario would repeat itself over and over again. Occasionally I’d be disappointed, especially when a poll winner was in a music genre I didn’t yet - or never would - get. But the great discoveries would more than make up for this.

List of Lists, and Lists of Lists of Lists:
But Pazz and Jop isn’t as essential as it used to be.

For one thing, it’s a whole lot easier to find out about new music now than it was in the dark days of the 80s and the great but hard to follow 90s. Did someone just mention a band to you? Google them and you can find out about and maybe even hear their latest songs. Type in and you get a biography and discography. And if you want to know how an album is, and you don’t know if the critic you’re reading shares your taste, you can use a site like to see what dozens of critics and fans think of it. Totally reliable? Of course not. But on a week to week basis I know what’s coming out, and then, by the time the year end lists come out, the results are not a total surprise.

And for another, well, there are all of these other lists now.

So, without further ado, the following is a fairly arbitrary list of 2010 Album lists compiled by various individuals/magazines/cabals, which I’ve stumbled across over the last few weeks. It could be more comprehensive, but then that would have involved actual work.

NME: stands for New Musical Express, from England. Now the Brits, aside from giving us great bands like the Beatles and Stones, can be a bit odd, and they sometimes have some very lame music here. (It must be the language difference.) So take this list with a grain of salt.

One way of hedging your bets is to use NME’s Aggregated List, which pulls together critical reactions from all over, whatever that means.

And Stereogum is, well, Stereogum.  And a million more other ones, too.

Never heard of any of this? Stop worrying about that. Of course you haven’t heard of them. You’ve been raising a family and working for a living. But keep going. It’s too late to stop now.

And one of the items on my list of lists, is, well, a list of lists.  Jesus Freaking Christ, I thought I was bad. But, hey, knock yourself out.

And of course, the old no longer perfect, but still wonderful Pazz and Jop, which I will be going over with a fine tooth comb over the year.

You've already pored over the above lists? Well then, move onto someone's opinion of what the Underrated Albums are.  Honestly, where do these young folks find the time?

And when you’re done, you can move onto the Top Albums of All Time (including the Jurassic period)  which not only aggregates the lists of many, many people, but also allows you to add your own. I don’t know about you, but I've just found my major time suck for 2011!

Time to Get a Grip:

When you’ve finished looking over this stuff, you may think:

Fine, Jaybee, but
a). I never heard of any of this, so
b). I don’t care about it, or
c). It can’t possibly be as good as what I listened to when I was younger, so
d). it must suck.

To which I say:
a). Please see the note above about you having that life. Congratulations on that, but it doesn’t mean you’ve got your finger on the pulse of popular culture.
b). You should care, you old geezer you. Music added joy to your life once and it can again, not just as a means for feeling nostalgia, but as a source of inspiration. Stop acting so old. There’s plenty of time for that when you’re dead.
c). My experience is that the music I’m listening to now is at least as good as what I was listening to in the seventies. Are you going to just stand there and let me have more fun than you?
d). And if you end up not agreeing with me on c), I think you’ll still find that this newer music not only doesn’t suck, it’ll give your old Springsteen records a run for their money.

Now that I’ve utterly convinced you of the error of your ways, you’re probably thinking Jaybee, you’re right again! Where have I been? There’s a sh*tload of music out there I should be checking out. What have I been doing with my life?

To which I say, don’t feel bad. Just jump in. The water’s fine.

But where to start? Well, do you see titles appearing repeatedly? Like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend Told you, didn't I? Who did you notice showing up a lot? Maybe you should check them out.

You’ll notice that the pop critics like…pop music. The Americana polls favor…Americana. Keep that in mind as you see something show up repeatedly in the Death Metal polls or Lame Country Music Roundups. So you may want to stick to genres you’re comfortable with. Not a problem. For me, though, what’s really striking is when a genre record is so good it breaks down this “taste wall” and makes an impression in a place where it normally wouldn’t. But know what you’re getting yourself into, and proceed with caution.

My list of Possibilities to Check Out, you ask? Ariel Pink, The National, Deerhunter, Sleigh Bells, Robyn, Beach House, and (gulp) Kanye West. Yes, that Kanye West.

A Final Confession:

After all my exhortations, I have to admit that this doesn’t always work for me.

These ears of mine have their limits, and as the age difference between me and the critics/fans gets greater, these lists just can’t be as reliable as I’d like them to be. They used to make me feel part of a larger community by showing me what I had in common with people I never met. Now sometimes they highlight our differences.

No matter. They got me this far.

And besides, after all this reading and comparing and thinking, my favorite albums end up being the ones that suggest themselves to me no matter how many (or few) times they’re mentioned on a list. They sit there hiding in this sea of information until they decide to make themselves known to me, at which point they plant themselves inside my brain until I just have to go out and get them.

But the lists provide the raw data that feeds this very subconscious subjective process. Without them I’d be limited to only what I happen to hear on my own, and I’d hate to be left to the mercies of radio.

And they’re there to show us that there’s a whole lot more out there for us to enjoy.

On to 2011!

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