Sunday, January 04, 2009

Lists lists lists--so many lists. There seem to be more lists than ever this year. And they're still coming through!

This year they've seemed more disparate than ever too, often barely overlapping. That's certainly the case with individual bloggers, but even the print periodical and webzine End of Year surveys, which through their expanded electorates and Big Other-shadowed institutional responsibility to "The Truth" usually point towards something approaching consensus... even they have seemed quite far apart from each other.

Surely the most lone ranger-like of all the Listmakers: Chuck Eddy, whose Top 150 at his Rhapsody blog is divided into three instalments, starting here , continuing here and climaxing here . One hundred and fifty selections in itself makes some kind of statement (I've seen only a few others that go beyond fifty). Well, some of my late 90s Faves of the Year would have run close to that scale, if actually numbered, but I've long since felt the pull in the opposite direction, away from compendiousness (with its Big Other-shadowed genuflection towards "justice", "the deserving") and towards the hard kernel of what you really care about. Is it really possibly to love 150 albums that came out in a single year? And then the actual choices... Groups you never heard of, groups you can't help wondering whether they've been made up. What I enjoyed most was the bizarre, unexpected, extremely rare convergences of "worlds," e.g. lookee there, nestling amidships Oughties Oi! and Nu-Nu-Country and Post-Neo-Freestyle and Forest Metal, eighteen places below a new album by Dub Pistols but only ten places lower than a Girlschool compilation, there's Pauline Oliveros with Four Electronic Pieces 1959-1966, which would have made my own Reish List if I hadn't gone with the Eight format. As I recall there's just one other overlap of mine and his: my #1 scrapes in at #125! (does Chuck really think there were 124 albums superior to Vampire Weekend released last year?).

Also making my own list look positively middlebrow and follow-the-herd-like (what with its
inclusion of Portishead, Crystal Castles and--who'd have ever thought they would become even the slightest bit consensus-picky!--Gang Gang Dance)here's Dan at The End Times's best-of-2008 selection. Lots of intriguing choices (really wanna investigate that Abe Vigoda, whom eMusic describe as a "harder-edged Vampire Weekend"!) although one can't help thinking Dan might have had a slightly jollier year with an audio-diet that was a teensy bit less non-stop harrowing.

Big up both chaps for bucking consensus. But was there much consensus to buck, in fact? Despite the general air of entropy and disparation abroad (fragmentation + musical overproduction + reissuemania = lots of crevices to crawl into and make your bolt-hole) there does seem to be a smattering of releases that cropped up on a lot of institutional lists, adding up to the New Middlebrow. And while I'm not especially pleased about this fact (believing that a strong middlebrow culture is actually vital, and that moreover many wonderful things end up in that category, if not by intent then by acclamation) I was quite struck by how few of them ended up making my list. They all left me cool if not quite cold; provoked appreciation, even admiration, but not adoration, or a desire to listen to them repeatedly. Viz:

Bon Iver
A voice like shredded wheat with no milk. Nothing about the sound or the backstory made me want to persevere long enough with this to find the vaunted brilliance.

Someone somewhere described this as like a bunch of Chapterhouse B-sides. Unfair, but this does strike me as an overly meticulous collation of borrowed bits and bobs (the sources all things I like, but what's the point?). Not so much blissed out as prissed out.

Hercules and the Love Affair
C.f. McAlmont, this kind of capital 'S' Singing from a capital 'S' Singer always seems like a good idea on paper. Otherwise this is just Faze Action all over again, no?

Lil Wayne
I was all set to put Tha Carter III in my list, remembering having enjoyed it a lot when it came out, but in the end just opted for "A Millie" in top tunes (and that mostly for its brain-evacuating voice-loop rhythm, which is only a notch about the drivel Swizz Beatz Mk2 was peddling last year, or was it the year before?). The rest of the record I barely remember, and nor can I summon any desire to revisit. Sadly I've come to the conclusion that I much prefer Lil Wayne circa his debut album to the Noughties version with its crabwise flow and allusive density. Lil Wayne, he's the John Sessions of rap, really. Sort of funny; very nearly entertaining.

Cut Copy
This is New Pop revivalism, essentially--the next logical step from the interminable postpunk revival, but drawing on New Pop's wetter side--OMD, China Crisis. Nice blurry/yearn-y sound. Will anyone care in a year?

The Bug
Commendable, well-executed, most effective when it relents a bit from being so unrelenting. When it's on I can't fault it, exactly. But I've gone back more to Dusk + Blackdown: as an audio-essay about London, Margins Music has a more seductively sensuous and varied sound-palette. It also seems significantly more up-to-date than London Zoo (isn't an album largely based around dancehall really kinda early Noughties?!). And it doesn't hammer the getting-somewhat-fatigued London=darkness notion so hard.

Flying Lotus
Highly listenable, quite impressive, the best of it makes me think of Sa Ra sans the kosmigroovy sexiness and goofadelic humour. The least of it is a bit… Prefuse 73-y.

There's plenty more in the consensus-overlapzone that leave me cooler still (Fleet Foxes, TV On the Radio,Santogold, etc), I'd happily accept that the problem is me, I need to put in some more work (but whoever said you had to work at listening to music?), I seem to have fallen into a kind of simpleton mode of assessment, which is that if after a couple of listens I can't remember anything about a record or find the urge to listen again, then... goodbyeee. Life is short and there's too many other fish in the sea of sound.

Some other good lists:

More an overview of trends than a selection of toons ("Audio Deco"--niiiiiice coinage!)

A survey of the "annus stolidus" (niiiice coinage!) with good swipes at Deerhunter and Fleet Foxes.

Those two capture a version of pop reality that I can dimly recognise, whereas the always-interesting Jane Dark...
(Well I agree with Joshua about T.I. if nothing else! Actually he's right about hip hop having been the centre of pop for a long while now, about how talk of rock's death refers only to guitar-band-music's fading and fragmented grand narrative, whereas the true "counterstory" is "hip-hop’s increasing permeation, coordination and domination of the Western market"... But hmmmm, now, if (let's say) the late Eighties was when hip hop began to encroach on hegemonic status, if you time-scale that out then hip hop is right about now at roughly.... 1986 or something. A time when rock looked pretty bankrupt as a Force and finished as a Form, and round the corner there was just one last deceiving gasp [grunge] and a few final formalist spasms of glory [e.g. MBV, Sonic Youth]. So by my analogy mainstream rap is and has been for a little while now at its own equivalent to the hair metal era: beyond-parody videos,horrible shrill sonics. That sounds just about right from where my ears are sat, especially in re. the dominant mersh-rap sound of portentous digi-synth fanfares and lumbering beats, that brittle blare that seems pre-degraded to 128kbps mp3 or ring-tone level, as purveyed by your T.I.s and Young Jeezys.)