Minelli, better than The Stone Roses in 1989 according to actual music journalists.

This started off as a brief comment then became a short article. Later it merged with another idea but then detached itself again to become what can be found below these italics. Apologies for any structural inaccuracies that may occur as a result. It’s very difficult to check for these errors when you’re not sure what you want your final outcome to be anyway.

What is the album of the year? It used to be a mystery until the December publication of various music magazines and other sources. Actually, there would only be a couple of lists worth checking. Others you knew were being perused because liking music beyond a certain point is quite an anal activity. As a result I would always want to know what my subscribed music magazine’s favourite albums of the year were. This was initially the Record Mirror getting me into Big Audio Dynamite by making their debut release ‘This IS…’ their album of the year of 1985, of course they were wrong about that and should have given it to Prefab Sprout or The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Record Mirror just wasn’t left field enough (though they would have loved Leftfield) and in 1989 they felt The Stone Roses debut album was only the 6th best album of the year. I’d be willing to state that they might have had a point with hindsight and yet records reveal that they put Liza Minelli’s ‘Results’ at 5 and never paid any attention to their opinions again. Subsequently I would switch between the Melody Maker and NME quite regularly but really both Xmas issues would be purchased for this very anal of activities. I’d also look at Sounds to see what they said although their goth tendencies always threw my wary suspicion on the lists…Rose of Avalanche, you say? Hmm…

When throwing ourselves over to listings we are basically giving up judgement in case we make errors and we instead depend on the opinions of others to form our own. This would be an annual issue and has been furthered by many more monthly magazines coming into the equation, then there’s websites and blogs. Now we have lists every 6 months just in case you want to catch up in advance and there is also Album of the Year, a website dedicated to key reviews of albums and producing an average percentage rating based on the reviews it has covered or is allowed to cover. As a result, you can tell at a glance what the album of the year would be if the year were to stop immediately. Currently it looks like Frank Ocean is holding off Swans – an enduring image or possibly an ill-conceived metaphor for the former’s sexuality issues which he left off the album. Want to know what the best rap album of the year is? Well, there’s a separate section for that. Want to go out or stay in and find out about new music using your own wits? Well, this site can still be of interest but shouldn’t be a crutch. The discerning music obsessive needs to be more attentive to certain details.

Facts emerge – rap albums may get slated but regularly seem to average higher than indiekid or hipster music – why are the reviewers universal within the genre? The top albums often have great power and impact but I honestly don’t see the songs emerging either from the second most famous Ocean in pop or Swans’ low growling genius. I am writing about Swans album before actually getting around to buying it – but I feel it’s fairly safe to make these claims. The opposite of low growling genius has to be white indiepop. It’ll never average above 80% because it is always so-so. So why do people buy so much of it? None of it seems to sell a lot of copies anymore but there will be about 3 new quite good albums of it to choose from every week. By the end of the year, the songs have made their mark and these albums which will be 20th best of the year in April, miraculously hold that position through the rest of the year despite a few albums released since April being above them in the chart. Surely this is a flaw in logic. Yes, but more than that, listing and number scores will always produce flawed results. Also, there will always be average which groups everything in together. So far this year on AOTY, 85% would get 5th place but 82% might not make the top 25. Are a bunch of 20 or 30-somethings opinions ever going to be that exact a science? I’d like to think not and at, some level, I would imagine they would too as it would leave them open to further Portlandia satire – not that that hasn’t happened already to Pitchfork. Maybe they will go for Album of the Year next.

Yes, the facts seem to be that the highest average scores for albums in a year may also reflect the albums which journalists are scared to put down. Any old indie crap can be slagged off in a review or two, lowering their average into the 70s but would those same journalists dare to claim that Frank Ocean’s album leaves little in the memory afterwards even if it sounds good when it’s on? How do you go about claiming that the massive Swans package, a summation of the career of a genuinely frightening group, might not be any cop? Occasional anomalies break through and I have no idea why they and readers think the Grizzly Bear album is so good when the reality is that it seems to drift after 4 or 5 songs and shows distinct dangers of heading towards the stadiums to become the thinking hipster’s Coldplay. It is interesting to note that, while site users agree that Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar have produced 2 of the best 5 albums of the year, they don’t feel as moved by Ocean, Swans or Fiona Apple. This is in no way surprising and yet while it allows Grizzly Bear to move into the 5, the users’ ratings seem to also go a little left field by selecting the Burial EP and Lost in the Trees.

The Hipster Coldplay? Certainly not very grizzly anyway, unlike…

Proper grizzly and probably more of a Swans fan.

The problem with basing album of the year on reviews is that they have no ability to sense the album’s impact. They may be written when the band is unknown but they may become huge by the end of the year. I don’t recall the first Stone Roses getting superb reviews when it first appeared in May 1989, good but not superb. Its reissue is described as divine though. Even ‘The Second Coming’ seems to get a lot of critical sympathy these days. The current desire for immediacy cannot be healthy and also allows music journalists to truly set trends and leave those inconvenient punters out of it. In this world Shack albums will get attention rather than disappearing once the excellent review has been published. Can any more bands ever be allowed to fall through the cracks? Or will the cracks get bigger if an 80% average is needed to be among the top 25 for a year. However, aren’t lost bands just exceptions to a rule which generally seemed to get rid of most of the rubbish…most! Besides, for me, this still fails to explain the users’ love of Lost in the Trees. Maybe people still genuinely and sincerely appreciate music, maybe it’s the tragic personal history behind the album which grabs people more than journalists or maybe this really isn’t an exact science and I should drop it. After all, I’m not sure the sales of this album have shot up due to its continued status as a reader favourite.

Another factor negating lists can be that an album still finds itself on rotation and getting notice 8 or 9 months after its February release but a lauded album reviewed in November doesn’t have to hang around in the reviewer’s mind for as long to make the top ten and, equally, that November slow burner only gets appreciated during the following year. It makes you wonder why some groups seem to have a policy of deliberately avoiding the lists with some albums that are released in December and also cynically releasing albums in January that might be get lost in October, but with little competition now receive album of the month plaudits. This is precisely why lists don’t work in my view. I cannot compare the Tame Impala album that I’ve been listening to for a couple of weeks or so with The Twilight Sad album I got in January. Reviews suggest the latter to be weaker and yet, until the Tame Impala album becomes more familiar, the former seems to have the best tunes. If a January album is the best album of the year then surely a great album released in October can only be fully appreciated almost halfway into the following year.

Lists, for me, are indicative of a more worrying trend. Liking music is now a quaint obsession and terribly polite with it. Few albums seem to score less than 50% and so the website also reveals to us that no music is shit anymore, which is possibly the opposite of many viewpoints on the matter. I don’t expect musicians to be dead before they hit 25 and to boast of criminal records even if the polite set likes its rappers to do so. No, it’s more of an issue with opinion, division, discussion and the following essential truth about music: MY FAVOURITE BAND ARE BETTER THAN YOUR FAVOURITE BAND! Believing anything else makes for unworthy viewpoints to be expressed. We don’t have to hate each other’s choices but there must surely be disagreement rather than clusters of hipsters at festivals discussing how good everything is. There is an economic downturn; we therefore need to use taste to cull some of the chaff that has crept into our lives with its 73% award and vaguely comforting songs that we can’t remember. This is supposed to be music that we care about, not just another disposable consumer item. People who want to discuss consumer culture are on the rise and seem unable to live without this year’s mobile, maybe they are the ones to blame for turning music appreciation into a meaningless trial by list and review.

I hope to continue trying to put substance into my music use rather than substance abuse into my music. I will of course be preparing my own end of year list which will be similar to the others. Apologies in advance to Swans then, as your album costs 250 pesos on iTunes, I’m going to get it for under a tenner from the UK and brought over in a suitcase by my mother. As she arrives on December 14th, the only way that Swans album can make the top ten is to be on endless repeat over the festive period. Much as I love that idea, it probably won’t be happening.

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