End of Year lists – a lukewarm take

24 Nov

It’s that time of year again, when thoughts inevitably turn to lists. Lists for Santa, naughty lists and of course, year end lists on music blogs such as this one and beyond. The tradition of listing things has existed since man first learnt to count and cave walls were adorned with pieces such as “Top 10 Rocks in the valley” (number 7 will astound you). Yet the practice of presenting a year end list is not without controversy. Something that is especially true when ranking the previous year’s music.

Aside from the very obvious question of what criteria to use when determining your list; favourites, most played, most sing-along-able, best (whatever that actually means) there is also the very important question of when you should do your list.

Now, we have said somethings on twitter in the past about waiting as long as you can and making sure you have time to fully appreciate the art of an album etc etc. Naturally, that can sound fairly pretentious and really music is about whatever you want it to be. One man’s art for example, is another man’s Pitbull. That said, we do feel that albums need time to get lost in and to explore. On more than one occasion our opinions have changed on records we initially thought were amazing – but on repeat listen turned out to be less so.

We also stand by our comment about waiting to post a year end list, at least until the year has actually ended.

Just to clarify before we go any further, we are talking about year in review lists here. Best album, single, video and the like. We are not talking about Tips for the future lists. In our opinion they can be posted whenever you like. If you think someone has the potential to be successful, it doesn’t really matter when you tell people. Hell, shout it as soon as you think it if you want. No, this is just about lists that look back over the previous 12 months musical output, but don’t include all 12 months.

To our mind, you cannot really represent a full year’s music in your list when the year is not even over. Granted, it is impossible to represent a full years list as there is no way you can have listened to everything that has been released in that time period, but at least give yourself a chance.

We’ve done it ourselves before, of course. We have written and been involved in year end lists that were compiled well in advance so they could be posted in December. Yet in so doing we have missed many great records from our lists. For example, John Grant’s Queen of Denmark is one of our favourite albums of the last decade, yet never appeared on our end of year list. We had started compiling it so early that we never got round to listening before publication. More recently we have tried to wait until January to publish our lists, to use the holiday period to catch up on records we had missed, and to give more time to those we have loved in the year.

Yet the race to be first still exists within the blog and music journalism world. The desperate charge to get your opinion out first, to plant your flag and claim a narrative as your own dominates the internet.

Take a look at the list of albums still to be released this year. The 1975, Clean Bandit, Earl Sweatshirt are all scheduled to release music between now and 31 December. And that doesn’t allow for any surprise releases either. Despite this, some publications have already posted their best of 2018 lists.

It’s true that some of these lists are from retail outlets and those lists in particular are hard to read without a degree of cynicism. We know that the people involved are incredibly passionate about music and probably know more about it and hear more of it than 99% of the population. Yet, when you see a list released in mid-November that is dominated by records that coincidently happen to come with exclusive releases available only in that store, it’s hard to see it as little more than an attempt to increase sales before Christmas.

In reality, that may be where our frustration comes from most. Seeing high quality, reputable establishments jump ridiculously early to cash in. Maybe our ire is misplaced and in reality, grumbling about when people post their end of year lists is a futile exercise. As we said, music means different things to different people and we should all be allowed to interpret it, enjoy it and experience it however we like. Perhaps the same should be true of end of year lists. Just do whatever you want, whenever you want. Even if the year is only 90% complete.

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