Thursday, December 15, 2011
Via Time Out NY, a list of my top 10 albums of 2011, everything in play.
Via the Jazz Journalists Association, a list of my top 10 jazz albums of 2011.
You'll often hear people who make their living opining about the arts grumbling about the task of year-end list-making. I don't relate. Honestly, I think year-end lists are pretty awesome. Parameters are important: They force you to make those "What would you save from a fire?" (or "…take with you to a desert island?") judgment calls. For me, the process of compiling a year-end list is one of internal debate: "Do you really stand behind this record, Hank? And if so, what makes it more worthy than these ten you're omitting?" I enjoy the end product as an object in and of itself, the way the entries flow and play off one another. I enjoy having the opportunity to say thanks to the artists whose work has enhanced my life over the past 12 months—and to celebrate the fact that people are still bothering to make albums at all.
I also like reading other writers' lists. I love the multiplicity of voices, the hum of conversation. It's all a bit overwhelming, sure, but buried within the din is an important lesson—especially during a year like this, where there's no consensus choice à la My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The lesson is that there's really no such thing as consensus (something Phil Freeman addressed provocatively at the beginning of the year); each writer is a beat unto his- or herself. Anyone who puts together one of these lists and thinks they are making some sort of objective statement is mistaken. On the contrary, the subjectivity of these lists is precisely what makes them great. If you trust the opinions of the writer in question—not necessarily agree with them, but at least respect their integrity and the formidability of the brainpower behind them—you can learn something from their list. You'll hear about a record you missed entirely, find reason to go back to one that didn't grab you on a first listen, or even gain a fresh perspective on a selection from your own list. In short, it's fun to be a part of the conversation.
For me, over the past week or so, that conversation has of course featured my esteemed Time Out colleagues, all of whose year-end lists can be found here. Other lists that have grabbed me: Those by the four Times pop critics, which you can check out here (along with an enjoyable roundtable podcast); Adrien Begrand's epic, still-unfolding, all-genres-in-play list, as well as his metal-only one; another metal list, courtesy of the hilarious and always on-point The Living Doorway blog; Seth Colter Walls's artfully disclaimed list at The Awl; Patrick Jarenwattananon's pithy, poetic list at A Blog Supreme; Brent DiCrescenzo's entirely iTunes-playcount-sourced list at Time Out Chicago; the various lists by my fellow Jazz Journalists Association members; and Nate Chinen's customary year-end critics' summit. Hopefully I'm not forgetting any of the ones I've savored thus far. But at any rate, you see my point: Everyone has a different take on the bygone year in music, and I dig that. No one is right (or wrong), and everyone wins