2. Cold Cave - Cherish>"/>
2. Cold Cave - Cherish the Light Years
3. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
5. Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
6. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
7. Das Racist - Relax
8. Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise
9. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
10. The Field - Looping State of Mind
11. Motor City Drum Ensemble - DJ Kicks
12. Battles - Gloss Drop
13. Beirut - The Rip Tide
14. Robag Wruhme - Thora Vukk
15. Iceage - New Brigade
Architecture in Helsinki - Moment Bends
James Ferraro - Far Side Virtual
The Horrors - Skying
Isolee - Well Spent Youth
Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
Siriusmo - Mosaik
Washed Out - Within and Without
Zomby - Dedication
Seems like I've been talking about a lot of these albums and their inherent merits all year long, so instead of rehashing all that now, I'm going to try to take a look at this list as a whole and see what it says about the past year, or at least my particular view of it. As I mentioned here, the whole idea of these lists being definitive, or set in stone, or whatever, is total nonsense. This list is slightly different than the one I put into order a couple weeks ago; a month from now, it would be different again. The difference between my #1 album and my #2 album might be all but negligible (I keep flipping them around in my head and it's fine), although the difference between my top 10 and all the other terrible music out there seems pretty damn significant. (My runners up, though, are basically just a bunch of random other albums I could remember or still had in my itunes come this month.) So, anyway, what does this list tell me?
1. I only really fell for so many albums this year.
It's easy for websites or magazines to do 50 or 100, because lots of folks vote or contribute to compile so long a list, but some individual critics do lists of 50 or 100 as well. Chris Weingarten, now an editor at Spin, was famous for doing 1,000 Twitter-length record reviews a year for a couple years via his @1000timesyes project, and I feel like he recently tweeted something about how like "if you didn't listen to at least 500 records this year, you don't deserve to call yourself a critic" (or that could have been someone else on Twitter--it's hard to search that shit). Honestly, this year, I've felt okay not keeping up that fanatically, whether because I'm underemployed as opposed to doing this full time as in previous years or just getting old or what. I've listened to more than these 15 records, sure, but any further additions to this list would honestly be ones I don't really have "best" or "top" feelings about, and I don't feel the need to pad here. And of course, there have always been arguments for deep rather than broad listening; my old colleague and former Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos launched his "slow listening project" as precisely an antidote to the overload 1000timesyes basks in.
2. There's a lot of overlap between this list and my favorite albums from halfway through the year.
Which makes me think albums have a better chance of feeling like favorites in December if I've had more than a few months to live with them. The converse of this is, of course, like when they release a movie during Oscar nomination season or whatever, but I don't think I have any late-comer fall releases here like that.
3. I don't privilege local music above national/international.
As a writer for local newspapers, I well appreciate the need for boosterism within one's local music scene, but at the end of the day I don't listen to only local music any more than it would make sense to read only local authors or watch only locally made films. Globalism, bruh. And when it comes time for year-end reckoning, I don't feel any duty to give local artists a handicap against their far-flung competition. So, locally, I have Shabazz Palaces, the best album to come out of Seattle in 2011, and one of the best albums of the year anywhere. And that's it. (Which allows me to have artists from Canada, the UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Chile, Denmark, and, of course, NYC on here.) Shouts to Matson, though, for doing one local list and one national, with an impressive amount of overlap.
4. When it comes to instrumental/electronic music, this year's best was pretty mellow.
Jaar, MCDE, Robag Wrhme, the Field--none of these dudes are exactly gonna be opening for Korn/Skrillex next year. It's funny, because I'm definitely one of the people prone to bagging on "indie adult contemporary" for its softness, its safeness, but I don't find delicacy of sound to be a problem with my electronic music. Maybe it's because it's soft but it doesn't code to me as entirely safe--it's still weird music, not hotel lobby deep house (the techno equivalent of Starbucks indie)--and it's still essentially rhythmic and body-moving, even the slinky, subtle-moving stuff.
5. When it comes to lyrical content, it was pretty fucking bleak.
Das Racist aside (although, you know, sometimes they "feel weird"), I went in for pretty sad-ass lyrics this year: Los Campesinos' still blubbering beautifully about every overblown heartbreak, Cold Cave's coffin-shaped goth worldview, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and M83's hopeless nostalgic dreaming. Fucked Up are an interesting example, because although David Comes to Life is all about fatalism and tragedy, it has this great, multi-track guitar-girded undercurrent of hope and even joy in the face of pain: things go down, but then they go up. And really, that's always been the point of sad-sack music, for me and I would imagine for most people: that it makes your sadness feel like something worth reveling in for its own sake, whether because it's part of some epic personal drama or just an unavoidable part of life better to make peace with than to ignore.
6. When it comes to rap and r&b, I'm an admitted dilettante.
Shabazz Palaces, Das Racist, the Weeknd: You could make a good case for this being hip hop and r&b for people who don't listen to hip hop and r&b. (Although, as Ian Cohen memorably put it for Pitchfork: "If you buy only one hip-hop album this year, I'm guessing it'll be [Childish Gambino's] Camp.") I'm no Camp fan, but admittedly I'm not a deep fan of hip hop or r&b either; I'm a dilettante, and I'm okay with that. Probably, if I was ranking genres by how much time I spent with them and how knowledgable of them I am, it would go: indie/punk/rock/etc, electronic, hip hop, electronic again, and then maybe pop and r&b. But I don't think dilettantism disqualifies a person (even a critic) from liking an album or two, or weighing in on those (so long as the don't overstep or purport to be experts when they're not). You can make arguments for either side here, but frankly I enjoy listening to a lot of different streams of music, even if time and energy only allows me to go just below surface level with some of them. I like to think I scoop up the best stuff that floats to the top (thanks to having people and media in my life that can direct me to those things most worth my time)--but, then, I would like to think that.