I'm a fool now that it's over.
"I wish somebody would do a Pazz & Jop-style list made up of only people's #1 albums and songs," I tweeted Nov. 10. "Feel like #10s (and #50s!) are irrelevant." This led me into a really fun and enlightening e-mail back and forth with my friend and the person who used to hand me wines I'd love but then immediately forget how to describe intelligently (I'm telling you I must just have a terrible sense of smell, which would also explain why I dislike bland foods such as mayonnaise or American cheese but will gladly quaff a red wine recommended to me-- accurately-- as tasting like "fried ice cream and green peppercorn"), Cole Chilton. Now, Cole started with the premise that, as previously niche interests have become more popular, a narrow top 10 list tends to miss a lot, which seems inarguably true. In our conversation, he also (it seems to me correctly) noted that top 50s and other long lists constitute a form of "signaling"; a longer list signals that a critic has taken the time to listen to so much and with such critical attention that you should take this person's top pick very seriously. And then we started talking about how he approaches rating the wines he tastes, which was super interesting but really none of my business to start sharing here.

I guess it's Cole's second point that starts to nag at me. Readers of this blog and its Tumblr are probably bored by now with my constant crusade for the idea that there's always at least a slight potential gap between a sign and what it signifies. (I just finished reading this great book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde, and I found out that Albert Einstein, of all people, made sort of a similar argument in a different context: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.") By the same token, I start to wonder if all the effort that gets expended signaling expertise risks taking away some of a list's communication of any actual expertise. It might be the journalist in me talking, too: If we're signaling our own expertise, are we really serving the readers' interests first? Or our own? (Like, when you're a reporter, sometimes you want to quote a source in an article, because the source took the time to speak with you and you want them to speak with you again, but it only muddles up the account for the reader, whose interests come first, so you cut the quote and apologize to the source.)

But mostly, I worry about the effect that lists of a gazillion albums can have when they're assembled into a poll. For all the greater potential for diversity that has come with the internet, you ultimately seem to have more critics working for less money and listening to the same basic universe of albums. I have plenty of disagreements with Chuck Eddy's essay for the Village Voice at the beginning of the year, "The Year of Too Much Consensus," but I, um, agree that there's an awful lot of consensus. When everybody is filing a list of 10 or 50 or 100 "top" albums of the year or whatever, does this basically mean that the medium-profile, critically safe stuff that ends up in people's 8th spots or 35th spots is going to rise to the top, just because it's going to be on everybody's list somewhere, given a long enough list? Someone with access to the actual data could correct me on this, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if year-end lists end up being more in accord with critics' #1 albums than with their #12s. If my worries are at all well-founded, though, here's where I again think about the reader: As a music fan, how much do I care about an album that some critic ranks at #10 but not a single critic in the country ranks as #1? (Might such choices sometimes be as much about "signaling"-- ooh, a token [insert niche] pick!-- as about how much, if we really thought about it, we'd expect ourselves to enjoy the record if we were in our readers' shoes?) Could the cumulative effect of year after year of longer and longer lists be not to give readers more choices, as the numerical growth might indicate, but rather, to constrict them by providing an unnatural consensus based on what looks good on a list more than on what makes us passionate?

As with all of these debates I constantly find myself stumbling into on the internet, there are of course shades of gray, and I recognize there's probably never a clearcut situation where one choice is purely "signaling" and another is purely based on how passionate we are about a record. And I mean, really, here's the worst part: While it's easy for me to come up with my top album, or even my top 3 albums, once we get past that, I keep coming up with more and more records I enjoy and want to share with you in case you might like them, too (or is it partly, as with my example earlier of quoting a source in a news article, because I want to show the artists and other critics who like them that I'm not a hater? Who knows!). So here are a whole bunch of records that while I'm listening to them make me feel stuff and think stuff and maybe occasionally wanna move around and shout stuff and I hope if nothing else I can pass some of those feelings along to you.

So here's my 2010 year-end wrap-up post. For the albums list, I used an expansive definition of what constitutes one album, which I think is appropriate considering artists are experimenting with new ways of releasing music now that the album is in decline; for the tracks list, I tried to limit choices in the top 50 to two per artist, although The-Dream kinda sneaks through because I wasn't counting guest appearances (or songwriters, for that matter).

1. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (review)
2. Robyn: Body Talk (all three installments) (Part One review)
3. Das Racist: Sit Down, Man / Shut Up Dude
4. Taylor Swift: Speak Now
5. Spoon: Transference
6. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
7. Beach House: Teen Dream
8. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
9. Best Coast: Crazy for You
10. Sleigh Bells: Treats

11. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
12. The-Dream: Love King (review)
13. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening
14. The Walkmen: Lisbon
15. ceo: White Magic (interview)
16. Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries
17. The Poison Control Center: Sad Sour Future
18. Caribou: Swim
19. Tame Impala: Innerspeaker
20. Dom: Sun Bronzed Greek Gods EP (review)

21. Toro Y Moi: Causers of This (review)
22. White Hinterland: Kairos
23. Liars: Sisterworld (review)
24. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast (review)
25. No Age: Everything in Between
26. Four Tet: There Is Love in You
27. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
28. How to Dress Well: Love Remains (review)
29. The Drums: The Drums
30. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today

31. Los Campesinos!: Romance Is Boring / All's Well That Ends EP (EP review)
32. Delorean: Subiza
33. The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme
34. Allo Darlin': Allo' Darlin' (review)
35. Drake: Thank Me Later
36. Säkert!: Facit (review)
37. Rick Ross: Teflon Don
38. Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love
39. Tennis: Tennis (cassette)
40. Warpaint: The Fool

41. Tamaryn: The Waves
42. The Fresh & Onlys: Play It Strange
43. Neil Young: Le Noise
44. Maximum Balloon: Maximum Balloon
45. Darren Hanlon: I Will Love You at All (review)
46. Cloud Nothings: Turning On / Leave You Forever EP
47. Ke$ha: Animal
48. Wavves: King of the Beach
49. Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite
50. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles

Kingdom: EPs
Zola Jesus: EPs
James Blake: EPs
Salem: King Night
Gold Panda: Lucky Shiner
These New Puritans: Hidden
Glasser: Ring
Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid
Dum Dum Girls: I Will Be
Chemical Brothers: Further
Wild Nothing: Gemini
Kate Nash: My Best Friend Is You (review)
Working for a Nuclear Free City: Jojo Burger Tempest (review)
Superchunk: Majesty Shredding
The Tough Alliance: Prison Break EP (review)
Active Child: Curtis Lane
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (review)
Jenny Wilson: Hardships! (review)
Washed Out: 2010 Tour CD-R
A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Autumn, Again
Twin Shadow: Forget
El Guincho: Pop Negro
M.I.A.: / \ / \ / \ Y / \
Cate Le Bon: Me Oh My (review)
Mark Van Hoen: Where Is the Truth (review)
Broken Bells: Broken Bells (review)

We are with you in your anger.

1. Robyn: "Dancing on My Own"
2. Cee-Lo: "Fuck You
3. Deerhunter: "He Would Have Laughed"
4. Robyn: "Call Your Girlfriend"
5. Deerhunter: "Helicopter (Diplo & Lunice Mix)"
6. Katy Perry [ft. Snoop Dogg]: "California Gurls"
7. Josh Ritter: "The Curse"
8. The-Dream [ft. T.I.]: "Make Up Bag"
9. Best Coast: "When I'm With You"
10. Das Racist: "You Oughta Know"

11. ceo: "Come With Me"
12. Mavis Staples: "You Are Not Alone"
13. Taylor Swift: "Dear John"
14. Big Boi [ft. Cutty]: "Shutterbug"
15. Taylor Swift: "Mean"
16. Ciara [ft. The-Dream]: "Speechless (Demo)"
17. Titus Andronicus: "A More Perfect Union"
18. The Radio Dept.: "Heaven's on Fire"
19. Sleigh Bells: "Rill Rill"
20. Tennis: "Marathon"

21. Tanlines: "Real Life"
22. DOM: "Living in America"
23. Paramore: "The Only Exception"
24. Aloe Blacc: "I Need a Dollar"
25. Smith Westerns: "Weekend"
26. Kingdom: "You"
27. Spoon: "Out Go the Lights"
28. LCD Soundsystem: "I Can Change"
29. Jens Lekman: "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love"
30. Gorillaz [ft. Little Dragon]: "To Binge"

31. The Fives: "It's What You Do (Hottest By Far)"
32. Rihanna: "Rude Boy"
33. Janelle Monáe [ft. Big Boi]: "Tightrope"
34. Das Racist: "hahahahah jk?"
35. Caribou: "Odessa"
36. Tame Impala: "Solitude Is Bliss"
37. Ciara: "I Run It"
38. Toro Y Moi: "Blessa"
39. Beach House: "Zebra"
40. Crystal Castles [ft. Robert Smith]: "Not in Love"

41. DOM: "Burn Bridges"
42. Liars: "The Overachievers"
43. Zola Jesus: "Night"
44. NDF: "Since We Last Met"
45. No Age: "Fever Dreaming"
46. Warpaint: "Undertow"
47. Gorillaz: "On Melancholy Hill"
48. Surfer Blood: "Catholic Pagans"
49. Japandroids: "Younger Us"
50. Cults: "Go Outside"

Robyn: "Cry When You Get Older"
Deerhunter: "Desire Lines"
Taylor Swift: "Speak Now"
The-Dream: "Love King"
Deerhunter: "Coronado"
Das Racist: "Shorty Said (Gordon Voidwell Remix)"
Dom: "Jesus"
Los Campesinos!: "A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State or, Letters From Me to Charlotte" 
Das Racist [ft. Chairlift]: "Fashion Party"
Spoon: "Written in Reverse" 
Spoon: "Who Makes Your Money"
Allo Darlin': "Kiss Your Lips"
LCD Soundsystem: "Dance Yrself Clean"
LCD Sundsystem: "Drunk Girls"
LCD Soundsystem: "Pow Pow"
The Walkmen: "Stranded"
Frankie Rose and the Outs: "Litle Brown Haired Girl"
Robyn: "Dancehall Queen"
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: "Round and Round"
Delorean: "Stay Close"
Rox: "My Baby Left Me"
Kate Nash: "Don't You Want to Share the Guilt"
Tracey Thorn: "Oh, the Divorces!"
Toro Y Moi: "Leave Everywhere"
Duck Sauce: "Barbra Streisand"
Yelawolf: "Pop the Trunk"
Gauntlet Hair: "I Was Thinking"
Kingdom: "Mindreader"
MNDR: "I Go Away" 
Zola Jesus: "Lightsick"
Die Antwoord: "Enter the Ninja"
Dum Dum Girls: "Bhang, Bhang, I'm a Burnout"
Kendal Johansson: "Blue Moon" (Big Star cover)
Sleigh Bells: "Tell 'Em"
Gold Panda: "You" 
Salem: "King Night"
Besnard Lakes: "Albatross"
Lykke Li: "Get Some"
Lindstrom & Christabelle "Baby Can't Stop"
Sweater Girls: "Do the Sweater"
Nicki Minaj: "Your Love"
Nicki Minaj: "Did It On 'Em"
White Hinterland: "Icarus"
Young Money [ft. Lloyd]: "Bedrock"
Maximum Balloon [ft. Little Dragon]: "If You Return"
Deerhunter: "Revival"
Beach House: "Used to Be"
Cloud Nothings: "Can't Stay Awake"
Diamond Rings: "Wait and See"
Teen Daze: "Wet Hair"
Superchunk: "Everything at Once"
Nicole Kidman: "I'm in Love With a Jehova's Witness"
Sonny and the Sunsets: "Too Young to Burn"
Teengirl Fantasy: "Cheaters"
These New Puritans: "We Want War"
Four Tet: "Sing"
The Chemical Brothers: "Escape Velocity"
The Black Angels: "Telephone"

The Black Keys: "Next Girl"
Black Mountain: "Old Fangs"
James Blake: "I Only Know (What I Know Now)"
Mr. Dream: "Knuckle Sandwich"
Neon Indian: "Sleep Paralysist"
Aeroplane: "We Can't Fly" 
Yuck: "Georgia"
Kisses: "Bermuda"
Kisses: "People Can Do the Most Amazing Things"
Menomena: "Taos"
Drake: "Over"
Alicia Keys: "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)"
Fiveng: "Jonah"

Yes, I was a complete unknown.

- Pitchfork Music Festival (LCD Soundsystem, Robyn, Titus Andronicus, Major Lazer, Pavement, Big Boi, Beach House, Neon Indian, Surfer Blood, Freddie Gibbs, Best Coast, Sleigh Bells, Modest Mouse, more). July 16-18, Union Park (Chicago).
- 80/35 Music Festival (Spoon, Modest Mouse, Yo La Tengo, the Walkmen, the Cool Kids, Zola Jesus, Califone, Evangelicals, the Poison Control Center, more). July 3-4, downtown Des Moines.
- Pavement, with the Poison Control Center. Sept. 11, the Uptown Theater (Kansas City).
- Titus Andronicus. June 26, Northside Festival, Newtown Barge Park (Brooklyn).
Love Is All, with Tyvek. April 8, Vaudeville Mews.
- Devo. July 24, Walnut Street Bridge.
- Best Coast, with Male Bonding. Sept. 17, Grinnell College.
- Jemina Pearl, with Brooks Strause, the Jitz. Feb. 5, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Poison Control Center, with Canyons. Nov. 20, Vaudeville Mews. (in Ladd's words, "just perfect")
- Tennis, with Maid Marian, the Land of Blood and Sunshine, the Seed of Something. Sept. 17, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Poison Control Center, with Christopher the Conquered, Mynabirds, Wolves in the Attic, Derek Lambert. April 30, Vaudeville Mews.
- ASKLANDAGANZA III, with the Poison Control Center, the Autumn Project, Derek Lambert. Jan. 16, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Poison Control Center, with Christopher the Conquered, Utopia Park, Dugout Canoe. The Beauty Shop (Fairfield, Iowa)
- A Sunny Day in Glasgow, with Wolves in the Attic. March 4, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Coathangers. Nov. 6, the Underground.
- The Poison Control Center. Feb. 20, Vaudeville Mews.
- Coyote Slingshot, with Wheels on Fire. June 9, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Poison Control Center, with Christopher the Conquered, Why Make Clocks, the Atudes. Aug. 29, Des Moines Social Club
- Darren Hanlon, opening for David Dondero, with Derek Lambert. Sept. 28, Vaudeville Mews.
- Headlights, with Canby, Hanwell. Feb. 23, Vaudeville Mews.
- Black Mountain, with Mondo Drag. July 26, Vaudeville Mews.
- Damien Jurado. June 6, Vaudeville Mews.
- Julian Casablancas. April 23, People's.
- The Strange Boys, with Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Natural Child, the Jitz. Oct. 1, Vaudeville Mews.
- GDP V, featuring Christopher the Conquered, Canby, many other locals. March 27, All Play.
- The Beets. June 10, Vaudeville Mews/April 23, Beechwood Lounge.
- Toro Y Moi, opening for Phoenix. Aug. 10, People's Court.
- The Twilight Sad, with Mono. May 18, Vaudeville Mews.
- Charlie Hunter. Feb. 28, Vaudeville Mews.
- Mumford's, opening for Spouse. Nov. 17, Vaudeville Mews.
- Tim Kasher, with Cashes Rivers, Parlours. Sept. 27, Vaudeville Mews.
- Retribution Gospel Choir, with Why Make Clocks, Wolves in the Attic. Sept. 30, Vaudeville Mews.
- Harlem, with the Jitz. May 5, Vaudeville Mews.
- Zoos of Berlin, with Child Bite. March 28, Vaudeville Mews.
- Canby, with Golden Veins, Skypiper. May 1, Vaudeville Mews.
- Tokyo Police Club. Oct. 13, Vaudeville Mews.
- Red Pony Clock. March 28, Vaudeville Mews.
- Candy Claws, with the Autumn Project, Love Songs for Lonely Monsters. Nov. 6, Vaudeville Mews.
- The Love of Everything. June 24, Vaudeville Mews.
- the first three songs of Black Eyed Peas. March 25, Wells Fargo Arena.
- Woodsman, with the Autumn Project, Statocyst. June 30, Vaudeville Mews.
- One for the Team, with the Rugbies. Feb. 15, Vaudeville Mews.
- Oh No Oh My, with Pomegranates, Parlours. Nov. 2, Vaudeville Mews.
- Electric Six. March 31, Vaudeville Mews.
- Pentagram. Jan. 26, Vaudeville Mews.
- YellowFever, with Coyote Slingshot, the Seed of Something. July 19, Vaudeville Mews.
- Pearly Gate Music, with Love Songs for Lonely Monsters, Land of Blood and Sunshine, Seed of Something. June 9, Vaudeville Mews.
- Morning Benders. April 9, 2010.
- Light Pollution. March 10, Vaudeville Mews.
- Abstract Rude, with Musab, Gadema, Young Tripp. July 11, Vaudeville Mews.
- Joan of Arc. Oct. 28, Vaudeville Mews.
- Dum Dum Girls. April 12, Vaudeville Mews.

(alphabetically by label... definitely missing stuff, especially the local jam bands, etc., so please let me know!)

Christopher the Conquered: Conquered in the Dark DVD [self-released]
Golden Veins: Singles Club [self-released]
Samuel Locke Ward: Barely Regal Beagles [self-released]
Pretty Girl Hate Machine: Pretty Girl Hate Machine [self-released]
Seedlings: For the Sun [self-released]
Dustin Smith: Burgess EP [self-released]
So Much Fun: Moonraker [self-released]
Unknown Component: The Infinite Definitive [self-released]
Cleo's Apartmentforthcoming release [unknown]
The Poison Control Center: Sad Sour Future (Afternoon)
Canby: The Rat (Aqui Estamos)
Cashes Rivers: Cashes Rivers (Aqui Estamos)
Parlours: Parlours EP (Aqui Estamos)
Maxilla Blue: Vol. 2 (Central Standard)
Samuel Locke Ward and the Boo Hoos: From the Privilege of the Grave (Grotto)
Wrestling With Wolves: forthcoming release (Market of the Beast)
Crystal City: Crystal City (Sleep on the Floor)
Distant Trains: Congratulations on Your Suicide (Sleep on the Floor)
You Are Home: Funzzz (Sleep on the Floor)
Strong Like Bear: Seeking Ghosts EP (Sleep on the Floor)
Coyote Slingshot: First Word of Evil Omens - Vitum (Super Secret)
Christopher the Conquered: I Guess That's What We're Dying For / You're Gonna Glow in the Dark cassette reissues (Sweat Power)
Maid Marian / Tall Too: Split EP cassette (Sweat Power)
Mumford's: Eyes cassette (Sweat Power)
Skyscraper (formerly Tall Too): Germany cassette (Sweat Power)
Valley Tongues: cassette (Sweat Power)
Rhonda Is a Dead Bitch: Laos EP (Troposphere)

Come on now, don't leave me hangin'.


  1. Marc,
    My head is still reeling from the whole problem of lists. That said, I'm humored (and well maybe signaling) that you included the CtC DVD as a venerable release to check out. I'm glad you enjoyed. Now I've got like 103 albums to stea...check out.

  2. Maid Marian/Tall Too Split EP Tape (Sweat Power)

    Valley Tongues Tape (Sweat Power)

    Skyscraper (formerly Tall Too) Germany Tape (Sweat Power - this tape MIGHT still make it out in 2010)

    I apologize for name dropping my own/my sister's band. Just trying to help with the list.

  3. Hey Trey,

    Please don't apologize! The local releases list was just supposed to be a list of stuff that came to my attention this year, not a best of, so I will add all of that. Definitely want to get Maid Marian on there-- saw her a couple of times this year, not sure whether or not I remembered to mention those in the live shows list. (I actually remember once thinking I wanted to buy a tape, but they must've been sold out already.)

    Thank you for reading/posting!

  4. Also, in case anyone is wondering about a placement on that live shows list... the first three songs of the Black Eyed Peas set were awesome!

  5. Dan asked the members of Why Make Clocks last year, for fun, to each come up with our top 10 albums of 2009. Will never came up with one, but trying to come up with mine brought a lot of these problems to my mind as well.

    An even bigger problem I see, is that there are literally thousands of albums out in any given year that I never hear, any one of which might knock me on my ass. Which few albums I actually hear, let alone listen to enough times to be able to say something about, let alone buy, in any given year, is mostly a matter of whim and chance. Halcyon Digest might be one of my favorite albums of the year too if I'd managed to listen to it more than once. The one time I heard it (on Spinner I think) I I know enjoyed it, but that's about all I can remember.

    To take something as subjective as music and try to fit it into a quantitative ordering system kind of seems intuitively wrong. I think the top-n list is a holdover from the pre-internet monoculture and the charts kept by big business music. I think that these days the music fan has far more records come to their attention than in any part of the 20th century. Besides that, I think that just seeing an artist name and title that I've never or barely heard of on some list, regardless of what position in the list it sits at, tells me absolutely nothing about the music itself, gives me no idea whether it's something I might want to check out.

    I came up with an idea that for my year-end thing at centipedefarm.com, instead of a top-n list I'm just going to pick a few interesting albums from the year, in no particular order, and write a little bit about what's cool about them. Whether I manage to find the time remains to be seen. It's taken me since August to write my article about Samuel Locke-Ward's "Barely Regal Beagles."

  6. Yeah, totally hear you there. Why Make Clocks didn't put out anything new this year, did you? I'd write more about why I like each of these albums but I'll probably do that (more helpfully, with actual editing!) in other venues, at least for some of these... figured I'd get what information I can out there and people can use it as they will.

  7. I should add, in general I think listening to music in terms of what is "better" than something else is exactly the wrong attitude. If you're looking to be moved, you need at some point to suspend the part of you that reckons the value of everything and just accept the music as gift. But in practice, people really do like recommendations of what music they might enjoy, me included, and number ratings and numerical lists seem to be an ever-popular and useful way of providing those recommendations. A list of the 100 "best" anythings from a given time period is inherently absurd-- just as the more certain math gets, the further removed it is from reality, according to that Einstein quote in my post-- but that doesn't mean it can't still serve some purpose.

  8. Also: I screwed up. "Call Your Girlfriend" is definitely better than "Dancing On My Own." Such a great, great song. Equally gorgeous production, a couple more layers emotionally, a devastating melody (I especially like when it goes up for the "only way her heart will mend" section). Kills me.

  9. I wish The Church's "Untitled 23" would had come out this year, instead of last year with my not having heard it yet, so I'd have an excuse to proclaim how much I am enjoying it right at this moment. :D

  10. Proclaim away! I'll check it out. Listening to a Dwight Yoakam greatest hits record right now I picked up at Zzz on Friday because I liked the title and love his voice but don't know his stuff that well. Not as good as the Ray Charles record I picked up the same day and was listening to previously, but still fun stuff, gorgeous country vocals. I went in there to check out the Black Friday specials, but couldn't resist peeking at the used vinyl...

  11. If you're still looking for some good Iowa music, I just compiled my top ten Iowa (City) releases of 2010: http://cornfedcritic.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/best-of-2010-iowa-releases/