|I'm a fool now that it's over.|
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).