Thursday, December 11, 2014

Record of the year....

The annual parade of lists has begun. A cavalcade of opinion that naturally coincides with the end of each year and, as a happy happenstance, with the peak purchasing period for recorded music. You can blame Christmas and unimaginative people for that.

I always read the top albums of the year lists, at least those in the publications whose tastes are usually reflective of my own. The latter qualifier seems to be harder to establish every year but so far it has included looking at Q, Mojo, Rolling Stone and The Guardian.
My motivation in the past was to see how many I agreed with; lately I look to see what I’ve missed 

I am as engaged with music and have probably listened to more new things than I usually would this year but I have been moved by less of them than I’d have hoped. The lists thus far are not helping much. Naturally I’m ignoring the artists and certain genres that are outside my listening preferences even allowing for my broad tastes. I can exempt a bunch of stuff I have already heard and was ambivalent about (Alt J, Bombay Bicycle Club, et al) and ignore the swathe of similar sounding singer-songwritery types (Ben Howard, George Ezra) that have failed to move me.
I have been cross-referencing where possible and presuming that if an act makes two or more lists then it must have crossed a threshold of combined tastes and quality. Doing this and even allowing for the normal ‘qualifications’ and disclaimers forged in the cauldron of subjectivity, there are a few incongruities that are beyond my comprehension.

Mac DeMarco is one of those. Lauded by all four titles - 39 in Mojo’s top 50, 17 in Q, 11 in The Guardian’s 40 and at No.9 in Rolling Stone – he ticked the boxes of being an act I’d never heard or heard of. The notes alongside each listing suggested an artist who’d be worth my time. Unfortunately this proved to be an incorrect assumption.  All I heard was an annoying affected whine with irritating guitar tones, retro keyboard sounds and unremarkable songs. That it reminded me of a demo also made me realise that I’d heard many better demos of acts who never made it to full release much less to the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s albums of the year.
When critical opinion differs so greatly from my own I begin to doubt my taste. It’s easy to contemplate that I’ve finally fallen out of touch, to have drifted away from the mainstream. Of course I was never a populist but I’ve always believed in my ears and my ability to discern diamonds from dross. Ignoring the fads and whims, the course of popular music is remarkably ‘straight’. Listeners and buyers are conservatively conventional. The big artists and albums are unmistakably traditional, how else would you explain the success of Michael Buble?

The other great difficulty with ranking releases in this way is the vast differences in style and context between different albums. There’s no doubt that FKA Twigs has infinitely more promise than many new acts I’ve heard but is LP1 better than something quite ‘conventional’ like Beck’s Morning Phase? The two might be sonically and culturally incomparable so my view would be based on the frequency/likelihood of how often I’ll listen to each. Both Beck and The War On Drugs rated highly for me this year based on the quantity of times I have listened to those albums in their entirety.
Beck, TWOT and J Mascis were in a style comparable to Mac DeMarco which meant that the respective placings for each album – particularly in Rolling Stone’s chart – seemed incongruous to me, insulting even.

It bothers me and I only make reference to it here because, as I’ve repeatedly said, we need the arbiters more than ever. The presence of critics we trust to filter the mass is invaluable. When they get it wrong it is painful. There are gems these lists have enabled me to unearth – Angel Olsen, Flying Lotus, the na├»ve charm of Alvvays – and I’m still in the process of listening to others so it may yet turn out to be a rewarding experience. That’s what we hope for from all music.
 
Meanwhile if you missed out on pop in 2014 here's a mash-up

Featuring 25 of America’s biggest hit singles this year.

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