Well, it’s December. Snow is falling, bells are jingling, spruce trees are being lovingly decorated with shimmering coils of tinsel. It can all mean only one thing: it’s end-of-year list season. But this year, in this holy-list of times, we’re doing something truly blasphemous — we’re not making one.
Bloggers typically spend December tallying and arranging their favorites of the past year’s albums into neat little lists. It’s a time-honored tradition, stretching all the way back to the days when a once-influential internet web site called The Pitchforks would unveil its annual screed to the collective oohs and aahs of their devoted following, and people still actually bought some of the albums. (Well, it might have started before that, but who can remember anything prior to 1995?) These lists would be pored over and discussed at length in bars and record stores, pitting brother against brother in drunken, heated debates over whether Wolf Parade should place higher than Sea Wolf.
Nowadays, just about every music-themed site large and small publishes its own best-of list, painstakingly selecting only the finest releases for inclusion, determined not to end up on the wrong side of history. It’s like you’re not a real music site unless you publish your own obligatory album rankings. (And it’s not just year-end lists: Stereogum seems to publish an unnecessary, ill-conceived list every other day.) To say the internet is saturated with best-of lists would be an understatement, and you know what? Nobody needs another one.
Most year-end lists have been published already, and you’ve probably spent 30-60 seconds glancing at each one (at least, the ones you bothered to even click on). Neither you nor anybody else in the world really cares what the 47th-best album of the year was, so you probably skipped ahead to the top 10 or 20. And once you got there, you probably just looked at the numbers or skimmed it to see if your own favorite albums made the cut. If they did, you felt validated. If they didn’t, well, fuck that Kanye guy.
And you know something? It’s a lot of work to make those lists. Even at a small operation like Owl and Bear, countless hours go into writing each album summary, bugging writers for their submissions, conducting votes to determine the ever-important ordering, and formatting the whole thing with album art, SoundCloud embeds, and whatever else the kids like nowadays.
And once all the work is done, you have a list that looks like everyone else’s. Maybe our list includes one or two token unknowns or wild cards, but you can ignore those. And here’s the thing: every list is subjective. There is no absolute “best” album in this or any other year. No matter how scientific we or anyone else tries to be, it just amounts to one more opinion in a world full of assholes — or however that expression goes.
Why should someone else’s list matter to you? No one listens to indie music socially anymore. It’s become a solitary act you do alone in your room or through a pair of earbuds. And everybody’s listening to different stuff. It’s not like 1964, when everyone was listening to The Beatles (who?), or 1992, when everyone was listening to Nirvana (I think that’s the guy from Bush’s first band). And hey, that’s fine, but it does make the concept of a year-end list feel a little more pointless. Any given list just reflects the tastes of one person or one group, and everyone else is off having a different experience.
All that’s just a long-winded way to say we’re not doing a best albums list this year. Chances are you don’t care, but if you do find yourself going though withdrawal, take comfort in knowing there are literally thousands of other lists you could go look at right now. And if a year-end list does turn you on to a great band you’ve never heard of, fantastic. But don’t substitute other people’s opinions for your own, and keep on enjoying the stuff you already like. Besides, no matter how many sites list Arcade Fire’s Reflektor near the top, you know in your heart it’s really just a big fucking disco turd.
So that’s our present to you: no best-of list. You’re welcome, America, and we’ll see you in 2014.
Okay fine, here it is…
1) The National – Trouble Will Find Me
2) Califone – Stitches
3) Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – We the Common
4) Josh Ritter – The Beast in its Tracks
5) Brokeback – Brokeback and the Black Rock
6) Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
7) Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
8) The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still
9) Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
10) Kanye West – Yeezus
11) Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
12) Man Man – On Oni Pond
13) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
14) Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside – Untamed Beast
15) Shannon and the Clams – Dreams in the Rat House
San Diego Album of the Year: Tide Pools – Grief is a Wilderness