Why I’m unhappy with my top ten list and why I’m doing it anyway

And with that as an inspiring title, what else could go wrong…

Slightly more seriously — so, for the first time in some years, I find myself slightly inclined to do something that I had half thought I’d not do again, namely create a top ten list for the usual end of year this and that. It’s not going to appear today, it’ll slowly but surely work itself out over the next two weeks in the middle of everything else going on with the run-up to the holidays. Which surprises me more than a little but hey, what’s wrong with a little writing challenge?

But let me address the unhappiness first. I’m not unhappy I’m doing the list — for all my protestations I wasn’t ever going to be surprised if I went back to the tried and true to a degree, albeit in a way that makes sense to me. Thus, it’s not going to be ranked, it’ll be biased towards those albums I kept listening to over and again over these past twelve months, it’s not meant to be some sort of canonical ranking, it contains both patently ‘obvious’ choices by most degrees and utter ‘wait, why?’ choices by a similar token. It’s out to please myself, after all, and I don’t have to justify it, I just have to explain it.

But I don’t like the list, nonetheless. For a variety of reasons:

* It smacks of comfort. Too much tried and true, however much the tried and true actually works for me. I tend to mistrust an ossified musical taste on the one hand; on the other, I also recognize where my mind and taste tends to go when it comes to listening for pleasure. It results in a skewed sense of the critical self on a professional self, it limits me when it comes to all the listening I could do. I don’t wish I didn’t like it but I almost wish I didn’t like it all so much as I did. Largely because:

* It leaves out so much. I find myself thinking “So…no metal. No hip-hop. No country, even though that’s what you’ve heard quite a bit of this year thanks to your girlfriend. No straight up pop per se. Pretty white list you’ve also got going there, pal. There’s not even much in the way of psyched-out zone-drone stuff, still your ultimate sonic bread and butter. Hell, friends and acquaintances of yours have been releasing so much this year that’s earned so much in the way of praise in that field — while also taking into account a lot of those things you also just thought about — and your reaction has been almost minimal. What the hell have you been doing this year, anyway?” Thinking on which:

* My attention really has been elsewhere. To a large if not complete degree but hey, c’mon, I stopped a massive project I was in the middle of last year because I was suffering from high blood pressure (really — still am, but it’s now happily under control), I moved and more importantly moved in with someone for the first time ever beyond your basic roommate situation — those two things alone would explain why the blog essentially went dormant. On the music front in turn, I practically seized up for days at a time when it came to plowing through all forms of even just promo mail, I disappeared under invitations to listen to streams and check out new videos and hey here’s a new exclusive this and that and oh my god did you hear this and oh by the way SPOTIFY LISTEN TO EVERYTHING NOW OR PERISH, and so as per usual I dully regarded the explosion of coverage and talk in everything and anything musical with a sense of forlorn resignation and stepping back. Hardly a new feeling — and in his final Poptimist column today Tom Ewing suggests a possibly crucial way to look at it with his larger cultural observation summed up here: “Perhaps nanoculture is best understood as the finest version yet of the web as a game-like experience, in which flow can be achieved but so can boredom, relaxation, control, or any other of Csikszentmihalyi’s states of mind.” Anyway, I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that many of my writer friends seem to be able to take in and write and do a lot more with a lot more listening than I can ever manage so I’m not inclined to fully engage on that front.

So, that all said, why the list?

Oh, an itch that always has to be scratched one way or another, I suppose. I talk about music, it’s what I’ve done and will do, however haphazardly or randomly. I like talking about it, and this time around I’ve found that scratch needs to be more than just a general reflection on things via a Pazz and Jop ballot or private rumblings with friends. Combine that with what I guess is a bit of a higher writing profile now, a bit, and there’s a sense of wanting to show off what I’ve got to hand, whatever it might be. But ultimately, in the way that personal listening pleasure has its impact and leaves its traces, if there’s something that engaged me, then I want to consider it in detail, and if my enthusiasm doesn’t convert anyone then at least it can explain myself, just a touch.

I already have a general idea of how I’m going to do this day by day — starting Monday, and running one a day each weekday through the 23rd, when I head home for the holidays themselves — but not necessarily how I’m going to talk about each entry, or what the focus or explanation will be. In any event, stay tuned, and more will be forthcoming.

Posted in Life, Music. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Why I’m unhappy with my top ten list and why I’m doing it anyway”

  1. Austin Says:

    You are too critical of yourself, Ned.

    I often have similar evaluations of my own listening habits and thought processes in regards to music (especially since my divorce earlier this year and subsequent bachelor life), but you know what?

    I ultimately have come to know myself pretty well as far as what I like musically (the rest of me is a complete mystery to myself, obviously) and I have just come to accept that I am set in my ways by this point. I know it’s not necessarily a good thing to resign to one’s fate and just accept the way of the world, but who am I to dictate why I do or don’t like the Black Keys?

    They sound boring to me.

    So does Lil’ Wayne.

    And Rhianna.

    (and whoever else)

    But, hey, that new Kate Bush album where she manages to stretch seven songs out to over an hour with just a little more than a bass player, a drummer, a piano, her own voice and an Elton John cameo? That’s some fine, exciting listening.

    Are lists tedious? I don’t think so. I rather enjoy them, actually.

    Don’t fight your inner music nerd.

    Many of us grew up and cut our music nerd teeth on your inner music nerd’s outpouring of text adulation of whatever band.

    I look forward to your list with eager anticipation.

    Sidebar: nice to have you back blogging.

    ~Austin


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