I feel bad for albums that get released at the end of a year. Critics often have deadlines as early as November to make up their collective minds about which handful of records deserve to be dispersed interchangeably between growing piles of increasingly bloated “best of the year” lists; understandably things get overlooked ignored and lost in a void between the holiday rush and the scrambling to proclaim “first!” on the albums of a new year. The rush to summarize and canonize so quickly is utterly perverse especially as a listener — I suppose proclaiming one’s favourite albums every December creates a snapshot of a time and place but music changes over time; many of the most interesting albums of any year may not even surface until several months or years after the media has condensed a year’s worth of art into a list of arbitrary consumptive stasis ready to be filed away.
Who hasn’t changed their favourite album over time? My favourite record at 10 years old was side B of Michael Jackson’s Thriller ; now in my 20s assuredly my favourite album is not Thriller . Which records from 2009 do I still actually listen to? Or 1992? Do these questions even matter when I’m listening to whatever I choose to whether it’s Pavement or post-neo-vapour-stepwave?
Let’s take the December 1991 issue of Spin Magazine: 20 Best Albums of the Year. The table of contents states “If you don’t like our list you know nothing.” Spin ’s Top 20 albums of 1991 list would be laughed at today as something tells me that Nirvana’s Nevermind (#3) revealed itself to be just a touch more important than Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque (#1) or R.E.M.’s Out of Time (#2) even if Nevermind also happens to be totally unlistenable today. Perhaps more tellingly however is that nowhere on the list are My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Slint’s Spiderland both albums that have since garnered considerable critical acclaim influence and historical relevance. If someone told me I knew nothing because I thought Loveless and Spiderland were more important than Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart of the Soul and of the Cross well….
My point here is that these lists may capture a moment in time but the rush to assign importance to albums is myopic. I’d even argue that this rush to canonize cheapens music across the board dismissing it as a product to be consumed immediately instead of as something to reconsider and revisit over time. When we look back at the best records of whichever past year we have the perpetually changing effects of history and extra time to help make the “classics” (so to speak) more readily apparent; today it is mostly speculation and a snapshot of musical consumption at the end of a year much like Spin ’s list from 1991. Why the rush to stasis?