[Hype Hype Hooray] The Perfect Storm That Created Scattered Year-End Lists

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

By now everybody (who MATTERS) has released an annual list telling us what they think are the very best albums of the year (we did it too! Have a look, won’t you?). And while 2008 was full of bitching about how terrible the selection was, and 2009 was full of bitching about whether or not Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was really THAT good, 2010 found the usual bitching commenters surprisingly mum (for the most part).

The reason is that no matter what album to which you tirelessly devoted yourself this year, odds are it’s on somebody’s list. Let’s face it, it was a fantastic year for music. When I had to pick my own best of the year it took a (much whittled-down) 23-hour playlist to even begin to rank all the ridiculously fantastic albums.

To see just how many, I looked at the top 10 lists from three blogs (Pitchfork, Gorilla vs. Bear, and Stereogum), three magazines (Rolling Stone, NME and TIME) and one list generated by NPR listeners. What I found was a total of 38 different artists in the seven lists. If that doesn’t seem like a lot, then you haven’t been reading top 10 lists long enough. Even though there are always discrepancies between critics, there is usually a solid group of albums on which everybody can agree. The only common threads in these lists were Kanye West, LCD Soundsystem and Beach House. And those three didn’t even make it onto all seven lists.

Although a new era of technology has brought about easier access to more music, a lot of these top albums came from veteran power houses like Robert Plant, Eminem, Sufjan Stevens and The Black Keys. Newer big names like Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Joanna Newsom and Girls also came to the table alongside rookies Sleigh Bells, Zola Jesus, Shabazz Palaces and James Blake. So is this indicative of some kind of new trend where there is just too much good music and too many opinions? Or was 2010 JUST. THAT. GOOD?

Well I think one should look not just at the names on the albums, but also at the kinds of albums those names are producing. Robert Plant made a rootsy, folk album (a far cry from the stomping blues rock of Led Zeppelin), Sufjan Stevens gave up his soft acoustic ballads for a grandiose electronic album, and America’s sweetheart Kanye West buckled down and made the best album of his career (and one of the best albums in the current era of hip hop).

This year we didn’t just see blockbuster artists, we saw blockbuster artists taking chances. It’s almost as if the experimental-heavy 2009 set the big guys up for the spike. So what we ended up with was not just the creative fare from the new kids, but also creative fare from the old kids. No music critic can help but salivate at the near-perfect storm created over the past year. And with so much good music creating so much critic saliva, we end up with a grab bag of year-end lists.

I’m cool with the music industry becoming a place of creativity rather than a place of filth and greed, but I’m not cool with having to listen to 23-hour long playlists and salivating all over the place every year. So, hey musicians? Let’s tone it down in 2011, ok?

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