On Listmaking


Take a look at MetaCritic’s Top 10 Albums of 2008— supposedly a reflection of the ten best-reviewed albums of the year– and you might notice a couple of discontinuities:

  • Amadou & Mariam, Welcome to Mali
  • The Bug, London Zoo
  • Plush, Fed
  • TV on the Radio, Dear Science,
  • Shugo Tokumaru, Exit
  • Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
  • Neil Young, Sugar Mountain: Live
  • Robyn, Robyn

A few things deserve consideration here. First, notice that at least two of these albums– Plush and Robyn– were released in other parts of the world last year, but are only this year seeing an American release. And yet, another of these albums– Amadou and Mariam– is not yet released in the U.S., but will see a U.S. release in March 2009.

Meanwhile, the Bon Iver album was technically released last year, but saw a bigger, national re-release in 2008. And of course, that Neil Young album, though never released before, was technically recorded in 1969!

So you see, there appears to be some ambiguity here as to what makes an album qualify for a 2008 list. If it’s U.S. release, then the Amadou and Mariam album doesn’t belong here; it should be held over for 2009. But if it’s global release, then Bon Iver, Robyn and Plush should have made the cut for 2007, not for 2008. Likewise, if a 2008 release has to be comprised of new music, Neil Young doesn’t make the cut; but if you allow Neil Young onto the list, then you’d also have to include Bob Dylan’s latest compilation, as well as any number of box sets, compilations, and greatest hits albums.

Of course, on some level, this is just nitpicking, but I bring it up because my own list will be posted on Monday, and I wanted to clarify the rules. My list will, by and large, be based on U.S. release– so the Amadou and Mariam album, which is indeed very good, will qualify for my Best of 2009 selections, not Best of 2008. The same goes for Marianne Faithfull’s wonderful new record, which is already available in Europe but won’t be available stateside until March.

The exception to this rule is albums that will probably never see a proper U.S. release– such as The Tallest Man on Earth’s album, which American listeners can import or buy from iTunes but will probably never see at a local record shop– which is in the running for the 2008 list.

And finally, albums comprised of previously recorded or archived material– Neil Young and Bob Dylan– have already been honored in a separate category, so they won’t appear on my Best of 2008 list either, as great as they both may be.


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5 responses to “On Listmaking”

  1. Scott S says :

    And of course all the “best-of” list making is relative, right? At least I think it is. I think we’d like to think that we can all remain objective when listening to music and reviewing it. And maybe a small, small majority can. But in the end, most (like me) will take into account how the music speaks to them personally, and how it moves you (dancing not required here :) ) as a person. I’m pretty sure that none of meta-critics top 10 will land within mine, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t good or great albums. I do know that I wouldn’t want to listen to all 10 of those on repeat…for sure. Now, The Gaslight Anthem’s latest, I could listen to that on repeat, as well as several others. But that’s just based on how it speaks to me and the qualities that it has that make it a favorite or “best-of-the-year” for me. And obviously things like lyrics and arrangements can be pointed to and loved or hated, even that remains greatly subjective…unless we are talking about Nickelback, right? lol

  2. Josh Hurst says :

    Oh, I never make any claims to know the “best” albums of the year, necessarily… I always title my lists “Favorites of ’08,” as opposed to “Best of ’08.” All the albums on my list will be ones that I could defend on technical/artistic grounds, but that doesn’t mean I think of my list as being 100% objective.

  3. Gavin Breeden says :

    Well, what about Radiohead’s “In Rainbows?” I have that as my number 1 for 2007 AND 2008, is that allowed? After all, it was in record stores until January 2008…

    Help me, Hurst man.

  4. Gavin Breeden says :

    Also, did you get a chance to hear that Neil Young? Did it sway you to look upon him with more love in your heart?

  5. Josh Hurst says :

    I put In Rainbows on the 2007 list because it was easily accessible to everyone, worldwide, that year… and technically, it released in many record stores on Dec. 31st! But that album is, obviously, a bit of a special case…

    And no, I did not hear the Neil Young yet.

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