Friday, December 5, 2008

provisional best of 2008 + conceptual framework

Soon after I finished the last post, I started trying to work out a top 10 overall list... which extended itself somewhat into becoming a top 12. And in fact, I'm quite happy with it. I'm saying 'provisional' mostly because I haven't worked out a mix for it yet, or written the full selection up (again), and not because I really expect any change to it - just allowing for some dramatic, unexpected change in the interim. Here it is, with further explanation and rationale below:

1. Shooting at Unarmed Men - Triptych

2. Ham Sandwich - Carry the Meek

3. ...Who Calls So Loud - ...Who Calls So Loud (2x10")

4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

5. Grails - Doomsdayer's Holiday

6. Human Bell - Human Bell

7. Cold War Kids - Loyalty to Loyalty

8. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

9. Chequerboard - Penny Black

10. So Cow - I'm Siding With My Captors

11. Foals - Antidotes

12. Envy/Jesu - Split EP


I was motivated into putting up this list now by this rather interesting post on Pretty Goes with Pretty about the nature of year-end lists. It's framed around the notion of trust, as in, what can we take from either professional or amateur blogger lists as to the quality of their year-end selections? For my part, I don't think I really expect anyone to trust me - but to consider my choices on merit and with a bit of imagination. Obviously, it's a personal best-of list, and it's not trying to make any objective statement about the the very best albums released anywhere. Everybody's list, in its exact formation, and ideally in its strongest conclusions, is and should be unique, even idiosyncratic. At the same time, for it to have any usefulness, a list should connect in some ways to other people's experience of music this year; it should be representative, as it were, of the cultural 'zeitgeist'.

With that in mind, and quite separate from the individual justifications for albums, which will follow later in the month with a full mix and artwork, this is an attempt to create some clarity about this list. To start with, I broke it down by category, so each place on the list is assigned to a particular genre or origin, with most categories appearing twice (I'll list the exact categories in the full post). Beyond that, the overall ordering of the list is fairly loose, a general 'feel' of what is the very best and what comes closely behind. In fact, completely disregard the ordering of the bottom six - it's irrelevant in comparison with the top of the list.

If that's the fairest way to do a list, instead of tying oneself up with strict ranking and comparing vastly different albums, the question remains of where exactly the judgement of quality lies. As the PGwP posts says: "It seems to be assumed by all readers that somewhere on any given top ten list, a gap must exist between the truly outstanding and the merely good. The question is, where is that gap? No one’s list includes that important detail, hence no one’s list is trustworthy. Add to that one's personal knowledge of how few of 07 picks still get regular play around the house. Surely the same will happen with these 08 releases." In answer to the first part, the top six albums are what counts for 'great' in my book for 2008, and the lower half dozen are merely 'very good' - by comparison. For the second part, I've included at the bottom of the post last year's best-of list (taken from a much smaller pool of listened-to albums, by the way) for comparison. I think all the picks stand up, and even for those albums which I may not have listened to that often since, I still remember why I chose them in the first place.

The second issue I'm able to fairly conclusively address is that of pool or sample size, or that "we have no reference point: okay, you’ve got a top ten—how many albums did you actually hear? How can I possibly know how discerning you’re being? Shit, you’ve got a top fifty—are you just ranking every album you bought? How can I possibly know how discerning you're being?". In the previous post, there's a longlist of about thirty/thirty-five albums, which is the sum of albums that I've seriously considered this year. Nearly all of them have been discussed in previous 'Best of 2008' posts; and to trim them down to a category-based top 12 is largely to create a lot of fully deserving 'runners-up' (e.g. Mogwai, Sinaloa, Zomes, Bats, Fight Like Apes - that last largely because half the tunes appeared twice in the 2007 list). Below I've shown which picks came from which stage of the year.

- distribution of list through previous 'Best of 2008' posts:

#s 1, 2, 6, 9 and 11 from Year End April; #s 3, 4 and 10 from Year End August (pts. 1 and 3); # 5, 7, 8 from Year End November; # 12 sort of fell through the cracks, though I did post on it here and here.

- equivalent list for 2007:

1. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond

2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

3. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings

4. The For Carnation - Promised Works (reissue/collection)

5. Fight Like Apes - David Carradine is a Bounty Hunter Whose Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch ('Do You Karate?' EP)

6. Fight Like Apes - How Am I Supposed to Kill You When You Have All the Guns? ('Jake Summers' EP)

7. Envy - Abyssal

8*. Christian Scott - Anthem ('21st century bebop')

9*. Battles - Mirrored

10*. Japancakes - Loveless (MBV cover/tribute album)

* addendum


josephlovesit said...

Interesting post, taking your last post a step further. In terms of trusting someone else's opinion, it's important to take it within the context of their previous output. Basically like, I interpret the list within the greater context of Hardcore for Nerds as a whole, if that makes sense. So within that context, I can assume how the albums on the list may or may not apply to my tastes.

I look forward to seeing the finished product.

gabbagabbahey said...

hmmm... tough one. sometimes I'm not sure I know what the intended 'context' of Hardcore for Nerds is better than anyone else. but apart from that, I take your point. it also partially explains why I wanted to contextualise my list through the different stages throughout the year - so there shouldn't be anything in the final cut that you can't check and see what I said about it already.

for example, I found I settled on most of my top entries by halfway through the year, and the sentiments in this post pretty closely express what I'd say about those albums now.

half (the better half) of the finished is on its way shortly.