Saturday 30 December 2017

Why Most End Of Year Album Lists Are A Lie & Other Collected Geeky List Thoughts

By now you’re probably fed up of end of year album lists, so if you’re reading this, thank you for giving this post the attention. My full end of year list comes out tomorrow.

As regular readers will know, I’m a sucker for these lists and I spend way too much time thinking about them and reading / listening to others. Here’s a summary of the thoughts that sit behind the Breaking More Waves 2017 selection. Some of these thoughts are the same as other years, others are different or expanded. 

1. The Breaking More Waves’ albums of the year list isn’t just a list – it’s a series of blog posts, each one covering one album. There'll be a full summary list after the posts are all published.

2. An end of year list published in November isn’t an end of year list. It’s a January to November list. In fact any end of year list published before the end of the year is a lie. Not only are plenty of records released in December, but there’s a whole month of listening that you’ve missed out on, albeit there's an argument that if you only hear an album on Dec 26th and put it as your favourite of the year on the 31st that's not a very considered opinion - just an emotional rush of excitement. Thankfully I've yet to be in this position, and this year as it ends up there are no December releases on the list, although it was very close with one such record. It would have made a top 25 for sure.

3. Because of 2 above I’ve purposefully left my end of year list to the last day of the year. Then it’s as true to its title as it can be. However, for practicalities sake the blog posts that form this list are being written today in one mammoth writing session and the records to be included have been slowly forming in my head over time. Apologies for any typos in advance, the posts will be written very quickly and I'm recovering from a dose of flu! Each album featured in the list will be posted on the 31st December, starting at 9am and approximately every half hour thereafter. Or at least that's the plan. 

4. The albums will be posted from 15th to 1st. I know some people don’t like the idea of music as a competition, so apologies if you are one of those, but this is my blog not yours, and I like a league table. When I read an album of the year list I like to know what the author's real big favourites were - not just a collection of 20 or so records that they couldn’t pick between. Having said that, I'm going to slightly contradict my own beliefs now and say that I struggled this year to pick between my top 3 – each one of them could have potentially occupied the number 1 spot, but eventually I came to a decision. It was a very close call. 

5. The records I have listed / will be posting about are not ‘the best’. They’re my favourites. There’s a difference. Nobody can say something is the best, unless they have listened to every single record released this year. There’s plenty of critically acclaimed records that for one reason or another I’ve not got round to listening to, so if you were expecting to see something on this list and it’s not there, it might be because I’ve never heard it. Or maybe I just didn't like it as much as you did. For the record, I'll state now that I didn't get the fuss over the albums by Kendrick Lamar, St Vincent, SZA, Julie Byrne or The War On Drugs which seem to have cropped up on a lot of lists I've seen this year and I haven't listened to Jay-Z's or Kelela's albums. But that's fine. We're all different. 

6. I’ve chosen 15 records to post about. This is partly because of the limited time I have. Spending an average of 15-20 minutes writing each post plus 5-10 minutes formatting it and drinking copious tea / flu relief drinks means that doing this might take almost a full working day – which is as much as I can spare. Secondly, when I read other websites / people’s lists and they’re naming their 97th favourite record of the year all I can think of is that it can’t actually be particularly great then can it if it's only 97th? So, I’ve chosen 15. Last year I did 25 (the maximum) and the year before that 10 (probably the perfect number). I’d say 12 of the 15 are very enjoyable. The top 3 I think are truly great. If you haven’t heard any of my top 3 please go and listen to them. They’re fucking incredible. Each in very different ways as they're from very different genres.

7. What would be really good is once you’ve seen my whole list, if there are one or two you haven’t heard, give them a listen. That’s one of the points of this thing after all. And if you listen, do let me know if you like them or not. You’ll get extra brownie points if you tweet something like ‘”Just listened to xxxxxx after reading about it via the @BMWavesBlog end of year list. What a great / interesting / good / amazing record.” If you do I promise, for what it is worth, to share your tweets.

8. What makes something a favourite? In past years I’ve decided what a favourite is by complex spreadsheets with formulas through to counting the numbers of times I’ve played the record through to plain gut feeling – call it love if you must. This year it’s a combination of gut feeling and those which I’ve played lots since it’s been released, but there's no science behind it. 

9. There’s often a big disconnect between albums that are critically acclaimed and albums that have done well commercially. My list contains some that have been critically acclaimed, some that have done well commercially and some that have done both. It also contains some that have done neither. Make of that what you will, but please remember these are my favourite records, not anyone else’s and taste is a very personal thing.

10. Four acts that released albums that topped my past LPs of the year lists had new releases this year (The National, The Unthanks, Lane Del Rey and Oh Wonder). None of them have made my final 15, but that doesn’t mean that they are nothing but very solid records that I have enjoyed a lot.  If the list had gone to 25, they all would have featured. But someone had to miss out and as axe wielder in charge I had to make some harsh decisions. I'm particularly sorry to Oh Wonder who until today would have been at number 15, but I've had a last minute change of heart.

11. Album of the year lists are redundant. This is a thought that popped into my brain. It did so once before about 11 years ago, just before this blog started, when Myspace was in existence and I named someone's Myspace page as my favourite 'album' of the year, because of the great demos they had on it at the time. However, now we have the playlist. But, and it's a big but, for me the album still holds something special that a playlist doesn't. It's a body of work that can at its best say something way more than a bunch of songs pulled together by a curator. The top 3 albums on my list all do this. They say something about life that a playlist can't.

12. Besides providing some recommendations to you, the other reason for me doing this list is that I like documenting. By keeping a list on line I can look back in future years and see if I still agree with my choices. Looking back at my past favourite records (listed below) I'm pretty happy with those choices.

OK. Hopefully I'll see you here tomorrow at 9am for the first of my albums of the year posts. If it doesn't appear it's because this whole idea has gone stupidly wrong and I'm still trying to write the bloody things or have given up and will delete this post and pretend I never intended to do this. 

I have a piece of paper with 15 albums written on it. I'm off to go and write the posts about them now… wish me luck.

Breaking More Waves Previous Albums of the Year 2008-2016

2016 Clare Maguire – Stranger Things Have Happened
2015 Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder
2014 Young Fathers - Dead 
2013 Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
2012  Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
2011 The Unthanks – Last
2010 The National – High Violet
2009 Blue Roses – Blue Roses
2008 Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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