Smile Politely

Our Year in Lists

It’s that time of year again — the end of it. With only a couple weeks left until 2009 takes over, there’s nothing left to do but reflect on the year that was. Oh, and to take whatever happened in the past 11-plus months and compile it all in various numbered lists.

Be it the best dressed or biggest news items of ‘08, there is a list or Yahoo! News photo slide show available to capture it. The most prevalent, and often most discussed, of these rankings is the “Best Albums” list. Publications’ album lists are generally less about what albums were actually the best and more about keeping an image (Rolling Stone: Did we include something somehow connected to Bob Dylan?) or trying to be “with it” (Spin: Did we include overrated and mildly edgy artists such as Deerhunter and Fucked Up in the top ten?). They’re all about style over substance.

A whole lot of time and thought goes into the creation of these lists. That said, shouldn’t someone reward all that hard work? Shouldn’t the best lists out there be noted for their awesome ranking of albums? The answer is yes, and here is the **“Best ‘Best Albums of 2008’ Lists of 2008 List.”**

There are a couple things to note before the list of all lists is revealed. First, not all lists have been released. Notably, Pitchfork has yet to show us theirs, but list makers don’t wait for every album to come out. I should do the same. Second, this “best of” list has nothing to do with my personal opinions regarding the album choices made in the judged lists. Rather, it is an objective analysis to determine who has truly shown exemplary work in the art of list-making. Now feast your eyes on the top seven:

7. Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone’s top 50 is typical for the beyond irrelevant music rag. Honestly, it’s a tad derivative of their past work, but solid regardless. The list is peppered with mediocre mainstream releases from the likes of Duffy and Taylor Swift. Guns N’ Roses gets an obligatory nod. For some reason, Bob Dylan’s latest in the bootleg series is their number two album of the year.

What makes this list so noteworthy is the placement of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It comes in at a respectable 42, just two places behind A Little Bit Longer by The Jonas Brothers. I congratulate RS, who has a history of favoring graying icons ( Jackson Browne at number 22? C’mon!) for placing the heartthrobs two spots higher than the rock legends. Maybe next year they’ll place a Dylan live reissue outside the top ten.

6. NME

NME provides us with a super British list complete with the United Kingdom’s favorite American rock group Kings of Leon’s Only by the Night coming it at number nine. MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular takes the number one spot. Dear Science by TV on the Radio is number two, begging the question whether NME inserted MGMT’s mediocre release to avoid following the trend of naming TVOTR’s latest the best of ‘08. The rest of the list is peppered with new wave-ish groups and English stuff us people in the States don’t really care for. We’ve grown accustomed to the ways of NME and, once again, it hasn’t failed us.

5. Chicago Tribune

With Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak appearing in the twelve-spot and Rhymefest’s Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror, The Michael Jackson Dedication Album coming in at eight, music critic Greg Kot asserts his Chicago bias. Putting Nick Cave’s Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! at number one, Kot asserts his desire for people to see him as a bad ass.

4. Stephen King (for Entertainment Weekly)

This list’s alternate title is “I’m Stephen King and I’m an Old Man.”

3. Pop Matters

Pop Matters has yet to release it’s comprehensive “Best Albums,” but what they’re doing now is really interesting. They have put out mini-lists including “Best Electronic(a) Albums of 2008,” “The Best Records of 2008 by Women 45 and Older,” and “The Best Indie Pop of 2008,” which features Parasol’s BeaujolaisLove at Thirty. The site has put up some cool and well-researched articles on this past year of music.

2. Paste

If you’ve seen this list, you know exactly why this is so high on my list. They truly captured the spirit of list making. It was well-crafted. It kept it safe by inserting Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver releases in the top 10, but then blew everyone away with their number one — She & Him’s Volume One. A totally illogical pick, the album sounds like a sub-mediocre teenage songwriter won a contest to have an accomplished musician arrange and produce her songs. Zoey Deschanel (of Elf and The Happening fame) and M. Ward’s collaboration is nothing but mediocre — something expected when a musical giant’s talent is canceled out by an actress’ inexperience. Paste knew this. The pick is so out of line from the rest of their list. It was undoubtedly added as an afterthought to get a little buzz. A bold move that paid off. Good job Paste.

1. Metacritic

Metacritic is so cold and calculating. It takes what every critic has said so eloquently and turns it into an equation. The result is highly scientific and generally accurate of what was truly the best-loved albums of the year. This time around, however, Metacritic has truly outdone itself. In one sense, it makes me feel good by featuring some of my personal favorites in its top 30 (I knew other people like Los Campesinos!). In another, it managed to somehow have a surprising number one pick. The year’s best-reviewed album, according to the site, is one that has not appeared on a single list I’ve found. Welcome To Mali by Amadou & Mariam is their top choice.

But then why the disparity between what the critics actually said and their subsequent lists? There are two explanations:

1.) Critics felt obligated to give the album a rave review because of their lack of knowledge in the ways of Afro-pop as well as the duo’s interesting back story (they met in a school for the blind).

2.) Critics, and their employers, don’t write lists based on quality at all.

Either way, Metacritic takes the cake for best list of the year, because it totally undermines and reconceptualizes the idea of the year end list. Just as Sgt. Pepper blew people’s minds and changed what an album could be, Metacritic’s work this year has truly demonstrated the social and artistic weight a year end list can have.

Be sure to check back next week for Smile Politely’s own “Best Albums of 2008” list(s).

Related Articles