Year End Comments: 2009

This is where my year-end poll-related comments will eventually appear, once I get around to writing them. Past year's comments have sometimes been rather extensive (sometimes not): 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002.

The Ballot

Blog post on Dec. 23, 2009:

This is always a snapshot, but due Dec. 24, I decided to go ahead and send in what I had a wee bit early. Only change due to recent listening was that Wainwright cracked the list -- he may eventually rise a bit higher. Brooke is a 2008 release, but got no mentions in my 2008 meta list (unlike 1508 other new releases), so I don't feel bad about having missed it back then. I usually don't put reissues on this ballot, but made an exception for Franco. For some reason I was feeling that the list would be weak on top, although at ten deep that's hardly ever a problem. What is a problem is spending enough time with with records to let them really sink in. I took Lily Allen with me on every trip I made this year, and got to love every song. Can't really say that for the rest of the list -- except for Leonard Cohen, where I already knew every song.

  1. Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (Capitol) 18
  2. Franco: Francophonic, Vol. 2 (Sterns Africa, 2CD) 12
  3. Leonard Cohen: Live in London (Columbia, 2CD) 10
  4. Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel: Willie and the Wheel (Bismeaux) 10
  5. Matthew Shipp: Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear) 10
  6. Oumou Sangare: Seya (World Circuit/Nonesuch) 8
  7. Jonatha Brooke: The Works (BDR -08) 8
  8. K'naan: Troubadour (A&M/Octone) 8
  9. The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity) 8
  10. Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (161, 2CD) 8

Only two jazz records, down from the last few years. Only one rap record, also down. Three African is a up, but counts the rapper (who, by the way, topped last year's ballot). I count Brooke and Wainwright as folk, which hardly ever appears this high, although one country album is about the norm. I file Allen and Cohen under rock, which won't much impress the rockists. I like guitar bands fine, but I'm rarely impressed enough with one to budget a ballot slot for one. (Franco may have initially bumped Yeah Yeah Yeahs out of the bubble spot, but in the end I had several options.)

My A-list is very much in flux right now. It currently numbers 101 records (excluding Franco), of which 55 are jazz, 46 something else. Of those, 23 owe their grades to fleeting acquaintances on Rhapsody, and they tend to be bunched near the bottom of the list, including a disproportionate share ofthe rock, rap, and country. (Another dozen were first heard on Rhapsody then begged or bought.) Since 2006, A-lists have run 117, 108, and 101 records long (including 9, 8, and 16 late adds), so this year's is similar -- fewer full-A records at the top, a bit more A- than usual.

I didn't do a songs ballot. I don't keep track of songs, don't really think of music in that way, and it seems like a bad time to try to hack something together. Website is a little out of sync right now, with the year-end list research both volatile and prone to breakage. The research suggests that the only record on my ballot with much chance of finishing in the top 40 is Lily Allen, somewhere around 20. K'naan and Cohen are outside shots, probably closer to 60 than 40. Nelson, Wainwright, and Sangare could finish in the top 100, but I wouldn't bet much on it. Brooke is the one most likely to be on nobody else's ballot, followed by the Fully Celebrated (probably on 2-3 ballots). Glenn McDonald has a scheme for processing Pazz & Jop data to show "critic similarity" -- the inverse of this ranking scheme shows obscurantism. I usually wind up about 3/4 down the list, and that's what I expect here: well out of the critical mainstream, but not totally in my own little world. I think that's about right.

Part of an email submitted on Dec. 24, 2009:

My singles or songs ballot was (is) empty. Didn't see any way to do that given that everything I listen to is at the granularity of albums. A more complete accounting of my year-end list, numbering 101 A- or better albums, is here

A file with some research about what other year-end lists are concluding is here.

This is skewed somewhat toward personal interests (jazz, hip-hop, country, world) which doesn't keep it from being dominated by so-called alt-rock. Color coding provides an indication of what I've checked out; alternatively, what I haven't gotten to.

Both files are ongoing projects, although meta will be abandoned in a couple of weeks, and y2009 will officially close in 12 months, with a "frozen" copy squirreled away in a week or two. The files help make my working methods more transparent, and provide some additional data points. When I see a list, I always wonder what else the person did (or didn't) listen to, how much of which genres they listened to, how they compare on my own chosen records.

There's also something to be said for deepening the list. When I ran a similar poll, I invited voters to list as many records as they wanted: I scored 11-20 at 3 points, 21-30 at 2 points, 31-infinity at 1 point. Didn't make a lot of point difference at the top, but it provided a lot more info about each voter.

One thing you can't tell from the above is that there are any alt-rock bands at all that I liked -- Yeah Yeah Yeahs just missed the list, followed by Metric, Sonic Youth, Glasvegas, Art Brut, An Horse, Dead Weather, Hold Steady, Tegan and Sara -- nor how much I disliked bands like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors. Hip-hop list extends to Ghostface Killah, Serengeti, Mos Def, Lady Sovereign, Mr. Lif. Country[-ish] to Miranda Lambert, Patterson Hood, Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, Todd Snider, Buddy & Julie Miller, John Anderson. World to Mulatu Astatke, Staff Benda Bilili, Amadou & Mariam, Syran Mbenza, Bela Fleck, Ersatzmusika, Tinariwen, Boban i Markovic Orkestar. And then there's Black Eyed Peas, Mika, Neil Young, Veda Hille, Marianne Faithfull, Shakira, Rhett Miller, Bob Dylan. And, of course, a whole lotta jazz. My A-list ran to 100 records this year, which is about where it's averaged since I started Jazz CG -- jazz is a bit more than 50% of the list, but it's more than 80% of all the records I've heard. No doubt the jazz load skews my list, taking time and opportunity from everything else. Similar depth in other genres of interest would shift the balance back slightly -- I used to get a lot more country music than I do now, and would regularly find 2-4 albums per year that nobody wrote about. The genre with the most list expansion potential is electronica, something I rather like but have never found any useful critical guidance on. So, yeah, my own lists feel incomplete and unauthoritative, limited by time and access and experience. Same goes for everyone else. Still, it would be nice to measure that, and helpful to figure out who might be useful guidance, and who not.