The Right Way to Do Year End Lists Is in Alphabetical Order

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The Right Way to Do Year End Lists Is in Alphabetical Order

I hate writing year-end top-ten-best-albums lists. They are short-term distractions, formalities, hate-reads, a cultural plague. An imperious culling seeking to identify the best, they are also, by necessity, full of absurdities—what criteria do you use to decide whether a record of electronic polyrhythms by Jlin is better than a postpunk one by Protomartyr?—and compromised judgment. Most people just want to know who’s at the top of it, and for the listmaker who aims to qualify as “relevant,” there is no escaping Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Rihanna, Drake.

The problem is not the list itself; it’s the numbers. Take them off and nothing is subordinate to anything else. An unnumbered list is a powerful statement that says this and this and this. Which is the rhythm of life, all of us sifting and considering while being aware that the world can’t be contained. The creative act—for the listmaker and for the reader—is to imagine a space with both Jlin and Protomartyr in it, not to determine which is “better.”

In his excellent new book, Essayism, the critic Brian Dillon (paraphrasing the avant-garde French novelist Georges Perec) writes that a great list implies “etc.” without having to say it. In its pure form, a list is something much deeper than a shortcut for consumers. There are hundreds of such lists now, in newspapers, zines, record stores, on websites, blogs, online radio stations, Twitter. And the number only grows larger every year. My advice? Read as many as you can stomach, not just one or two. The end of the year is for the lateral sweep, a second chance to discover everything we missed in the deluge of the previous 12 months.

So try Complex for hip-hop, Josh Langhoff’s NorteñoBlog for Mexican music, Matt Korvette’s Yellow Green Red for punk and minimal techno. Doom Charts for heavy stoner-rock, Resident Advisor and Fact for club music, the Quietus and Wire and the Log Journal for experimentalism. Na Mira do Groove for Brazilian music, JazzTimes for jazz, Bandcamp Daily for self-producing dynamos of all stripes. Or look at albumoftheyear.org, which aggregates dozens of year-end lists, and do your own sifting. Enjoy that lovely work. That is how, last year, I found my way to Violence Creeps’ Soul Narc, BaianaSystem’s Duas Cidades, Chino Amobi’s Airport Music for Black Folk, Jessy Lanza’s Oh No. Etc.

My top 15 albums of 2017, in alphabetical order:

Future, Hndrxx

Girlpool, Powerplant

Grace Sings Sludge, Life with Dick

Laurel Halo, Dust

Jlin, Black Origami

Kendrick Lamar, Damn.

Arto Lindsay, Cuidado Madame

Nkisi, Kill

Protomartyr, Relatives in Descent

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Async

Sampha, Process

Jay Som, Everybody Works

Thundercat, Drunk

Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy

David Virelles, Gnosis

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