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Year-End Listmaking Guilt

Revisiting two records that we didn't spend enough time with in 2008. Every arts writer is implored, to one degree or other, to write year-end...

Revisiting two records that we didn't spend enough time with in 2008.

Every arts writer is implored, to one degree or other, to write year-end lists. But for music fans (not just writers), the impulse is especially pronounced-many of us learned about pop via the Top 40. And many like to quantifying our tastes in lists. If we're occasionally mocked for our trouble (cf. High Fidelity), so be it.Nevertheless, list glut has been with us for years now. December brings forth hundreds of year-end lists in every category, and probably none more than music. I'm adding to the glut by supervising Idolator's Top 80, and voting in a few other polls.But whether fan or professional, and whatever "keeping up" means when the oft-cited figure of 30,000 albums released per year seems a severe underestimate, it can be tough not to feel a little year-end guilt. This isn't a complaint, even if it can sound like one: too much music, not enough time. Wahhh, right? But as someone who writes about it for a living, I do take some pride in getting my lists right every year-I want them to reflect what moved me, not some phantom idea of what the consensus might end up being.The guilt lies in not latching harder onto things you knew you liked but never went back to. The selfish explanation comes from wanting the privilege of more good music in my life; it pains me a little when I realize I've been ignoring something I flipped for the first time through. Sometimes I'm busy with other listening; sometimes I put a CD somewhere I never look for six months. So I'm glad to have a couple records I hadn't quite finished with back in rotation.Drive-By Truckers' Brighter Than Creation's Dark hasn't made a lot of year-end lists, one reason Robert Christgau was talking about it on Slate last week. (It was Christgau's No. 3 album of the year.) I'd bought and played it the day it was released, and was immediately impressed-19 cuts, 79 minutes, songs programmed to heighten tonal contrasts, most of them terrific. The three songwriters-band founders Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, as well as recently added bassist Shonna Tucker-are clearly on their game, and a few songs (the snarling "That Man I Shot," the broken "Daddy Needs a Drink") are as powerful as I've heard this year.Naturally, I didn't play it again for nine months. Maybe its particular workingman's blues was too much to take; I kept thinking to play it and then changing my mind. It's good to hear again-if harrowing now, in the Wall Street collapse's aftermath. Maybe that's why I hadn't gone back: so many of my colleagues have lost their jobs this year that listening to it may have felt too close to home.

An album that goes down a lot smoother is Andy Stott's Unknown Exception: Selected Tracks Vol. 1 (2004-2008), which re-entered my path, I'm embarrassed to admit, via a poll I voted in: it placed tenth in techno webmag Resident Advisor's compilations poll. It's very simple stuff: a British dance producer making warm, pliant, endlessly playable dub techno that's so easy on the ears you can start to take it for granted.That's what I did until I saw the RA poll. Not because I'd put it to the side and forgotten its existence, but because I hadn't even considered how much I liked it, even though I'd played it a number of times. The reason was practical: it was a CD that I'd go to whenever I wanted a break from what I was playing for work, and just wanted to hear some music. Sometimes it takes another person (or group of people) to validate something you already like-to make you realize how much you like it. It's on my list now, and rising.LISTEN

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