My Year-End List

12.22.2017 Music

It’s impossible to not think about the quantification of art around the holiday season. With the dearth of year-end lists, award nominations and discussions over the balance of art and commerce in holiday blockbusters, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that quantifying and ranking art is at the core of this time of year.


Which is fucking ridiculous.


Because quantifying art, at least in a truly objective sense, is not possible. Subjectivity is at the heart-center of any work of art, thus to say that any piece of music or film or work of art is objectively better than another is not possible.


How then, in the non-paradigm shifting sense (IE: arguing that Nirvana was ‘better’ than a lot of other bands because of the impact they had on pretty much everything), can it really ever be determined that one record or movie or song is better than another? If all art is subjective and all competition is, in theory, objective, how can anyone determine one work’s worth over another?


I remember reading a review on a formerly kingmaking website that had an album by a great band scored just seven tenths below a perfect ten. Seven tenths from perfection. And despite the marvel of the album that I still listen to regularly today, I could only think of those seven tenths and I could only wonder where they were lost.


Perhaps the guitar tone was not quite up to the writer’s snuff. Maybe there an errant pre-chorus or an intro that lingered on just a bit too long. Was the tracklist seven tenths of perfection? Or maybe the vocals could have used a little more reverb or the songs didn’t carry the thread of an album as strongly as a “perfect” album.


Presuming that there is almost nothing as bad as a critic dissecting the mechanics of an artform in which they’ve never attempted, we can only surmise that those tenths were lost somewhere in the ether.


Because to state that Girls made a record that is seven tenths away from perfection is asinine and a complete waste of time. That record is great, often astounding, and found a band hitting one of those rare strides where they made a record that was at once effortless and grandiose. It’s one of the rare records that will, for the people to whom it mattered, last a long, long time. It’s a record with statement and purpose. And it sounds absolutely amazing.


But to say it was ninety-three percent perfect would be to presume that we know what makes a perfect record. Because, again, all art is subjective and nothing that’s subjective can truly be perfect.


The same logic applies to any system that ranks works as better or worse than any other. Why is The National’s Sleep Well Beast fifth on one year-end list yet fourth on another? Did the former deem the album a little to long or the lyrics a touch too pithy? Did the latter find, in some other album, some other element that was just a touch better? If so, I’d love to know what it is so that I can make quantifiably better records.


So as you read this season’s myriad year-end lists, as we bowl headlong into award season, with people telling you that a certain actor’s performance was quantifiably better than every other, please remember that Meghan Trainor and The Chainsmokers have Grammys on their mantles while Nas, Bjork and The Kinks (amongst others) do not.


And as you read them, pay attention to everything outside of the top ten or so. Because maybe Kendrick Lamar did, by popular consensus, make the best album of the year. But as you read them, wonder why a certain album is thirty-fourth and not thirty-third? What is the fifty-first album that didn’t make the list and why, exactly, is it lesser than the fiftieth?


And wonder why people feel it necessary to tell you the precise order of the worthiness of this year’s albums. And wonder how anyone can determine that one album is ninety-three percent perfect.


Having said all that, my final rankings of 2017:

  1. Numerically ranked lists are fucking stupid.
  2. Judging albums on a precise numerical scale is impossible.
  3. There is always a potential for something of a consensus on the best few records of the year, but what separates the lower bunches? Why is one album 36th and not 35th?
  4. The Velvet Underground don’t have a Grammy.
  5. Milli Vanilli does.


And of course, in no specific order, under no specific numeration, my favorite albums and flicks from 2017:


The Shape Of Water

Here Lies Man – Here Lies Man

The Kernal – Light Country

Reese McHenry and Spider Bags – Bad Girl

The Disaster Artist

Mary Lattimore – Collected Pieces

Wilco – Being There (reissue)

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

The Weather Station – The Weather Station

Perfume Genius – No Shape


Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo

Endless Boogie – Vibe Killer


Author of the Article: Michael Venutolo-Mantovani

Guitar player who occasionally writes stories in a quiet corner of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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