Hello, everyone! This is Tap Don't Talk - two 405 writers are placed in a room with a sword each and what you read below is the result of their squabbling. Enjoy their inane ramblings:


Mike Clark: To be honest with you Rob, time has become something of an alien concept to me in the last few weeks as I've locked myself away from the world in order to finish some essays for university. It could be tomorrow right now for all I know. Or yesterday. Or next week. I can't be sure. Nonetheless, my calendar tells me that it's now, somehow, the first week of December (at the time of writing). You know what that means, right?

Rob Wilson: I'm wide-eyed with anticipation, Michael. What does it mean? CHRISTMAS?!

Mike: You'd better be wide-eyed, because it's only bloody LISTAGEDDON! The Christmas for nerdy music fans everywhere. It's the time of year where not much happens in the world of music, so we all have to compensate and make the all the fun ourselves by discussing our favourite things of the year. (In the time since writing this one of my favourite musicians, St.Vincent, has released her comeback single and announced an album, so that makes me look kind of silly - you should check it out).

Rob: Ah yes, the naughty and nice lists of the music world.

Mike: That's actually a beautiful way of putting it. Listageddon has quickly become part and parcel of cultural criticism and discourse, especially with the proliferation of the Internet giving everybody a platform from which they can share their lists and discuss other people's. Whereas it was once the tastemakers in the press that had carte-blanche on these things, it's now more of a communal event that I think we all secretly look forward to. Every year we come together to share our favourite albums, songs, films, TV shows, books and such. It's a big deal. So I guess the first question is: why? Is Listageddon just a bit of fun, or can it be seen as a serious reflection of ourselves and popular culture in general?

Rob: As pointless as lists may seem - "music is subjective, yo" - I think they're a nice way to archive opinions. NME might get things wrong nowadays, but they were one of the few magazines to recognise the potential legacy Joy Division had by naming Unknown Pleasures in one of their year-end lists in the 70s. Maybe they operate as a chance to look back and laugh, or look back and stroke our chins in smugness?

For me, year end lists work like photo albums do. You look back at some inclusions and think "Oh god, what was I doing then?!", while you look back at others and think "Yeah, I was right about that. Go me."

"people who write about music and culture in general are fanatical about it..."

Mike: Yeah, I think at the level of our personal lists they definitely work like a scrapbook, or a fancy playlist you can throw on during a walk. I mean that literally, by the way, as I've made playlists of my 30 favourite songs from each year since 2010. They're a reflection of you as a person at that specific time, so they can be important in that way. But I think that we can look at end of year lists in terms of large publications and apply your idea of archiving opinions to the likes of Pitchfork, NME and, of course, The 405, because that leads to canonisation and thinking about which albums of the last five years that'll be considered important in thirty years or so. Especially as we can now access and keep a record of end of year lists from decades ago.

Rob: I think, in the end, classics become unearthed whether they're named in year-end lists or not. Who'd heard of The Velvet Underground & Nico at the end of 1966?

But that photo album approach to lists that I take seems to change when publications' lists are compiled. They ask more than 5 people, usually, to complete the list. Five photo albums used to combine one huge photo album that's used as a representative opinion of the publication.

On another note, do you think that year-end lists are simply albums that publications enjoyed that particular year, or are they predictions for the future that they one day hope to point at and go, "See, see, I told you!"?

Mike: I'm still very new to this whole 'writing for a reputable publication' thing, so this might all might be tainted with naivety. But the latter suggestion there comes across as very cynical, so I'd hope that publications don't compile their lists with such a smug mindset. I'll refer you to Will's brilliant Editor's Letter that accompanied The 405's end of year coverage: people who write about music and culture in general are fanatical about it. I mean, why do you write, Rob? Why are we having this discussion at nearly 2am with no financial reward at the end of it? I don't know about you, but I don't write to make myself look better - I mean, I'm pretty sure I talk absolute bollocks most of the time - and I honestly don't think the critics who compile these lists do either. We do it because we are extremely, no, foolishly passionate about music and culture. Because when we come across something truly good we get all giddy about it and have some innate need to tell everybody about it, otherwise we'd explode. Because we have to share what we consider to be greatness. Because we want culture to be better. So I suppose that the end of list as a 'thing' is just an extension of that need - a way of distilling our passion.

  • Sadly, none of these made our lists. Despite plenty of love from the editorial team

Rob: The latter suggestion was merely peeking over the other side of the coin. Like you're saying, I think lists come from the human's need to share opinions and information with other people, and make the world a huge place where discourse happens freely without much doubt or need for validation. I enjoy looking at end of year lists to compare my opinions with other people. There's a huge aggregated list of lists compiled by Any Decent Music and Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend is sat at the top of it. As a huge fan of the band and the album, I'm happy to see it up there, but I can't for the life of me understand why Kanye West's Yeezus and AM by Arctic Monkeys have been rated so highly amongst critics. Yet none of that actually matters, and strangely, that's the best part. Lists can be posted by anyone, and anyone can disagree. Disagreement is discussion, discussion is passion.

Mike: I agree with most of that; pluralism is obviously a great thing that invites discourse, which in turn brings a greater understanding of culture. Although, you shouldn't be saying that you can't understand why Yeezus and AM have been so highly rated, you should be trying to determine why, even if you don't love those albums, they resonate with people. If/when you do work out why, you learn a little bit more about popular culture in general, I think. I suppose this is the point of my Rental Floss column (plug plug), at least in theory: understanding why we reject some things and accept others is an important window into what our culture values. That's why I don't really agree with you that none of this actually matters. I don't really see these lists as frivolous things. They're fun to compile and discuss, don't get me wrong, but I think they can take on a more serious role.

Rob: I don't mean to say that lists don't matter in that they shouldn't be curated. I'm saying lists "don't matter" in the sense that they encourage subjectivity and a chance for people to look at things from different angles - in other words, lists can be lists but they'll never be correct. I listened to AM five times, from five different perspectives (Was it a rock album? R&B? Hip-hop?) and it still evoked nothing, yet it's going to be in the top 10 albums of the year as voted by various publications. Its position on the lists won't change my opinion on it because I've tried listening to it how the press told me to just to see if anything changed and yet nothing did. Lists aren't frivolous but they are, as I suggested, just photo albums. Photo albums that cannot be right and cannot be wrong.

Mike: Oh, they'll never be correct, but I guess my point is that they can have a big impact when it comes to reflecting culture today and influencing it tomorrow. These photo albums last and can be referenced so many times. They can be used by future generations as a way of exploring the past and finding music that is new to them. The albums that feature highly in most lists will most likely be seen as important albums going ahead, some recent-ish examples would be Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Which goes back to what I was saying about canonisation before.

"Modern Vampires is an amiable choice, but not outstanding. I don't actually know anybody who loves that album."

Rob: I agree. I'm newer to this whole "paying attention to new music" thing than you are so you'll know - was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy featured on many year-end lists because of how late it was released in the year?

Mike: That may have played some part because it was fresh in the mind, and the 10.0 from Pitchfork helped build some a sense of hysteria and a myth around it, but it helped that album was genuinely excellent. Actually, to back my previous point up a bit. When you started getting into music properly, did you use many end of year lists to start exploring new things?

Rob: To be honest, the joint end of year list we made for ourselves in 2011 got me into a load of new stuff almost immediately. Death Grips, Rustie, SBTRKT and such. I was happy to see a song I enjoyed - M83's 'Midnight City' - top Pitchfork's list of songs in 2011, but other than that my experiences of year-end lists were limited until the end of 2012 rolled around.

Mike: So, now you're more experienced with Listageddon, have you noticed anything interesting from the 2013 end of year lists so far? Obviously we haven't seen them all yet, but there have been enough to notice some trends.

Rob: Well, the one surprise is that the most acclaimed album of the year, Deafheaven's Sunbather, is barely featuring on most year-end lists. An album so critically acclaimed, when it came out anyway, has been barely picked up by some major figures in the press, which is surprising really. The same goes for Future of the Left's How to Stop Your Brain In an Accident. Yet Modern Vampires of the City is storming ahead with Yeezus, despite not being clear favourites during the year.

  • Deerhunter didn't make many lists this year. We're pretty sure this won't bother Cox in the slightest

Mike: Yeah, that's something I've noticed too. Modern Vampires is an amiable choice, but not outstanding. I don't actually know anybody who loves that album. I think it's getting a load of high placed finishes but very few #1 spots. There isn't really an outstanding choice in terms of an album that has defined the cultural zeitgeist this year. There's nothing on the same level as Frank Ocean's Channel Orange which absolutely dominated last year, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. You could argue that Yeezus did as an artistic statement, but I think it was too polarising as an album.

Rob: The beneficiaries of the AV system are Vampire Weekend! Vote YES to AV!

There were plenty of comeback albums that could have been runaway victors but failed to do so - Boards of Canada, Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie - and there were albums from some of 2010's best - The National, Janelle Monae, Kanye West - that perhaps didn't build on their previous albums in the way people wanted. It seems that there's been so much choice regarding a favourite this year that the ones finishing in 3rd and 4th are perhaps getting a foot in over the ones that are getting a few top places with some publications but are sliding out of the top 20 with others.

Mike: Do you think that the lack of one outstanding candidates in these lists shows 2013 as a year with too many amazing albums or a disappointing one?

Rob: I think, in the end, it's a little bit of both. A lot of albums that could have been spectacular were just "good" or "great" in the end.

Mike: You little fence sitter, you.

"I suppose if we're talking about retail, end of year lists take on another function as a way of selling records and possibly even keeping some bands and record shops afloat."

Rob: Allow me to jump off it, then. My biggest problem with year-end lists is the rush to announce them. Rough Trade announced theirs in November, while I've spent every day since November catching up on the albums that I've either not listened to at all or not listened to properly in order to compile a list for the week between Christmas and New Year. I've got my top 10 sorted because not one I have remaining to listen to (if which there around 5) is going to break that particular ceiling, but who's to say I should leave them out completely because I wanted to get there first?

Mike: Well, the thing with record shops and publications is they get a lot of albums early, so they probably know about 99% of the substantial releases of the year, unless The Avalanches decide they want to release their new album on Christmas Day or something. And record shops like Rough Trade have to work out things like marketing and store space for their top albums in advance too, so that would factor into why they release their lists so early. I saw this post on Drowned in Sound's forum last month: someone from Hookworms was tweeting about a record shop asking the band for £200 to cover the admin costs that come with being included in their end of year list. So I suppose if we're talking about retail, end of year lists take on another function as a way of selling records and possibly even keeping some bands and record shops afloat.

Rob: I think I saw a comment on The 405's Facebook feed regarding Rough Trade's top albums of 2013. It read: "Rough Trade's Top Albums of 2013, or should I say, "The Albums Rough Trade Can't Quite Shift".

Mike: Haha, that's actually quite good. Good job, whoever wrote that.

Rob: But yeah. I think, in the end, lists are a bit of fun we can have at the end of the year when, as you said at the very beginning, nothing else is going on. They're the photo albums and scrapbooks we can compile, analyse briefly and then store at the back of the cupboard, only to be used when necessary. Is anyone going to remember that So and So's third album was This and That's 46th best album of 2013? I don't think so. But will we remember what we choose to, and in the end, that's the purpose of year-end lists altogether - the albums we place in our lists are the ones we want to remember, just like the pictures we place in photo albums. They're there so that we *can* look back and remember fondly, and 2013 has had a lot things to fondly remember.

Mike: Well I think that's a good place to wrap up the conversation. As I said before, our next discussion will be about 2013 general, but it would be inappropriate to have an article about end of year lists without shoehorning our own in. We'll expand on them in the next article because it's like 3:30am now and I need to sleep. So, will you do the honours Rob?

Rob: Oh go on then.

  • Tomorrow's Harvest - Boards of Canada
  • The Electric Lady - Janelle Monae
  • mbv - My Bloody Valentine
  • Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
  • Immunity - John Hopkins
  • Sunbather - Deafheaven
  • Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons
  • Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant
  • Overgrown - James Blake
  • Is Survived By - Touche Amore

Mike: And here's mine:

  • The Terror - Flaming Lips
  • Monomania - Deerhunter
  • II- Unknown Mortal Orchestra
  • Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant
  • ...Like Clockwork - Queens of the Stone Age
  • Wise Up Ghost - Elvis Costello & The Roots
  • Loud City Song - Julia Holter
  • Immunity - Jon Hopkins
  • Fuzz - Fuzz
  • How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident - Future of the Left

Rob Wilson is a columnist for The 405, taking care of our Staring Down The Pit series. Mike Clark is also a columnist for the 405, chatting about films for our Rental Floss series.

See Also: Tap Don't Talk: 000 – PILOT/The Death Grips Conundrum