December is nearly over, which means that pretty much every music publication has filed its obligatory end-of-year list and gone off to gorge itself on turkey and mulled wine. Looking over said lists, it’s interesting to note how they’ve become an exercise in critical homogeneity — you see the same names cropping up over and over again on list after list, and the days of gloriously off-the-wall choices like NME dubbing the long-forgotten Sugar’s Copper Blue as the best album of 1992 are long behind us. Still, having said that, pretty much every publication manages to include at least a couple of names that no-one else does, and it’s these idiosyncratic choices — both worthy and/or laughable — that tend to reveal the most about the publication in question. If you’re wondering which one might be right for you, then look no further — after the jump, we dissect 10 leading outlets’ top 10 lists, and consider what their choices say about them (and us).
The top 10: 10) Robbie Robertson — How To Become Clairvoyant; 9) Wild Flag — Wild Flag; 8) Wilco — The Whole Love; 7) The Decemberists — The King Is Dead; 6) Lady Gaga — Born This Way; 5) Radiohead — The King of Limbs; 4) Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues; 3) Paul Simon — So Beautiful or So What; 2) Jay-Z & Kanye West — Watch the Throne; 1) Adele — 21
Key choice: Robbie Robertson — How to Become Clairvoyant (#10).
“Quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them: The Lonely Island — Turtleneck and Chain (#50).
What it all means: Rolling Stone is A Serious Magazine with An Older Readership but still has A Sense of Humor. Alternatively, you could argue that it means Rolling Stone is Out-Of-Touch with everyone except for its Baby Boomer Readership. Either way, the strangely schizophrenic nature of this list, with The Band’s Robbie Robertson nestling up against Wild Flag and Lady Gaga, embodies Rolling Stone’s dilemma in the 21st century — keeping sweet with their aging readership while trying to retain some semblance of relevance to younger generations.
Gorilla Vs Bear
The top 10: 10) Puro Instinct — Headbangers in Ecstasy; 9) Julianna Barwick — The Magic Place; 8) Real Estate — Days; 7) Araabmuzik — Electronic Dream; 6) Korallreven — An Album by Korallreven; 5) A$AP Rocky — LIVELOVEA$AP; 4) White Denim — D; 3) Panda Bear — Tomboy; 2) Peaking Lights — 936; 1) Shabazz Palaces — Black Up
Key choice: Peaking Lights — 936 (#2)
What it all means: Basically, it means that Lana Del Rey hasn’t released an album yet. But in all seriousness, Stereogum identified “ethereal haze” as the defining music trend of 2011, which basically translates as “the abiding influence of chillwave,” a sound that Gorilla Vs Bear was responsible for championing to the hilt. While the presence of Shabazz Palaces at #1 perhaps represents a shift away from this sound, the rest of GvB’s Top 10 (and, indeed, its Top 30 in general) is still plenty ethereal and hazy, shot through with atmosphere and indefinable nostalgia.
The top 10: 10) John Wall & Alex Rogers — Work 2006-2011; 9) Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu; 8) Laurel Halo — Hour Logic; 7) DJ Rashad — Just A Taste; 6) Michael Chapman — The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock; 5) The Beach Boys — The SMiLE Sessions; 4) Hype Williams — One Nation; 3) Eliane Radigue — Transamorem-Transmortem; 2) Rustie — Glass Swords; 1) James Ferraro — Far Side Virtual
Key choice: Eliane Radigue — Transamorem-Transmortem (#3)
“Quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them: Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu (#9)
What it all means: Wire generally prides itself on a fondness for cerebral, challenging and somewhat humorless music, most of which your average listener will never have heard of — where else, after all, would you find the lost magnum opus of an obscure French electronic composer in the Top 10? But, clearly, they’re not humorless at all — look, there’s Lulu at #9! Anyway, there’s an epic discussion of their list here that says more about Wire’s readership than the list ever could (sample quote: “I guess it’s not a surprise or even a legitimate disappointment that they don’t care very much for improv anymore.”) If you like arguing over the merits of Faroe Islands techno or Indonesian proto-drone, and complaining that a magazine that just put Ash Ra Tempel guitarist Manuel Göttsching on its cover is just way too mainstream these days, this one’s for you.
The top 10: 10 Frank Ocean — Nostalgia, Ultra; 9) LV & Josh Idehen — Routes; 8) Julianna Barwick — The Magic Place; 7) Drake — Take Care; 6) James Ferraro — Far Side Virtual; 5) Araabmuzik — Electronic Dream; 4) Prurient — Bermuda Drain; 3) Clams Casino — Instrumentals; 2) Rustie — Glass Swords; 1) The Weeknd — House Of Balloons
Key choice (and “quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them): The Weeknd — House of Balloons (#1)
What it all means: Like Wire, Fact tends to lean heavily on relatively obscure electronic music, which makes its ongoing love affair with neo-R&B standard bearer The Weeknd all the more unexpected. Like Gorilla Vs Bear choosing Shabazz Palaces as their #1 album of the year, this is a case of playing against type, which is a rare and welcome thing these days (even if we don’t rate House of Balloons quite as highly as they do.) If your love of Aphex Twin is tempered by a fondness for smooth R&B flavors, and you’re not afraid to admit that you did like a bit of Artful Dodger back in the day, then you’ve just found your musical soulmates.
The top 10: 10) Lykke Li — Wounded Rhymes; 9) Wild Flag — Wild Flag; 8) G-Side — The One… Cohesive; 7) The Rapture — In the Grace of Your Love; 6) Danny Brown — XXX; 5) Girls — Father, Son, Holy Ghost; 4) Kurt Vile — Smoke Ring for My Halo; 3) EMA — Past Life Martyred Saints; 2) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake; 1) Fucked Up — David Comes to Life
Key choice: Fucked Up — David Comes to Life (#1)
“Quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them: Lady Gaga — Born This Way (#29)
What it all means: Like Spin’s even more disjointed Best Songs of 2011 list (Adele! Lil Wayne! Britney! EMA!), this is a scattershot affair that tries to cover a whole lot of musical bases in one go. It flirts with both the mainstream (Foo Fighters, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga) and the relatively underground (Tim Hecker, Azari & III), while the top 10 aims for the middle ground with a lot of consensus indie, a couple of nods to the magazine’s hip hop lovin’ roots, and a vaguely controversial #1 pick. We’re never ones to set too much store by the comments section, but it’s interesting to note Spin readers’ take on this — half of them think it’s pretentious hipster bullshit, and the other half think it’s too mainstream. By trying to please everyone…
The top 10: 10) Wild Beasts — Smother; 9) Tom Waits — Bad As Me; 8) Anna Calvi — Anna Calvi; 7) Josh T Pearson — Last of the Country Gentlemen; 6) White Denim — D; 5) Kate Bush — 50 Words for Snow; 4) Jonathan Wilson — Gentle Spirit; 3) Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues; 2) The Horrors — Skying; 1) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake
Key choice: Josh T Pearson — Last of the Country Gentlemen (#7)
What it all means: Mojo, by contrast, knows exactly who its readership is — older men with long-standing subscriptions and large vinyl collections, basically — and its editors seem perfectly happy not trying to please anyone else. This list also illustrates this UK demographic’s fondness for US folk music, with Josh T Pearson and Jonathan Wilson — neither of whom made any lists at all in their native land, as far as we know — featuring highly. This is fondness is shared by Uncut, incidentally, whose Top 10 list looks decidedly similar to this one.
The top 10: 10) WU LYF — Go Tell Fire to the Mountain; 9) tUnE-YarDs — w h o k i l l; 8) Katy B — On A Mission; 7) St. Vincent — Strange Mercy; 6) Arctic Monkeys — Suck It and See; 5) Kurt Vile — Smoke Ring for My Halo; 4) Wild Beasts — Smother; 3) The Horrors — Skying; 2) Metronomy — The English Riviera; 1) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake
Key choice: The Vaccines — What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? (#14)
“Quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them: Kasabian — Velociraptor (#21)
What it all means: The NME has long been known for hyping its chosen artists to the heavens, for better or worse. In some ways, we rather admire the idea of deciding to throw your magazine’s support behind someone you think is worthy (although the validity of the NME’s criteria for worthiness is open for debate). Anyway, old loyalties die hard — the likes of Kasabian and Noel Gallagher feature highly here, and pretty much nowhere else — while new ones are also maintained staunchly, with The Vaccines just failing to crack the Top 10, and Arctic Monkeys and The Horrors featuring way higher here than elsewhere. And, of course, PJ Harvey is at #1, as with basically every English music outlet this year.
The top 10: 10) Prurient — Bermuda Drain; 9) Death Grips — Ex-Military; 8) Wild Beasts — Smother; 7) Katy B — On a Mission; 6) Cut Hands — Afro Noise; 5) Perc — Wicker & Steel; 4) The Haxan Cloak — The Haxan Cloak; 3) Tim Hecker — Ravedeath 1972; 2) Azari & III — Azari & III; 1) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake
Key choice: Årabrot — Solar Anus (#11)
What it all means: We heart The Quietus, but we fully appreciate why there are plenty of people who look at the peculiarly idiosyncratic mixture of obscure dubstep, black metal, and noise music that makes up much of their Top 50 and wonder who on earth all these bands actually are. But really, despite divergent instrumentation, all this music shares a fondness for dark atmospherics, a theme that runs through much of The Quietus’s best albums of the year. If you like your tunes dark and obscure, there’s plenty of goodness to find here.
The top 10: 10) The Weeknd — House of Balloons; 9) Real Estate — Days; 8) Drake — Take Care; 7) tUnE-yArDs — w h o k i l l; 6) Oneohtrix Point Never — Replica; 5) Girls — Father, Son, Holy Ghost; 4) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake; 3) M83 — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming; 2) Destroyer — Kaputt; 1) Bon Iver — Bon Iver
Key choice: Bon Iver — Bon Iver (#1)
Ah, Pitchfork. We’ve already considered what these songs say about us, so suffice it to say that our living room walls are not and will never be beige.
The top 10: 10) Elbow — Build a Rocket Boys; 9) WU LYF — Go Tell Fire to the Mountain; 8) St. Vincent — Strange Mercy; 7) Arctic Monkeys — Suck It and See; 6) Jay-Z & Kanye West — Watch the Throne; 5) Coldplay — Mylo Xyloto; 4) Bon Iver — Bon Iver; 3) Adele — 21; 2) PJ Harvey — Let England Shake; 1) Florence & the Machine — Ceremonials
Key choice: Coldplay — Mylo Xyloto (#3)
“Quirky” choice that will come back to haunt them): Florence & The Machine — Ceremonials (#1)
What it all means: Sigh. Believe it or not, there was a time in the mid-’90s when we used to buy Q religiously. Back in the day, it was known for long, in-depth features and a healthy sense of irreverence. These days, it’s known for its grey-backdrop cover shots and a leg-humping man crush on Chris Martin — and “controversially” choosing Florence for #1 isn’t going to change that one iota.