29
Dec 01

POLL TRAX

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This year the Village Voice sent me a Pazz And Jopp poll ballot, which was surprising and kind of them. I’m not a professional rock critic, after all, and I’ve hardly even been keeping my end in as a hobbyist this year. I felt excited about it and bad about it – I was presumably getting the ballot because of Freaky Trigger, or I Love Music, but I started both those things because I wanted to read music writing that was more personal and small-scale and not all weights-and-measures like the Pazz and Jopp poll. If I was getting a ballot, so should everyone else I know. On the other hand the Village Voice music section under Chuck Eddy’s editorship is the best print pop-zine in the world, and I’d feel a bit stupid if I didn’t show some respect by sending in the votes. So ideologically speaking that was that.

The only problem was I had to come up with a list.

I’ve bought about thirty albums this year and liked most of them. This isn’t usual – normally I’m disappointed by most LPs I buy and would struggle to come up with ten really good ones. That’s why I don’t make these kind of lists most years. So now my problem was to work out which ten were my favourites. Or rather, now my problem was to try and work out what on earth “my favourites” means.

What makes you love a record? Apart from what it sounds like, I mean – you like records for the sounds, you can appreciate them. But loving a record is something different. Right now – as part of my sifting through Pop 2001 – I’m listening to Since I Left You by The Avalanches. I like it. I appreciate it. But I don’t love it – actually it’s rather irritating me with its eagerness to please. I think it’s beautifully packaged but I don’t look at it and think about it and feel that kind of absolute rightness that I do with my “favourite” records.

Records you fall head over heels for do have to sound brilliant, at least in flashes. They don’t have to sound brilliant all the time – in fact you can love a record without ever playing it much, as long as the thought of it makes you feel better about yourself. The records you love you can say that you love, out loud, and revel in.

When you love a record, after all, you want to flaunt it. It’s not posing, or trying to look cool: your sense of kinship with this record has burned questions of pose or cool away. And yet at the same time you know there is nothing cooler in the world than to love the records you do right now. Those records make your world a brighter place, because they share their own worlds with yours, and the worlds they share are both sharply new and comfortingly complete.

And what makes a great year in pop is the way all these worlds rub up and spill over into one another and into your own. So ranking the records you’ve loved feels like ranking the ingredients in a stew: the wonder lies in how the flavours work together. Would I be so enchanted by the way Bob Dylan tells his old man’s stories if I didn’t hear hints in it of Jay-Z’s impeccable flows? Would I feel as drained and happy after hearing Pulp’s “Sunrise” if I didn’t feel the exact same way after hearing “Digital Love”? Would any single UK MC or crew – Roots Manuva, So Solid, The Streets – sound as exciting without the perspectives the others bring?

2001, on those terms, was a fantastic year: it defied summary, and the attempts to summarise I’ve seen have looked pretty cheap because of that. But a Top 10 list is not only a summary-by-default, it’s also one which leaves too much out. What to do? I found myself wishing I’d kept some kind of listening diary, so I could just list the ten most-played 2001 records and be done with it. But what about “important” albums? What about albums that were “important” to me? What about albums – like Pulp’s – which I love more because they give me something to share with my girlfriend? What about albums – like Prefuse 73’s – that I enjoyed once one autumn afternoon and have sounded drab every other time? Does that one great experience count for less because I can’t recapture it?

I have a week or so, still, to work through these questions, and here seems as good a place as any to do it. So for a limited time only expect NYLPM to be talking – to itself, mostly – about the year’s LPs, and with any luck there’ll be a list at the end of it.

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