I’m in my bedroom / office / apartment — clothes intermingle with compact discs and books in a disheveled orgy of non-productive capitalism. I’m looking at a contentious article recently published by, written by a Mr. Joey Sweeney. (In fact, I’m attempting to copy it a bit with this introduction. The attempt is obviously falling short of the desired mark.) It’s an article summing up the past 365 days of music. It’s not a great article — sporadically well written, veering between sincerity and cloying irony without so much as a fart of exhaust smoke denoting the change of tone, horribly myopic, mildly sexist. Dismissing electronic music due to lack of sales is irresponsible and shortsighted; labeling Weezer & Bruce Springsteen with the same ‘meaningful’ status is borderline schitzophrenia; bemoaning the ‘loss’ of Michael Stipe (to, you know, the forces of commerce and meaningless music) is flat-out crotchety. It would be a much better article if it were published on some personal weblog Joey maintained for his musical ramblings; its reactionary leanings would be less infuriating in a non-professional context. However, as the definitive statement Salon wishes to indirectly endorse regarding the past year in music, it’s a slack piece of journalism in drastic need of a few more miles on the treadmill to work off that Freshman Fifteen.

To be honest, though, I don’t have as much of a problem with Joey’s wrap-up as I do with the many others floating around. (If you’re looking for a list of links to such things, click on over to Mochi Manifesto — he’ll take care of you.) You have Neumu praying for the Strokes to Nirvana-ize the music industry (that sound you hear is the sound of my head making sweet love to the unforgiving black surface of my desk), you have the moss-gathering Rolling Stone perpetuating the famed Mick Jagger madness by placing the offending solo album at #3 on their Top Ten (oh, Jann, Jann, Jann), you have Spin giving its #1 spot to System of a Down as some sort of token gesture of ‘edginess’ (they’re a fine band, don’t get me wrong; they are a band, though, those Spin jackanapes barely recognized during the year — hey, let’s write another article about U2, since they’re so gosh-darn vital; they’re still around, right?), you have Pitchfork’s honoring of various IDM offshoots while their editor-in-chief takes a brief moment to piss & moan about said genre, and so on, and so on, and so on. Pete’s distillation of Best Of lists (down below — read it if you haven’t already) is so on-point; if you’re familiar with a publication’s ways & means, you’ll have a good idea what they’ll deliver after Santa scoots back up the chimney. (Anyone terribly shocked that Ryan Adams’ Gold was given highest honors by the non-depressed folks at Uncut, I have the deed to a fine piece of Brooklyn real estate you’re welcome to purchase from me at a most reasonable price.) It’s in this sort of stultifying atmosphere where a list or summary deviating ever so slightly from the formula (hello, Mr. Sweeney) nearly resembles fresh air.

Such lists should be a place to take stock of the past year, see what happened, note pleasant surprises, push the envelope a little bit, report on what’s happening. Instead, writers go out of their way to set an agenda, dictate what’s happening, kick back out the garbage that was previously sent in, perpetuating the same old GIGO cycle that drives most folks (like poor ol’ Cantankerous Jess) bonkers. This could be a simple matter of semantics, though — as this ILM thread concerning The Canon demonstrates, one person’s divining rod is another person’s petrified redwood. Lists, such as those I’m kvetching about, are nothing more than hollow attempts to amend this supposed canon, plot a course for the grand cruise liner that is Popular Music. Never mind that the sea is vast and that the ship isn’t actually destined to go anywhere except where the waters decide to lead it — all these folks are grabbing onto the wheel, spinning it round and round, trying to get this boat Somewhere.

If any of those folks up there simply changed a few words in their essays, maybe took a few steps away from the dias, I’d be a lot less grumpy about the whole list-making enterprise. This is primarily the reason why I’m looking forward (and have been enjoying) the lists offered up by individuals speaking for no one but themselves. This interest isn’t as wrapped up in the ticky-tack issues I’m complaing about — it’s a simple matter of hearing folks talk about why THEY like this music instead of them talking about why I’m supposed to like it. Jesus, people, get your damn hands off the stupid wheel and look at that ocean. It’s a thing of beauty. There’s no way any one person (or even any group) can being to comprehend what’s in those waters and where they lead. Appreciate the splendor of it all, watch the sun dip into the water, marvel at all the stars in the sky. Sit back, relax, and make this long, strange trip your own. And, if you don’t mind, send me a postcard.