Ryan over at the Catbirdseat posted an entry the other day called "Listless," which runs down a bunch of the discussions that have been going on around the web nets about these end-of-the-year music lists we've become accustomed to/tired of. (We're working on ours, don't worry.) Without getting into it too much here, since it's been debated plenty elsewhere, and at the risk of oversimplifying, the questions are basically: 1) are these lists worth a damn; 2) should we distrust the motives of people who put these lists together.
My answers are: 1) depends; 2) probably, maybe, I don't know.
Mr. Catbird's entry ends on this note:
It seems like at some point in the past few years, we decided that it was more important to value music against some nebulous set of criteria that we can apply numerical values to. Let's keep it up and maybe one day, we can finally squeeze ALL the fun out of this.
On the one hand, end-of-year music lists can feel a bit perfunctory. And if everyone's making lists because they feel like they have to, then that's no fun, even if the sucks/rules threads that follow are sometimes entertaining (if sometimes as predictable as the lists themselves).
Part of Catbird's problem is that people's music lists have become depersonalized, generic.
It should be the music that, for whatever reason, just really resonated with the listmaker. The music that became part of their lives, instead of part of their "collection." I realize that makes the lists WHOLLY idiosyncratic and subjective... but I feel like that's the whole point.
I suppose that's a tension that's always part of music criticism (or any criticism, for that matter). If "universal value" and "subjective value" are opposite ends of a spectrum, there are useful, compelling, absolutely worthwhile examples of criticism (and list-making) at either extreme. I think it's largely a matter of not mistaking one for the other. Your thoughts?