Monday, 18 January 2010

The Stylus Decade pt. III: The Lists

There's two ways to analyse The Stylus Decade: we can talk about the lists, and we can talk about the writing. Unfortunately most of the analysis I've seen so far has been fixated on the former, but I'd like to discuss both over two posts.

The Lists

Complaining about lists is even more tedious and pointless than complaining about referees (I seem to be making a lot of referee analogies lately), so I'm going to break with internet convention and be positive about it. Both listmakers and referees have a massive number of potential decisions to make that no other single observer could possibly agree 100% with (the vast majority of decisions in a football game go unremarked-upon, including hundreds of decisions not to blow the whistle for a potential infringement). There are 40,000 albums released every year; that makes 400,000 for the decade; it's impossible to pick a sample a hundred-large which simultaneously includes all the albums reader A loves but none of the albums he thinks are over-rated (but are loved by reader B). Let's not even get started on the songs list! Both these boring and irrational pursuits of ref-slagging and list-slagging are easy to learn and impossible to master, which unfortunately makes for a lot of bullshit swilling around the internet.

The main criticisms of The Stylus Decade are that it's a predictable result and that it's too similar to Pitchfork's P2K list: Kid A at No.1 and Sound of Silver at No.2 is boring, and the Kid A result, Discovery at No.3 and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at No.4 is identical to Pitchfork (these criticisms are pretty much the same, because the people who follow music lists closely enough to predict them are the same people who complain about the ubiquity of Pitchfork taste). Several of our staff are disappointed that Kid A won: those being the staff who didn't vote for it; if a record I hadn't voted for had won, I'd be disappointed too.

Even Simon Reynolds was unhappy - as he wrote on his blissblog, "The Stylus Decade was a jolly good read, but, um, those results. Meaning the Top 20 albums. The same old names." Then he revealed his ballot, including Discovery (his No.5, our No.3), Kid A (his No.11, our No.1), The Blueprint (his No.17, our No.7), Since I Left You (his No.24, our No.9) and Ys (his No.25, our No.14). That's right, five of "the same old names" in our top twenty had their positions boosted by his votes.

These kind of criticisms, which I've seen elsewhere too, are just so transparent. Presumably he voted for Discovery because he loves it and admires it and believes it should be recognised; exactly the same reasons I voted for Sound Of Silver, and Untrue, and so on: the same old names he wasn't so pleased to see. It's a group list. It's a collective effort built by consensus and compromise. It's not The Simon Decade. If these names hadn't been at the top of the list, we'd be liable to claims of inconsistency. And of course anyone who's been paying attention knows all about these albums already; these people should have learned by now that the lower reaches of these lists are where to find the 'interesting' choices.

As for the Pitchfork comparison: well anyone harbouring impressions of Stylus and Pitchfork being like chalk and cheese clearly didn't read both sites. Also, about half-a-dozen writers who contributed to The Stylus Decade also contributed to P2K, so inevitably there's going to be significant overlap. I'm going to quote Stylus writer John Cunningham now, he's already done some comparison between our list and Pitchfork's:

"I do think there are a lot of similarities between our list and Pitchfork (somewhat inevitable, as Nick admits), but I'm also pleased at some of the differences:

Burial, Untrue: #5 Stylus, #41 Pitchfork
Primal Scream, XTRMNTR: #10 Stylus, #142 Pitchfork
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale: #11 Stylus, #75 Pitchfork
Joanna Newsom, Ys: #14 Stylus, #82 Pitchfork
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP: #16 Stylus, #119 Pitchfork
Bjork, Vespertine: #17 Stylus, #92 Pitchfork
PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea: #18 Stylus, #124 Pitchfork

Not to mention the fact that nearly a third of the albums in the Stylus top 100 don't show up at all in Pitchfork's top 200, including 11 albums in the top 60:

24. Bob Dylan, "Love and Theft"
33. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
36. Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye
40. Studio, West Coast/Yearbook 1
45. Bark Psychosis, Codename:Dustsucker
46. Lindstrom, Where You Go I Go Too
49. Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed
54. Britney Spears, Blackout
56. Booka Shade, Movements
57. Luomo, The Present Lover
59. Belle & Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress"
I'll add to that, five top 20 Pitchfork records which placed lower (or not at all) on ours:

Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica (Pitchfork 6, Stylus 34)
Sigur Ros, Agetis Byrjun (Pitchfork 8, Stylus 77)
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Pitchfork 12, not on Stylus)
Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise (Pitchfork 16, Stylus 72)
Kanye West, Late Registration (Pitchfork 18, not on Stylus)

And we can also point out that, eg., the Stylus 100 included Luomo twice, Britney once, and the White Stripes not at all. Doesn't that say something about the orientation of the site?

Those complaining about Stylus's one, three and four matching Pitchfork's don't seem to have fathomed that there are ninety-seven albums not at one, three and four.

As for the singles list, the voters, writers and seemingly readers too have all acknowledged the impossibility of naming a hundred-best songs of a decade, so it's even less worth arguing over. All I'll say is a song I didn't vote for, won.

What bloody morons voted on this thing!?

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