Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Decade-end lists (23 Nov 2009)

Having looked at a few of these "best music of the decade" lists that are just starting to appear, I think you are at a big disadvantage if you put out an album in the last year or so, and the albums that are put out early in the decade are at a great advantage. The rest of the decade's releases are viewed through the lenses focused by the albums that come out in the first few years. A teleology of trends is established to make for a conveniently packaged decade zeitgeist. Hence, London Calling, released in 1980, is regarded as one of the most important albums of the 1980s. In 1991, Never Mind is released in the "year that punk broke," revolutionizing culture for the 1990s. Kid A, out in 2000, sets the agenda for the 2000s and is its most important album by critical consensus.

Perhaps a work's "influentialness" has largely become a factor of external considerations like this -- of how well the release date fits with the marketing culture, with publishers' deadlines, with formulas for magazine features that are already established. Artists can start to produce meta-important works, works that presage the needs of the critical apparatus destined to arbitrate things like social relevance. They can help frame the narrative we want to tell about our times, which is anchored to arbitrary divisions like decades. If I wanted to release an album right now, I would most certainly wait a few months.

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