Pitchfork is good at the lists.
But I simply don't ever want to do that again—especially not today. Nor do I think you want to read it. I don't know what you want to read, or if indeed you want to read anything that isn't about traffic or Trump or anal sex or the exigencies of celebrity "privilege."
All I want to do is thank Pitchfork's editors and contributors for making their lists, so I can spend a couple of hours neither writing nor reading about any of the above. That's not a tacit argument for sheet cake, by the way. It's a reminder that hot takes are mostly toxic litter designed to con people into thinking they're interested in things. And also that variety is the spice of life!
The people who make the Pitchfork lists (much like the people who made the audacious Turning the Tables list) aren't just putting numbers next to album titles. The numbers—like the grades Pitchfork puts on their reviews—are just a ruse to trick people into maybe reading 150-300 words in a row, which is nice work if you can get it.
Do I have notes? As they say in jolly old England (in movies anyway), "Do I, fook?" There's more jazz and avant garde stuff than I will ever be interested in no matter how much I aspire (someone over there may have been smoking that Dave Segal weed), and also they left out my favorite Byrds LP (Younger Than Yesterday) in favor of
PLUS, they chose The Velvet Underground over White Light/White Heat and picked the wrong Band album and where the hell are the Monkees and sorry but why am I the only person who doesn't love Pet Sounds.... But why quibble? Despite the fact that they are what people always seem to focus on, the rankings are not the good bit of these lists.
The interesting elements are the short-form arguments for—and sometimes arguments with—these records' reputations and legacies. No one should be surprised that Sgt. Pepper's isn't number one on their list (Velvet Underground and Nico is, duh). But the field of prose is punctuated by little diamonds. Whether or not you love, hate, or even know the record in question, this "list" supplies the apparently dwindling population of people who enjoy listening to and thinking/talking/reading about music with a bounty of succinct conversation prompts.
Not reading this list means missing Laura Snapes on Laura Nyro's New York Tendaberry (an album I've never heard); Douglas Wolk on The Meters (an album I always meant to spend more time with); Stacey Anderson on Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends (an album I love with an increadingly conflicted heart); Jillian Mapes on Abbey Road (an album I know as well as I know the contours of my own soul); Jayson Greene on Led Zeppelin (an album by a band I've never had any time for outside the radio dial).
Or what about Jazz Monroe's sweet, swift summary of Odessey and Oracle (an album I apparently can't shut up about)?
"It’s music of chances missed and summers past, full of lingering question marks—even the gorgeous “This Will Be Our Year” has you second-guessing its sun-dappled optimism, just as you might spend a cloudless afternoon glued to an old flame’s Instagram feed."
I love that. It expresses something about a thing I think about a lot in a way I had never thought to think about it before. And if I had never heard the record, it might nudge me toward checking it out. Then I would have something to say to someone else about it, and I might even think to quote that thing about lingering question marks on a cloudless afternoon, and that person might be moved to go check out the list and find something for themselves.
Not to be a reactionary utopian or anything. I know there's no time for that kind of thing anymore. But it's still my brain's default mode: the conversation about music—and canons and unjustly undiscovered artists and interesting failures and overrated successes and songs you simply can't even imagine what the point of life would be without them—is ongoing, perpetual, and necessary, regardless of what other topics might be trending.
Pitchfork's 200 Best Albums Of The 1960s list is its best yet. I give it 8.3.
— Dave Segal (@editaurus) August 22, 2017
In a larger sense, the extension and safeguarding of this conversation is the primary function of Pitchfork's lists. They reframe something a lot more important than what the "best" records supposedly are. In their 10 non-cross-indexed screens, the world of today is a place where the act of critically celebrating the art of popular music still A) exists, B) exists prominently, and C) has the capacity to cast a wide net of conversation in which lots and lots of people have a stake—as opposed to looking at a bunch of 50-year-old album titles by largely forgotten artists and saying "why should I give a fuck about that?"
The lists answer that question in a way that—gently, gently—shames the person asking it. I remember a time when not having heard of a great band or solo artist or record or song (or some more significant piece of history, for that matter) reflected poorly on the ignorant party. But the internet's history-of-human-endeavor-as-infinite-uncurated-landfill approach to culture has shifted the burden of proof onto the enthusiast, even to the art itself.
Which is fair enough, I suppose. But despite what you may have heard, art's job is not to advocate, or fight for cultural primacy, or argue its own merits. Lucky thing all these smart writers are still around to do that work for, and with, and in spite of us.
(I only hope they're around long enough to one day do a list like this about all the contemporary music I can't seem to make time to listen to. Meanwhile, I guess I gotta go give The Notorious Byrd Brothers another listen.)