Why I Probably Won’t Be Doing A “Best Of 2013” List

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas the end-of-year review season. In a few short weeks, music, film, TV and videogame critics will start sharing with us their learned opinions on what we should have been paying attention to all this year. Us peons will then either nod approvingly at seeing our taste vindicated by our social betters, or frantically download the most frequently recommended media in an attempt to cover up the fact we’re shamefully out of the pop culture loop (and then never consume most of it, if experience has taught me anything).

I’m being unfairly cynical there, of course. I actually do enjoy reading end-of-year lists from writers and critics whose opinions I respect. It’s nice to find out who else likes the things you liked this year, and if you’re unfamiliar with other entries on their list, it’s a good bet they’ll be worth checking out if you enjoyed the rest of their picks. There’s also a kind of vicarious pleasure in thinking about how you would have done it differently- restructuring the order of a list to better reflect your preferences, or replacing certain entries with personal favourites that you felt no one else paid enough attention to this year. These kind of mental exercises often lead, at least in my case, to drawing up your own year-end list, imbued as you are with the spirit of “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

The more I’ve been thinking about it, however, the more I feel that it might not be the best idea for me to publish, say, a list of my top 10 or 20 metal albums of 2013, even though this blog might seem like the perfect environment for such a self-involved project. This is a personal decision, based on my own insecurities: I’m not trying to say that nobody else should ever write such lists. Rather, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a strong enough writer, and that I don’t trust my instincts enough, to take on such a task. I’ve detailed the main reasons for this decision below, ironically enough in list format.

 

1) I would most likely only highlight bands you’ve already heard of

Barring a few exceptions, the albums I’ve reviewed on this blog up to now have been fairly well-known within the metal world. The bands responsible for those releases aren’t necessarily topping charts and getting play on mainstream radio, but they get write-ups in the weeklies and monthlies, and are probably accessible enough that they could conceivably attract listeners who aren’t into metal most of the time. I don’t begrudge bands for their (relative) success, or fans who tend toward bands with more press attention rather than the underground. But I feel that, if my tastes do run more towards more well-known metal acts, I might not be the best candidate to write a list highlighting the best of that genre in a given year. There will be countless other critics giving places to the bands I’ve been considering for a hypothetical list; they don’t really need the boost. And I’d imagine that most people looking to a low-traffic, low-profile blog such as this for recommendations of metal releases would most likely already be well-informed, and want to discover something they haven’t already heard of from the established outlets. I don’t think I can currently offer coverage of that many underground bands.

2) I’m not confident in my review writing skills

I’m never particularly happy with my style, language choices etc when writing anything for this blog, but I tend to feel more satisfied with the long-form essays I’ve published here than the shorter review pieces. Even if they’re not amazingly written compared to the work of professional metal writers, they are at least highlighting issues that I feel music journalism doesn’t pay enough attention to, and attempting to analyse those issues through a feminist/anti-patriarchal lens. That alone means they’re saying something a bit different to the majority of articles about metal. It’s far more difficult, though, to really say anything unique or exciting in a review format. The language and structure considered appropriate for an album review is incredibly proscribed, especially when writing about metal, to the point that certain adjectives and descriptions have become clichés at this point. I do my best to avoid them, and get my individual perspective across, but still feel that most of the time I’ve ultimately produced little more than an advert for the band I’m discussing. If that happens in a 700-800 word blog post, I hate to think how facile and pointless the 100-200 word descriptions of the albums on my end-of-year list would end up being.

3) The selection process is essentially arbitrary

It always seems a mysterious, arcane process, the method by which critics determine their 8th favourite album and decide its worth, relative to nos. 7 and 9. How is it possible, really, to assign ranks like this? Even if it might be fairly easy to determine the top one or two releases you enjoyed more than any other, how do you work out an accurate ascending order for your top 10 choices? Maybe this is easier for some people; maybe not as much thought goes into the ranking process as I’m assuming. Even if your end-of-year list is unranked, though, simply choosing the 10 (or 15, or whatever) items to include is a fraught process. In my case, I doubt I could really be sure I was representing the absolute best metal albums of the year,  as opposed to the ones I had listened to the most. It’s also likely any such list would be skewed toward releases from towards the end of the year, given that these are fresher in my mind than the many excellent albums from earlier in 2013. This, along with my concerns about whether I’ve paid enough attention to the unsung bands of the year, means I’d be second-guessing my choices almost as soon as I’d published them.

4) Who cares what I think, anyway?

For real. This blog has very light traffic, and the views it does attract seem to mostly be centred on the longer essays. Even for the people who do visit the site and care somewhat about what I have to say, my opinions on the merits of individual albums don’t appear to be that interesting. Does anyone really need to hear yet another nobody on the internet yelling about how Deafheaven’s Sunbather is clearly the album of the year? (It absolutely is, by the way, and I will brook no dissent. Fight me in real life if you disagree.)

                                     

I realise these are insecurities that a lot of other writers probably experience around this time of year; that more likely than not this is my internalised self-criticism putting down my ability, not an objective evaluation of my failings as a reviewer. If any readers would genuinely be interested in what I think about this year’s best metal releases, feel free to get in touch and let me know. If there’s enough demand I’ll reconsider my decision, and see if I can get myself to finish an end-of-year write-up. For now, though, I just do not feel up to the task.

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