IT’S that time of year again: anguish and frustration. And I’m not talking about how, where and with whom to spend Christmas, I’m talking about submitting my top 10 of the year. I have made these lists for the last decade or so, and, believe me, it gets harder every year. Obviously, that has to do with age: the older you get the more critical and cynical you become. It also has to do with the staggering overload of new releases – much more new music is released per day (over 100 000 songs says the industry) than one can actually physically listen to, so you’re essentially playing a losing game. And of course, the internet will be stuffed with end-of-year lists by every Tom, Harriët and Billie. So why even bother?
Here’s why: I enjoy it, despite all the pain it causes. In order to make things easier for myself, I used to have a rule: I must own all the albums I list in a physical format, be it LP or CD. The disappearance of the record store made that slightly more difficult. But since most of the albums I wanted to buy were not available in your average Musica store anyway, that wasn’t a real issue, I just ordered them from overseas. The demise of the South African Post Office, however, heralded the end of this option. Packages took months to arrive, if they arrived at all. And customs duty seemed entirely random, but invariably on the high side. Hence, I, like most of us, have had to resort to streaming services to hear new music. It has saved me money, but I don’t have to tell you that the listening experience comes nowhere near that of unwrapping a vinyl album or even a CD. Let’s say, I use Spotify and YouTube the same way I used our music library when I was a teenager, as a source of information.
So that’s just the logistical part of the agonizing task ahead of me. Then there’s the choice itself. What makes one album better than another? Last year Faye Webster’s I Know I’m Funny Haha was leading my list. Musically there’s no way it is “better” (read more accomplished) than my number two, Arooj Aftab’s experimental Vulture Prince, but Faye’s effort had given me most listening pleasure that year, simple as that. Her album, lyrics and voice made me happy, made me smile, which was no mean feat in these distressing times. So basically there is no way you can rank, it’s all mood, and it can change at any given moment...
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