Thursday, November 02, 2006

The tipping point

Soon we’re set to be inundated with lists. Most significantly, the all-important End of Year lists that allow those of us remiss through the year to catch up. The Christmas list at least offers us a better stocking option than the latest Abba Best Of. But it’s still a compromised process.

Firstly, magazines have to draw up their lists almost two whole months before publishing Christmas editions, thus missing out on the unusually good music that actually gets scheduled by major labels at that time of the year. (Perversely, the festive period is boom-time for good music as most of the departments in labels usually responsible for pumping out marketing-driven fodder have dispatched a deluxe edition Bee Gees Best Of and thus see their work as finished until February. So, the way is clear for something a little more adventurous.)

Then, there’s that nagging suspicion that editorial lists are a compromised business – not only subjected to the ‘festive backslap filter’ - seasonal thanks for this or that exclusive or interview granted during the year - but also influenced by the private agendas of the writers polled to compile them.

The list is also an economic way for a publication to make an editorial statement about where they’re at. Think of the two records that sit atop Pitchfork’s celebrated list of the top 100 albums of 2000-2004: Radiohead’s “Kid A” and Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint”. That says more about that publication’s agenda than a year’s worth of ‘Letter from the Editor’ columns. So, honest or otherwise, it’s a hard pairing to resist surely.

At Tunetourist we like to take our tips from independent record stores because, despite pressures that undoubtedly impact on the music they stock and push, there’s less between their ‘tip’ and the real excitement of discovering that track in the first place. The excitement of discovering something new is in the DNA of anyone interested in music – it kicks right in the frontal brain and has told you everything you need to know long before the critic has started to formulate ideas about why the track in question is a special piece of music.

Admittedly, if you’re unfamiliar with what to look for in a track you’ll need to live with it for a while, but the guys that work in record shops have already lived with all the styles of music they’re tipping and spot the winners instinctively. Arguably, they’re more valuable in the recommendation process – spreading the thrill of the new - than critics whose assessments are critical rationalisations. It shouldn’t be a great surprise that when many of us pick up music magazines we automatically head for reviews of albums we already know, ‘reviewing’ is a different game altogether.


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