Monday, February 21, 2011

1998 The Hard Way

Or: How a simple desire to create a well-researched set of best of lists consumed two years of my life.

Almost 14 months ago. That's when this started, January of 2010.

Well, if you want to get technical it really started about 6 years ago. That would be the first time I attempted to make a “Top 100 Albums of the 1990s” list based on a what I knew at that point in time. This whim was followed by the whim to start delving deeper into the decade, start ferreting out those elusive hidden gems that I was sorely lacking in. That sounds simple enough doesn't it? Look at what you like, seek out things in that same mold, repeat. The problem is that once it started it kept going. It stopped being a simple delving and developed into something much more all consuming. My initial top 30 of 1990 list was based on a sample size of a bout 250 albums. It took me about 6 months to listen through those, determine my favorites and hash out an order. Same deal for the subsequent years. Hall, back then my additions to each years listening queue were so sporadic that I took a few weeks after each one was complete to listen through the older stuff I'd been recommended since then and adjust the list accordingly. All this while keeping up with current music. All that while going to school full time.

If the me of 6 years ago could see the mountain I am so close to reaching the peak of with my 1998 list I am certain that he would be either incredibly impressed or afraid of how fucking crazy I've become.

1150 albums. That's how long my list of 1998 albums is as of today.

1150 albums from one year.

The thing is that when you're a music junkie, the searching never stops. You find new lists that have new suggestions, new forum threads pointing you towards new, overlooked albums, new users whose collections and tastes intersect with yours. You find 5 new albums you want to listen to for every one you do. Case in point: when I started going through my albums from 1998 a full year ago my long list was only just shy of 1000. In the intervening year, even as I was trying so hard to work through the mess I set up for myself, I was adding to that same mess. I have stopped that now, 1150 is a nice round number that I do not wish to disrupt. Why didn't I say 'enough is enough' at 1000, or even 1100? Because I kept seeing something new that looked like it was worth investigating. I'm sure I will keep seeing new things, but they will have to wait for now. I have them filed away.

1150 albums.

Of course I haven't found all of them, so the actual number is 1140 or something. Albums from some list that's long been deleted that contained more than enough worth investigating, albums that may not actually exist outside of someone's fevered imagination. This is also symptomatic of my process: they're reminders that no matter how much I have access to, there's more that's just out of reach.

1140 albums.

And I have heard them all. Some once, some multiple times. Some I have had for years and listened to frequently, some I have just discovered and had blow my mind enough that regardless of the backlog behind them I had to listen again.

1140 albums, and I don't necessarily regret it. It's not like I'm a hermit, gone mad spending day upon day doing nothing but listen to music, much of which was so inconsequential that I'd never think twice about hearing it again. Hell, within the last year there were periods that I didn't listen to anything at all. I still went to work, still went out with friends, still enjoyed silence. Hell, I even relocated during the course of this project, and if you think you can evaluate anything while moving you're as sadly deluded as I was in claiming that there'd be a top 50 of 1998 by the end of 2010.

1140 albums and that was only phase one.

Phase two begins now. The trudging through all the slop is over, this is the phase where I get to focus solely on the good. This is the fun part for me, because at the end of it all I will have a document marking the releases that made this whole ordeal worth it. The ones that stand out even amongst the elite class they find themselves in at this point. The ones that make 1998 worth the endless hours of examination I gave it.

And then I get to relax before I tackle the next where I have a long-list of 1289 albums (currently).

I clearly have a problem.

(Rough) Schedule

Because Mom always taught you to have a plan, and life always reminded you that hard deadlines are just promises waiting to be broken.

    • One Hit Wonders (because a year can best be defined through its flash in the pan success stories); one week

    • EPs (because getting the little ones done will give me a sense of accomplishment); one month

    • The Year in Country Singles (because yee-fucking-haw); one week

    • The Year in Rock Singles (because nostalgia is a powerful thing); one week

    • Borderline 4 star albums (because even if they won't make the final list they offer enough to merit a revisit); two months

    • The Year in Canadiana (because LOCAL PRIDE/PATRIOTISM!); one week

    • The Billboard Hot 100 of 1998 (because nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound); one week

    • 4 star albums (because there are many faces of good shit to examine); 3 months

    • The 1998 Festive Fifty (Because John Peel would have been my hero if I were British); one week

    • 4.5 star albums (because being close to classic is nothing to be ashamed about); 3 weeks

    • The RYM Top 100 Singles of 1998 (Because I trust you guys...don't let me down); 2 weeks

    • 5 star albums (because we take time to build up to the things we love); 2 weeks

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