Friday, June 28, 2013

"The Best Albums of the 1980s"

FACT published a list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s. There's no arguing with it, simply because it's so bizarre, so idiosyncratic, that only the most die-hard listeners could claim to have heard most of what's on it.

That is to say, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than, say, the Pitchfork 1980s list. Because it's not trying to do the same thing. A list like Pitchfork's suggests a canon. These are the records you've gotta hear if you want to understand alt-rock. They're the universally acknowledged classics.

But not "universally," of course, because your average record-buyer doesn't know or care who the Cocteau Twins are, much less Coil or Nurse with Wound. So what does the list do? It reaffirms the "indie" community--put sharply, the community of Pitchfork readers. It tells them what they already know.

FACT's list doesn't really fit with this kind of self-affirmation. If it's trying to make a point, it's about deliberately upending any kind of alt-rock "status quo." The top 7 items on the Pitchfork list aren't on it at all, for Christ's sake (in one case forcing it to place Sister over Daydream Nation, delightfully). The idea is to shuffle up the list of classics, to force readers to re-think the decade.

So the list's insufferable last words are "25 years later, the rest of the world is still catching up." What makes the list more than an instance of cooler-than-thou hipsterism is the subtle suggestion that in another 2 or 3 years it'll be time for another completely different list, which will be just as arbitrary. It introduces itself as: "very much a story as seen from the vantage point of 2013." This is a list that admits that one of its items (Ragas with a Disco Beat) is very likely a hoax, not recorded in the 80s at all. It's a send-up of the entire notion of a fixed canon of albums; a lot of good albums, but just as many might have been chosen instead with equal validity. Mostly, it's the chance to check out a lot of new stuff. (Certainly I'd rather hear about The Units than hear the praises of R.E.M. for the umpteenth time.)

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