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Infallible tests for year-end bests

Top album lists, music-mag behemoths, and folky goodness

Another year, another ten thousand year-end best-album lists. They’re great and all, but they probably offer more insight into the publication than the music.

Take Rolling Stone, the once-relevant music and lefty politico mag, which seems to have felt obligated to include other former heavyweights Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, and AC/DC in their best album list as an homage to 1987. Strangely, in the same issue, Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy was rightly described as an overproduced disappointment – yet it was also the 12th best album of the year. What I’d like to tell Rolling Stone in this piece they’ll never read is: just because the favourites of yesteryear release new albums doesn’t mean you have to care.

The real purpose of year-end lists may be to distinguish all-too-similar media outlets. After reformatting to a smaller page size, Rolling Stone now looks remarkably similar to SPIN, but it goes one step further by offering the same subpar content in its few dozen pages that reads like what the guy in sales knows the text-messaging kids want these days. Also like SPIN, RS chose TV on the Radio’s Dear Science as the year’s best album. Fair enough, it’s damn good, with soothing layers of fuzz, acoustic and electric drum beats that can be DAF (dancy-as-fuck), and bold vocals that could give MJ “satisfaction” when they shift to falsetto. (The older, born-white MJ.)

But that’s beside the point. When I was in a rush and trying to quickly determine if a publication knew what it was talking about regarding music this year, I used the statistically significant Bearded Folk (BF) test. It’s a little complicated, but the gist is, if a list included Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, and Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album in their top ranks, it knew what it was talking about. And boy you can guess what happened when the two albums weren’t included! (The source didn’t know what it was talking about.) It turned into a simple exercise with which many are familiar: scanning print and online pages for your personal favourites to read more about what you already know. But goddamn those two albums were so good.

Turns out the BF test isn’t foolproof, as some who passed it sadly only pretend to know what they’re talking about – RS being one of them. Hopefully it’ll focus on its political musings, which are at least vaguely original.