The Inessentials of 2022
It’s getting close to the end of the year, and as usual, we’re treated to a slew of year-end best of lists. These lists can be really helpful in picking out new media to check out. They can also be incredibly performative, when it reads like the authors are trying harder to project an image of cool than they are to actually convey what they liked during the year. If this is your stock in trade, it’s a performance that must feel obligatory. Or, at least, it certainly seems that way from a sampling of these lists.
What’s especially notable about the Bandcamp editors picks for “essential releases of 2022” is how downright unlistenable many of them are. A positive spin might be to call them something like challenging. However, I’m certain that they are in fact as inessential as they are hyped. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Every year these editors seem comb the hipster trash bins in Brooklyn for whatever hip-hop, world music, free jazz cutouts they can find to wax poetic on.
There’s something desperate about reading white music critics contort themselves into pretzels to quote lyrics from their purported favorite hip-hop records while avoiding the copious use of the n-word. Not only that, but they have to somehow make the music sound edifying or profound in some sense. It’s gross and uncomfortable, but it’s a staple of this type of list. The authors can barely dodge all of the racial epithets and swear words to find something printable. You’ll find nuggets like the words of J. Edward Keyes: “Raw Extractions isn’t a rap record, it’s a cultural anthropology course.” I can’t begin to tell you how different the record he’s describing is from the cultural anthropology course I took in college! For one thing, the professor didn’t use the word sh*t 5x in 20 seconds. Even my physical anthropology professor didn’t sound that brash, and she wasn’t shy about her frustrations with our low test scores.
I think every year, my expectation of finding something genuinely likable on these lists goes down, as the tastemakers try to outdo each other with their showy eclecticism and pretentiousness. Maybe it would help to look at these lists as “favorites of the year” rather than “essentials of the year.” Perhaps then you’d get less of the sort of patronizing “this is what you should be listening to if your tastes are as refined as mine” posts. It would encourage more authenticity to ask what someone enjoys than what should be considered part of some sort of consensus of what is truly hip.
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