A few months ago, while Pitchfork were unveiling their expansive set of fin-de-siècle articles and lists, I spotted someone on the I Love Music forum say that they wished there could be a Stylus list. Despite my hatred of lists, this seemed like a good idea, and reasonably accomplishable too; most of us who used to write for Stylus are still in regular contact, and it wasn’t as if we’d never made a list before.
So I contacted Stylus founder and former editor-in-chief Todd Burns, now editor of Resident Advisor, and asked if he thought it was a good idea, and if so, did he want to be involved. He did, and he didn’t, in that order; he’s a busy man. So I took on organising what quickly became known as The Stylus Decade myself, with more than a little help from a few other key figures in the existence of Stylus. There’ll be time for full thank-yous later.
Obviously there are flaws in the methodology of making any list like this; had we polled people just a month later than we did, I would probably have voted for Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons. As it was, when ballots went out, I had yet to hear it, much like I had yet to become obsessed with Actor by St. Vincent. I’m sure there are plenty of other albums that our contributors meant to vote for but remembered too late or had yet discovered. There are, too, people we would have liked to contribute but who didn’t or couldn’t for whatever reason. And there is always the conundrum of how one counts the votes: we ascribed points based on order; had we not, and just counted the raw number of votes, our number one album would have been different. So it goes.
Umberto Eco recently said that “we like lists because we don’t want to die”, which makes a certain amount of sense even if we generally seem to list things at points of death, or at least points of change, however arbitrary. I think my favourite thing about lists has always been their capacity to surprise and educate, to remind us of things we forgot and introduce us to things we never knew existed. I think this is also why I’ve found lists in the Internet age a little underwhelming; our collective memories have become so good that the surprises seem to have thinned in number. But maybe that’s just me; if there are people who get from this list what I got from lists at the end of the 90s, then it will be worth it.
Although to tell the truth, the 90s don’t seem all that long ago, even though there has been an awful lot of music, and an awful lot of history, betwixt then and now. I’m not one for meta-narratives and decade-defining-statements, but if anything has typified this last ten years it’s probably speed, and fluctuations thereof; download times have got shorter, gaps between albums longer, and the way we consume music changes at an ever-accelerating rate. Ten years ago we’d barely witnessed reality pop TV, and barely conceived of the infinite jukeboxes offered by Last.fm and Spotify. Ten years ago I’m not sure I’d have believed that I’d now have 10 gigabytes of music on my mobile phone, with almost every song ever, or so I’m told, available to stream with only a few swipes of my finger. XTRMNTR may not seem that long ago, but minidiscs do.
But even so, things aren’t all that different. Greatly exaggerated reports of the death of the Technics 1210 turntable propagated via Twitter over the last few weeks suggest that physical formats aren’t dying out quite as fast as expected, even if CD singles are vanishing, while a little statistical analysis implies that, far from everyone embracing the long tail, most people still want to watch the same films and listen to the same music as everybody else. The high art of being discriminating, as Eco put it, is just as rare as it ever was. We asked for freedom of choice, got it, and chose the same things as always.
If there’s anything I really regret about this decade, it’s impatience. I mourn all the songs deleted from hard drives over the last ten years that would have been tolerated and eventually, perhaps, fallen in love with if they were on cassettes or LPs or CDs, the b-sides and album tracks and filler that get overshadowed by ego-songs demanding attention. Thinking about it though, I guess that lists like these are antidotes to impatience; they’re about taking stock, slowing down, making sure we didn’t forget anything important. I’m sure we did though.
And so we come to the thank-yous.
I’d like to thank Todd Burns, for letting us put these lists together under the banner of his old magazine’s name.
I’d like to thank Alfred Soto, Derek Miller, and Todd Hutlock, for organizing, editing, and haranguing our contributors.
I’d like to thank Nate De Young for building us a website that we can put these words on, which is a gargantuan task.
I'd like to thank Miguel Jiron for his awesome artwork; without him this site would just be hotlinks and Verdana.
I’d like to thank Andrew Unterberger and John Cunningham for compiling and matriculating the actual lists.
I’d like to thank everyone we polled, everyone whose name appears at the bottom of, and everyone who wrote essays, for taking part and making this happen.
And I’d like to thank you for reading.