Too often, a big name or sleeper hit pops up in late December, drawing in rave reviews and enormous sales—but missing out on so many coveted “album of the year” list spots. Even more outlets exclude it from the list because of already decided list positions, or because it hasn’t “had time to sit” or establish “timelessness.” However, by the time the year-end lists roll around once more, it’s been long forgotten for the next year’s trends and hits, excluded from the annual records by nothing but unfortunate coincidence.
Last year, D’Angelo and the Vanguard surprised the world with a new album Black Messiah after over a decade of hiatus, but the December 15 release date found the album too late for many already published “Best Albums of 2014” lists and excluded from many to-be-published features, despite its rave reviews. As that time of year comes again, it’s not appearing on the lists of those websites who praised so highly in their reviews but had already published their annual lists.
The blame is shared between both the music publications and the labels that decide release dates. As year-end lists roll out with a whole month remaining in the year for the sole reason of remaining competitive for readership (who wouldn’t want the privilege of naming the first Album Of The Year?), publications blindly cut weeks of releases out of the running for the lists. On the other hand, labels will either hurry production and promotion to release an album before the year’s start, they leave the album out of consideration for early lists—and in music’s competitive media sphere, every namedrop counts.
As I compile my own year-end feature to air over the holidays, the most I can do is hope that no groundbreaking releases pop up after I hit ‘export’ and head home for Christmas. There’s not a lot that can be done to stop the forward creep of year-end lists, but a date or critic can’t decide how an album sounds to you. Keep an eye out for sleeper December lists this year, and remember that the only album of the year that matters is your own.
Tim Mikulski, Asst. Music Director