I’ve been struggling with my Music Favorites lists this year. Where I normally love sifting through everything I’ve purchased, streamed, and downloaded over the past year to put together my favorite songs and albums lists, this year it’s been a bit of a chore.

My first inclination is to say that is because this has not been a particularly good year for music. At least for the types of music I listen to. And, to a certain extent, that is true. In the sweet spot of all the genres I favor, I don’t think there have been that many fantastic albums in 2015. But as I scan the various Best Of lists that are beginning to hit the web, I see plenty of albums that I listened to once or twice but failed to connect with. I think I found a partial explanation for that last week.

As I was skimming through my Best Of lists from years past, I was reminded at how freaking good 2014 was. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but last year was one of my all-time favorite years for music. It featured one of my 20 favorite albums ever (Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs, an album I still listen to frequently), one of the boldest statements in rock music in ages (Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues), along with a dozen or so other albums I could put on right now and love, front-to-back. There were albums that did not crack my Top 5 last year that, if released this year, would have been a clear #1 album for 2015. Weird.

I wondered if perhaps I was out-of-touch with the zeitgeist in the end of the music pool I swim in. On both the music blogs I check daily and the SiriusXM alternative/indie rock stations that I listen to, guitar-heavy music seems to have fallen out of favor, replaced by artists who rely more on synthesizers, sequencers, and laptops, or have healthy electronic/dance elements to their sound. Not that I dislike those flavors. A couple of songs that fit into those sub-genres are on my Favorite Songs list this year. But I still prefer the guitar-based groups.

And as most of the albums I loved last year charted well on all the big Best Of lists, it’s not like I’m that out-of-touch. So perhaps it’s just an odd blip in history where there was a glut of albums that I loved in one calendar year then very few in the next.[1] Which could bode well for 2016.

Other things that made this year a challenge, musically:
* My June hard drive crash that wiped out 7–8 years of playlists, metadata, and a few hundred songs.
* Switching to Apple Music from Rdio, which caused some shifts in how I listen, especially to new releases.
* Several music blogs I follow either shutting down, or changing away from offering MP3 downloads of new tracks to streaming them through Soundcloud.
* Me aging? For years I’ve taken pride in still keeping up with new music. However, it seems like many of my favorite bands of recent years harken back to the sound of the mid–80s. Am I finally closing my ears to what the kids are listening to and are my preferences calcifying around the era I came of age? I hope not, so I’m just going to ignore this option.

As I’ve thought this through and read new Best Of lists each day, I’m realizing that perhaps this year wasn’t as bad as I originally believed. It sure wasn’t 2014, but through a variety of factors, I just was not able to appreciate it as much as I could have. In fact, I’ve found a couple albums and songs in the past week that I skipped over when they were released that I’m now enjoying quite a bit.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my lists. My Favorite Songs list will have a slightly different format this year, and I’ll likely post it in just one or two parts early next week.

  1. A couple critics, on their year-end lists, have noted they’ve heard this sentiment from others. So perhaps I’m not alone.  ↩