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Baker's Dozen

13 Reasons Why I Can't Pick My 13 Favourite Records, By Drew Daniel
The Quietus , September 25th, 2014 06:41

When we asked Drew Daniel of Matmos and The Soft Pink Truth for his Baker's Dozen, he refused - and with good reasons. Thirteen of them, to be precise. Here Daniel presents them in an essay titled A Rant Against The Quantification Of Aesthetics. All photographs courtesy of Drew Daniel

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Reason Eight: It Encourages The False Idea That "Best", "Better Than…" And "Worse Than…" Apply to Art.
Question: What is Neil Young's On The Beach album like?

Answer: It's his best!

If you think this is a not a good answer to that question, you're right. The word "Best" is just a placeholder for a swirl of emotions, a specific historical narrative, a shaky web of criteria, as relayed by a person who is changing all the time as new experiences influence them. All of which is interesting. The "best" part is not. If "best" only begs the question, the same is also true for talk about "better than . . . " or "worse than . . . " that afflicts the scene when we explain why one record is on a list and another is left off. Each record proposes to you the terms by which it might be judged. Some people aim high and wipe out, some people aim low and nail it, but who decides what constitutes these alleged successes or failures? What is the vantage point from which you determine what is high or low as a goal in the first place? What does "easy" and "difficult" mean when making art? Is a record that sets a supposedly modest goal for itself "worse" than a record that takes huge risks, and attempts impossibly ambitious things? From a labour standpoint, an album of two-chord drone rock with muttered vocals about drugs is easier to make than a witty song-cycle about American imperialism set to calypso and Trinidadian steel band arrangements with orchestral strings. But so what? On some days, Spacemen 3's Sound Of Confusion is clearly "better" to me than Van Dyke Parks' Discover America. On other days, the reverse is just as clearly true. At no point are these shifting wins and losses anything other than a subjective report about my whims, pleasures and needs. List making perpetuates the illusion that those whims are facts worth reporting.


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