The Pressure Of Year's End Looms

The personal ranking the year's best presents more than a quandary for one of our intrepid editors.

The year is winding down, which means it's Top 10 season here at Billboard, and I'm starting to get nervous.

Here's the deal: Every year, we writers and editors select our favorite albums of the previous 12 months and the results are published online in conjunction with Billboard's annual year-in-review coverage. It's one of my absolute favorite parts of my job.

That's because there's been an annual Garrity Top 10 list long before my days at Billboard created an official outlet for it. I've been keeping score in my head for years. (Very nerdy. Yes, I know.) Now that my list gets shared with the world, I'm geekier than ever in the seriousness I bring to the task of making my selections. I feel like the Hamlet of East 9th St. as I wrestle with the question of To Pick, or Not To Pick in revisiting the albums I enjoyed over the year.

My problem is that before the month of November ends I have to make a final call on my best albums of 2005. In the world of journalism, deadlines and production schedules are unforgiving. Even though there will be another month to the year still to go, critics poll lists are due well before we all sing "Auld Lang Syne."

I have a pretty good idea of how my Top 10 will stack up. A lot of my picks have been firmly positioned for months. But as is the case every year, right now I'm worrying about sleeper albums. What if there's something that I haven't yet heard that ultimately will be glaringly absent from my list? Or even worse, what if there is something I have heard and will one day adore, but I just don't know it yet? My list will be floating in cyberspace forevermore and one of my actual favorite albums of that year won't be on it!

Invariably once my list is published I feel the sting of The Album That Got Away. Last year it was "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire. That was a worst-case scenario because it was an album I had as soon as it came out. I liked it. I respected it. I was struck by the hype machine around it. But I didn't feel it. I didn't love it. Not then. Not yet. There were other albums commanding my attention. So I left it off my list.

About a month-and-a-half later, one picturesque snowy in evening in Brooklyn, I was listening to "Funeral" while walking home from work when epiphany struck: I loved this record. It's grand almost theatrical scope; its peculiar sensibilities; its unique timeless sound.

I look back at my list from last year and wince. If it were possible to do a revisionist history account of what I consider the best albums of 2004, "Funeral" no doubt would be at the very top of it.

Here in the homestretch of 2005 I wonder if there's another Arcade Fire -- or at least a strong Top Tenner -- secretly lurking in my iPod.

Right now I'm seriously sweating the self-titled debut from Capitol's the Magic Numbers. They have a great Mamas and the Papas-meet-Yo La Tengo sound that the U.K. press is bananas over. I'm struck by it every time I hear it. I dare you not to feel a chill when the song "Hymn for Her" transitions from delicate acoustic piece to anthemic rocker. But beyond that track I haven't yet bonded with the rest of the album. I'm going to have to make a judgment call on it sooner than I'd like.

Ditto for "Illinois" by Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty). It may be the most fully realized, artistically impressive record I've heard all year. But its precocious tweeness is slowing me down. It flutters delicately and demands emotional investment; meanwhile I have a lot of other music to listen to. I'm concerned my true love for this album may come too late for voting purposes. As with the Magic Numbers, I'm now scrambling to make time to listen to it more.

But no matter what albums make my final cut, no doubt I'll be second-guessing my list. Six months from now I'll still be revising it in my head.

That, of course, is part of the fun.