Normally, by this time of year, I'm putting the finishing touches on my list of best albums, but I'm having trouble filling it out.
You see, the thing is, I haven't listened to many albums this year.
It's not that I haven't been listening to music. I've done that in spades. In fact, I've probably listened to more music this year than ever before. I simply haven't been devoting my time to listening to entire albums.
I have done what I swore I never would do: I've become a cherry picker.
It's not my fault. I swear. I blame Spotify and the access it provides to every album imaginable for the low, low cost of "free." Increasingly, I find myself selecting a song or two off an album and moving on instead of gorging myself on the whole thing, bad tracks and all, as has been my wont.
As a result, I'm struggling to point to releases that caught my attention and held it this year. There are certainly songs that I've gone back to time and again, but entire records? Not so much.
At first, I penciled in Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories." Thinking back, however, I realize I only listened to it in its entirety once or twice. Instead, I stopped at the dance-y, electronic-y highlights - "Doin' It Right," "Instant Crush," "Get Lucky" and "Lose Yourself to Dance." Once I added those to my playlist, I tossed the rest aside like a half-eaten salmon during an Alaskan bear feast.
So the question is: Does repeatedly listening to less than a third of an album's tracks qualify it as a best album of the year? My gut reaction is no, it doesn't. But if that's true, then the year had no best albums because "Random Access Memories" was the exception in producing even that many songs that caught my attention.
The same was true of my other finalists: Lorde's "Pure Heroine," Avicii's "True" and Bastille's "Bad Blood." These all produced a hit or two - "Pompeii," "Hey Brother," "Buzzcut Season," "Royals," "Flaws" - but failed to leave a memorable impression overall.
It's not that the music is worse this year, but like many people, the availability of streaming music has fundamentally altered my listening habits. I haven't bought a single album all year. I've streamed everything. I've been reprogrammed - or reprogrammed myself - to consume music differently.
Frankly, it's embarrassing, like being a lifelong foodie who suddenly develops an unfortunate penchant for Golden Corral.
At least they have cherry pie.
Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.