Before we fully launch into list season, I just want to opine on a topic raised during the discussion of 808s and Heartbreak. It's the concept of "going minimal", which most critics agree to be Kanye's trajectory on that particular album.
Well here's my argument in a nutshell. "Going minimal" isn't nearly as impressive as it used to be. Many people have done it to great success and it often-- although not always-- is a euphemism for doing less work.
I've liked a lot of "minimal" albums. Bon Iver is definitely making my list this year, and that CD is pretty minimal. I like people like Nina Nastasia (on my list last year) and the simplest of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. I like that Tallest Man on Earth guy that Quinapalus shared with us.
But it's so much more impressive when people try to go all-out and actually succeed. That's part of the reason I like Chinese Democracy. No, it doesn't always work. But when it does, it's awesome and highly unique. I find it unconvincing when critics rip Axl Rose for creating multi-tracked Queen-style vocal lines, throwing in keyboards, "orchestra", crazy shredding, etc. and then they jizz all over a Spoon recording that's basically a Casio keyboard and a trap kit.
And look, I like Spoon. But there's more acts like them floating around than there are acts like Guns N' Roses. Critics love solo people with a piano or acoustic guitar, but there are so damn many of them who do it well. How many people, since the days of Queen, Love, Steely Dan, etc. go for the big sound and get it right?
Rufus Wainwright often succeeds, and I like a lot of his work. Joni Mitchell's album Travelogue (with orchestra) was brilliant, and I intend to post on that in the new year, even though it came out back in 2002. Kanye's earlier stuff was in that vein, especially Late Registration. And then there's the aforementioned Chinese Democracy.
Radiohead is a category unto themselves, because while Kid A had that icy, minimal sheen to it, closer inspection reveals a very complex album. There are a million things going on within the title track. Morning Bell grooves in 5/4. Even something spare like How To Disappear Completely is meticulously layered and EQ'd. Radiohead is one of those great bands that deceive you into thinking their music is simple, when in fact there's a lot going on. (The inverse is bands like Mars Volta, who'd like you to believe there's a lot more to their music than actually is there. And sorry kids, I'd put Sigur Ros in that category too. At least up until the current album, which I haven't heard, but I hear marks a departure.)
Well that's my rant on minimal vs. whatever you want to call the opposite trajectory. Feel free to angrily disagree, but remember: I like many "minimalist" albums. But for every 20 of them, there's just a single "over the top" album that truly connects. Much more impressive in my opinion... and, to bring it full circle, it's what drew me to Kanye in the first place.