Idle Time: A Look Back, Part 3

The self-indulgent celebration of our tenth anniversary continues by prying open the archives: the dusty, zippered compact disc binders full of Idle Time compilations. Prior to 2003, these are garish exercises in artist-specific primers. Adrift on the wide-open internet waters was a bounty of images, mp3s, and treasure-map signposts towards albums, singles, and recordings that we never knew existed. It was a grand time to be a pirate. Matt had his Your Music Sucks series, which seemed to specifically target my indifference towards bands like Son Volt and Supergrass. I adopted The Promise Ring’s “Make Me a Mixtape” as a battlecry for any number of mix-CDs. We mail-ordered labels and booklets in bulk.

It was Will’s What I Heard compilation that gave real direction to this operation. Following his lead, we shared our favorite albums with one another just prior to winter break in 2002. Initially, these discs included songs from 2000 and 2001. That was before the project took on radioactive parameters and, screeching with mathematical fury, threatened to destroy Tokyo to the hundredth decimal point.

We went from friends, happy to find common ground in something like 02’s Yoshimi, to bitter rivals, arguing vehemently over whether or not 03’s Hail to the Thief belonged on a year-end celebration of the best music. We were doing one list, one compilation, and affixing one name to the glossy inkjet-printed booklet: the institute of idle time’s top 20 records of the year. I even had the audacity (or foresight) to stick a little ® on there, even though I shamelessly stole the Jack White artwork from someone on the internet.

Inspired by Pitchfork’s scoring system (another possible reason the project engendered so much initial animosity), we consolidated, ranked, and busted out the now legendary first official Idle Time “Best Of” comp in December of 2003. I made Will write the intro for the CD booklet.

Rock and Roll has retarded our lives! This whole project started with the idea of coming up with a definitive “top 20” of the year. Well, that is, the definitive top 20 as it relates to the three ding dongs in the back corner of MPS. Yes, we do teach occasionally, but we really just sit around and talk about/ridicule music all day. I really think this is the only thing that keeps us coming back every year.

Here’s how it works: Mark, Matt, and I all submitted our personal top 20 CDs of 2003. We then scored all of the CDs on a scale of 1-10. Each score was entered into a database, and the CD with the most points was the “winner.” And, yes, a special database was created just for this project.

Mark made me write this because supposedly this was all my idea. Maybe, but he still wishes he’d thought of it. – WH

The cute pseudonyms were born in that booklet too. I think subconsciously all this rampant piracy made us a little nervous. How were we to know that not even a decade later intellectual property rights would hardly mean a damn and the world wide web would turn into a playground of digital socialism? So we hid cleverly behind the impervious anonymity of our own actual initials, confident that this would foil any FBI plot to root out felonious file-sharers and make an example of them. We had our own paper-and-staple usernames way before any online avatars came into being.

And for those of you still scratching your head at the sheer amount of verbiage that’s been vented all over this website to celebrate our favorite records of the last few years, you may find it funny that the blurbs, in that first compilation, averaged about fifty words. (“I didn’t know Phil Spector worked with the Cramps. The [Deadly] Snakes are a refreshing addition to the garage rock scene. – WH”)

You can now check out the original ’03 list in the Accolades section of the site.