Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pazz and Jop 2011 - the results

My first thought when I clicked on the main results page was that somebody had hacked into the Village Voice's website and put their friend's band at #1. It took about ten seconds for me to realize that the whole thing wasn't some elaborate joke. Who the hell are tUnE-yArDs? Obviously I hadn't paid close enough attention when they (or rather, she) had turned up on other year-end lists (which I admit to not having perused too carefully, other than searching for some sort of end of year consensus). So I immediately watched the video for "Bizness" and was appalled. tUnE-yArDs are horrible.

What's even more amazing is that "w h o k i l l" received nearly the same number of points (and more points/mention) than Animal Collective did in 2009 (and yes, there were nearly identical numbers of voters in those years). Does this mean that tUnE-yArDs were a phenomenon nearly on par with Animal Collective, who seemed virtually inescapable for all of 2009? In the past few days, I've seen that I wasn't the only one who was completely in the dark about tUnE-yArDs' "success". She seems to be the perfect poster girl for a year with such a surprising lack of consensus. Everyone who doesn't love her, hates her or has no idea who she is, and you could say the same about most of the P&J top ten albums this year.

Here are my top ten albums and their placements in the poll:

M83, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" (#19)
PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake" (#2)
Wolves in the Throne Room, "Celestial Lineage" (#144)
The Caretaker, "An Empty Bliss Beyond This World" (#84)
Death in Vegas, "Trans-Love Energies" (#419)
Modeselektor, "Monkeytown" (#1670)
I Break Horses, "Hearts" (#819)
Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (#39)
Surgeon, "Breaking the Frame" (#613)
Mogwai, "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will" (#116)

In Centricity rankings, I was #378, roughly the median of the 700-person voter list. This puts me in a position similar to 2009, where I voted for two very high ranking albums. This was enough to put me in the middle of the Centricity rankings even though most of the albums I voted for finished way down the list. Tim Hecker at #39 is astoundingly high, even though it's been a constant in the lists on indie and electronic music sites, I don't think anyone would have predicted that it would finish in the top 40 of a generalist poll like P&J. The Caretaker also finished surprisingly high thanks to one of the highest points/mention ratios in the poll (Tim Hecker got more than three times as many mentions as The Caretaker).

The rest of my top took their fairly predictable positions. There are always enough ten or so Mogwai fans who manage to get their albums into the top 200. I cast the only vote for Modeselektor (note that #1670 = third last, behind only single mentions with six and five points), not unlike two years ago when I was one of two voters for the eponymous Moderat album. The P&J electorate simply do not care for them. If there was ever an album that I assumed I'd be the only one to vote for, it was "Breaking the Frame", but it garnered two other votes, one of them by longtime electronic music critic Todd Burns, who basically only votes for techno year in and year out.

As for my singles ballot, "Till the World Ends" had a somewhat shocking top ten finish (somehow this became the go-to Britney single), Gaga and Nicki Minaj were huge, and the rest were "songs" that only I voted for (except for "Try To Sleep", with five other mentions). I'm glad I stopped listing songs from my top ten albums list -- PJ Harvey placed eight songs from "Let England Shake", and tUnE-yArDs placed seven from "w h o k i l l". Sometimes you can't avoid voting for songs from the year's best albums, but when they clog up the songs list like this, it makes for a boring list.

Glenn McDonald noted that only four voters finished with Centricity higher than 0.7 this year, compared to 26 in 2010 (recall that a voter whose top ten matched the P&J top ten -- in content, not necessarily in the same order -- would have a Centricity score of 1). Let's quantify this a bit more, because in 2009 there were only 12 voters over 0.7, and that was the year of GAPDY (Girls, AnCo, Phoenix, Dirty Projectors, YYY) where loads of people were in arms about Pitchfork taking over P&J and everyone supposedly voting for exactly the same five indie albums.

Consider the number of voters with Centricity equal to or above the following cutoffs in 2009-11:


The most telling drop off is above 0.75 -- nobody's individual taste even came close to representing the consensus, in the strictest sense. But if you take a more moderate definition of consensus, like > 0.6, then 2011 and the supposed hivemind of 2009 are very similar.

At the high end of the Centricity rankings, 2010 looks like a huge outlier, I think this is because the crazy huge number of votes for Kanye West are skewing the rankings. The median Centricity scores for 2010 and 2011 are almost identical, i.e. the outliers on the high and low end of the consensus scale balance each other out. After starting to write this, I noticed that Glenn had tabulated something similar for 2008-11. Take out 2010, and the degree of consensus doesn't change much over the past four years. His "consensus" number is clearly weighted according to the high end of the Centricity rankings (i.e. the number of voters who tended to make consensus picks), whereas his "diversity" number is probably more like the standard deviation of all the Centricity scores, which would tend to be mostly clustered around the median for that year.

Two of my comments were printed this year, which was a nice surprise, especially considering I didn't have much time to work on them. Even when there isn't enough time to work on detailed comments, I always try to fit in something about my #1 album. I figure it's my duty to at least try to justify that pick. This year they picked my "weird" comment too, although the theme of getting older and failing to keep up with new music and remember the names of artists/songs turned out to be a mildly popular one, judging by the other comments expressing similar sentiments.

I haven't read all the essays and comments yet, but Chris Molanphy's The Incredible Shrinking Album is unique and I think very important. We don't tend to talk about sales figures when breaking down these lists, which is strange because the music industry as a whole is all shrinking sales figures all the time. tUnE-yArDs' likely record as the weakest selling P&J #1 seems like it will be tough to break, but as Chris points out, in a year where two of the top twenty albums were free, downloadable mixtapes, and two of the top ten singles barely exist outside of Youtube, can we really say that with much confidence?

And finally, where art thou gone, b-factor? tUnE-yArDs scored a 6, Bon Iver an 8. Obviously this wasn't intended to be a predictive factor, i.e. just because your upcoming album has a b-factor of 20 doesn't mean you're destined for success, but a claim that an artist that does break through is quite likely to have a b-factor in a particular range. Is this what happens in years where consensus doesn't form? That is, can we expect a critical "free for all" where the usual rules of tastemaking don't apply?

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