Monday, January 21, 2013

Pazz and Jop 2012

There seems to be a lot less discussion about the results compared to past years, probably due to a number of slowly snowballing factors.  Single-publication and critics' best-of lists start appearing online in late November, making P&J results not much of a surprise in mid-January.  The declining interest in print media in general.  Shifts in music criticism away from generalist and towards specialist publications.  And so on.  List submissions (less than 500, way down from the 600-700 in recent years) and comment submissions are way down too.  They published two of my comments again this year, so you know they must be hard up for submissions.  But seriously, thanks to Brian McManus and the Village Voice, I'll always get a kick out of seeing my name next to Alfred Soto, Phil Dellio, and other P&J commenting regulars. 

I sent three short comment bits this year, and here's the one they didn't publish, a shortened version of my Beach House comment on my Top 10 Albums of 2012 post:

I'm exhausted from reading about other people's best albums of the year, not least because I feel overwhelmed and don't have time to listen to all this great music.  Beach House's "Bloom" was my favourite album of 2012, but if you haven't already heard it then you probably won't get around to it, because just like everybody else (including me), you've got a huge backlog of other albums in the queue that you hope to catch up with one of these years.

So that's why I've picked out the best bits of "Bloom" -- the very best part each of its ten songs -- edited them together, and posted them on Mixcloud ( for your listening convenience.  Now there are no excuses for not hearing "Bloom" because all you need to do is invest a measly one minute and forty five seconds to absorb the very best moments from the year's best album, such as 1:12 - 1:20 of "Myth", which is possibly the best eight second homage to "Heaven or Las Vegas"-era Cocteau Twins ever made, or the spine-tingling bridge from 1:59-2:13 of "Lazuli", or the mid-song break from 1:54-2:05 of "New Year" where guitars wail like crying seals straight out of My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless".  And who knows, maybe you'll like the highlight reel so much that you'll want to hear the entire album.

Glenn McDonald's P&J statistical index is now clearly the highlight of the poll.  Every year I get happily lost among the fascinating statistical tidbits that come out of Glenn's calculations, and this year was no exception.  This year he added new tools for comparing polls and critics' voting habits across different years, including the Breadth Index, which quantifies whether a critic tends to vote for his or her favourite artists year after year.  After years of existing in the background as something of a plaything for hardcore list fans only, Glenn's work is taking center stage at long last.  The final line of his essay sums up the importance of his work perfectly - "arguably, this explorable critical hyperindex is what the poll really exists to build."  The results of P&J might be a foregone conclusion these days, but it's still the largest music poll of its kind and is a golden opportunity for collecting data that will enable us to look at critical and popular music trends in a way that nobody ever had before. 

After several years of collective whining and crying about indie rock and the Pitchfork narrative taking over P&J (lest we forget 2009), Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar took the #1 and #2 album spots, while Miguel and Killer Mike placed in the top ten as well.  Fewer complaints have been heard, even though Pitchfork ranked those same artists high on their list this year.  So in case you were wondering, the indie rock half of the equation was the real problem.  Animal Collective's "Centipede Hz" finished tied for 157th, which is believed to be the largest drop-off in the poll for the follow-up to a P&J #1 album.  Everybody got burned out on AC at around the same time -- probably in the spring of '09 -- and "MPP"'s easy victory in the poll later than year was as fine an example of voter cruise control and hivemind groupthink as you'll find.  In other words, the thinking was "we decided one year ago that MPP is the album of the year, so I guess it still is."  Four years later, and the critical dismantling of AC and the indie rock backlash is all but complete.  I still haven't heard all of "Centipede Hz", but submitted my most indie rock centred list ever, so it was only a partial victory around my house. 

I've heard the usual complaints about not enough musical diversity and participation by voters in specialty genres, and every year I respond by noting how almost none of the diversity complainers stick up for electronic music.  This year, the closest thing to a consensus choice was Andy Stott's "Luxury Problems", at #29 with just 21 mentions (I'm not counting Grimes as "electronic").  That's fairly typical for each year's token electronic album, for instance, last year James Blake finished at #34, the previous year it was Caribou at #25 or MIA at #31 or Four Tet at #35 (depending on your definition of electronic/club music), indie rock blazed a path of destruction over all genres in '09 but in '08 Hercules and Love Affair were at #19, largely on the strength of the crossover appeal of "Blind".  In 2005 it seems like everyone with a passing interest in minimal rallied around Isolee's "We Are Monster" and it finished "only" at #41, but it was nevertheless something of a shock to see that sort of album ranking so high.  Anyway, you get the idea.  Electronic music was mostly ignored again, nobody really cares, let's move on.

Don't blame me if you think there isn't enough variety in P&J.  My centricity score was .201, at #283 out of 485 contributors, putting me in the lower 42nd percentile.  I was in the 46th percentile in 2011 and the 40th in 2010, so this was more or less in line with my average (which has also been calculated!  I'm #633 out of 1067 over the past five years, or the lower 41st percentile of centricity).  Also my Breadth Index is .900, or #89 out of 1083, which means I'm near the top when it comes to voting for different artists each year with very little repetition.

It seems to be the case every year, but once again I voted for two albums that did very well in the poll, and another eight that for the most part did not.  That distribution was less bimodal than in past years, mainly thanks to a fair bit of support for both Spiritualized and GY!BE.  Oddly enough, the biggest extreme occurred in 2009, when my centricity score was skewed by votes for two top five finishers in the poll.  The rest of my choices that year drew a combined total of 23 votes, or about one-sixth of what Animal Collective earned with their #1 album.  My total of seven unique votes is misleading because of the strangeness of my singles ballot, but I did vote for one album with no other mentions and two others with just one other mention.  One of those two was Sigur Ros' "Valtari", which was a huge surprise because they've usually done quite well in P&J going back over a decade. With their four previous albums, they finished at #54 in 2008, #50 in 2005, #25 in 2002, and #33 in 2000 (and #16 in 2001 for "Agaetis Byrjun" yet again).  Spiritualized have been heading in the opposite direction -- #184 in 2003, #80 in 2008, and #34 this year, tied with "Let It Come Down"'s rank from 2001.

Consensus around the top albums seems to be holding steady over the past few years.  62% of all ballots listed at least one of the #2-#10 albums.  That's only two percent lower than 2009, AKA the year of GAPDY.  But my favourite P&J statistic this year is this one, courtesy of Glenn Mcdonald -- of the 7 people who voted for Mastodon's "Curl of the Burl" in 2011, 5 of them voted for "Call Me Maybe" in 2012.   Numbers like that simply defy simple generalizations, you just have to sit back and admire them.  

No comments: