Monday, January 19, 2015

Pazz and Jop 2014

The results were published last week, and there was a surprise winner!  This is a true rarity for P&J in the internet era.  Every major print and online publication posts its list by mid-December, so by the time P&J counts the votes and publishes its list, dozens of competing polls and lists have already been dissected for weeks from every conceivable angle.  By that time, the Village Voice's list is often little more than a foregone conclusion, despite the care and thoroughness that goes into it (you still won't find a larger poll with a more varied electorate anywhere).  To counter this somewhat, the Voice has moved up the P&J publication date over the years, from early February to the first half of January, but they're still the latest arrivals to the end of year wrap up party.

The advantage with being the last to publish, however, is that they're the last to accept ballots -- often right until the last few days of the year.  I personally have always hated the idea of seeing "year end" lists published in November, or people starting to rank their top tens in July, because a year is a year, and I want to maximize my time spent with every release, particularly the ones that come out in the fall.  That leaves room for albums like D'Angelo's "Black Messiah" or last year's Beyonce album to capture some last minute crit-love before the year is over.  Equally surprising is how handily D'Angelo won, and the amazingly high number of points/vote that he received (12.3).  Only seven other P&J top ten finishers from 2010-2014 had a 12.0 or higher.

Statistics for the poll, as always, come from Glenn McDonald's indispensable database.

I had my highest ever centricity score this year, breaking into the top 40th percentile for the first time.  The only other year that comes close was 2009, when I also voted for two albums that finished in the top five of the poll.  Otherwise it was my usual stars and scrubs ballot.  My third album that cracked the top 20, Swans' "To Be Kind", had 49 other voters.  My other seven albums combined had just 33 other voters.

This was the first year I didn't submit a singles ballot.  I absolutely hate being one of those people who doesn't vote for singles but my long standing rule is not to vote for token album tracks from my albums list, and I didn't get into enough proper singles this year to the point where I could put together a list I could really stand behind.  The vote distribution on singles was arguably the most divided ever in the poll, so I think there were many voters who were of a similar mindset.  There weren't any brilliant and inescapable singles that a large number of people could rally behind, which likely resulted in an apathetic attitude toward singles in general.  

Glenn tabulated a stat called Vitality this year, where albums were re-weighted by the percentage of points that came from new voters.  For years many people have been complaining that voter tastes are too narrow and that an injection of new blood is needed not only to keep things fresh, but to increase the visibility of under-recognized genres.  That sentiment reached a fever pitch around 2009, when the P&J top ten was dominated by Pitchfork-approved indie rock.  So Glenn tabulated everything according to Vitality, and the top ten is dominated by ... slightly more obscure indie rock!  Listen, I'm all for adding as many new voters as possible, I'm not elitist in any way about preserving the sanctity of the ballot like the BBWAA is with their baseball Hall of Fame ballots.  But I never understood this strange belief that adding new voters would automatically increase diversity.  I also never thought the answer was to "add metal music critics" or "add country music critics" to get those genres represented, because they'll load up their ballots with nearly nothing other than metal or country.  Adding new voter blocs isn't the same as adding diversity.  "Breadth" measures this somewhat -- if someone consistently votes for a variety of genres, they're more likely to be discovering new artists all the time and less likely to be voting for the same artists year after year.  

On that note, I usually complain about the poor state of techno and electronic music in the poll, but this year I'm not sure I can.  The strong showing by genre-spanning artists like FKA Twigs and Caribou shows that many of the old boundaries between genres are becoming blurred.  Todd Terje and Aphex Twin may be canonical and therefore boring according to some, but they both made the top 40.  Do we have the EDM boom to thank for this?

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