Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pazz and Jop 2015

Every social media platform and online media outlet has been re-branded as a David Bowie tribute/fan site this past week, and rightly so.  As such, this year's Pazz and Jop rollout was mostly an afterthought next to the far bigger news story of the week.  The VV is already disadvantaged by being the last major publication to release a year-end list, and barring mid-December surprises like last year's winner, Maxwell's "Black Messiah", that's not going to change anytime soon.  The poll still performs an important function by being the largest of its kind and by far the most well-archived.  Long after the shrugging has stopped in reaction to yet another website ranking Kendrick Lamar at #1, the wealth of information contained in each yearly P&J list will make it (in my view) an invaluable reference source for a long time to come.  Speaking of which, there was even a David Bowie/P&J article published this week too -- specifically, in reference to Bowie's historically poor showing in the poll, even in his 70's heyday.  
Some randomly organized thoughts:

-- The mid-January publication date (which is in itself relatively new, a few years ago they moved up the date by a couple of weeks to bring it closer to the publication of every other major media outlet's year-end list) doesn't lend itself to surprise results, save for the rare mid-to-late December bombshell (Beyonce and Maxwell in recent years).  But I can't recall seeing Carly Rae Jepsen ranked so high on other year-end lists, so I must ask ... what the hell?  I invested way too much time with that album this year, subjecting myself to multiple spins in an attempt to understand even 1% of the hype that had deemed it the smartest and most underrated pop release in forever.  I never heard anything other than your basic bubblegum pop dance album, which is a perfectly fine thing to be, and does not the least bit resemble something that deserves to be ranked as the #3 album of the year.  Maybe 2015 was a worse year for music than I thought ...

-- There's an interesting run from #43 to #49 which includes Low, Deerhunter, and Wilco, three indie darlings who didn't get much publicity this year presumably because of their familiarity after 15-20 year careers.  Nonetheless, there always seems to be a bedrock of critics who pay close attention to what they do because they never fall below a certain level in a large multi-generational poll like P&J.  That also applies all-time rock heavyweights like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen ... and how about that, there's Bob Dylan at #49!

-- Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly" was the most dominant #1 album in the history of P&J, seeing as it was named on over 40% of the ballots -- the highest percentage ever.  The real #2 album should have been Maxwell's "Black Messiah".  Why, you ask?  Since I've been voting (not sure about before that), the singles lists has always used carryover votes from previous years, against all discernible logic.  The poll is trying to recognize music in the year it made the most "impact", which is defined by the poll editors, not the voters.  So if I vote for "Habib Galbi" this year (which I did, and I was the only one) and it somehow breaks through and becomes a worldwide hit in 2016, then my vote will be counted toward the 2016 poll as well.  Thus, a song's standing is routinely boosted by double counting the votes of the first adopters.  This is usually the pattern, where a song takes a long time to catch on, a very small number of people vote for it in the year of its release, followed by a deluge of votes in the next year (the "impact year").  

Of course there's no reason to assume that the song had an "impact" on the first adopters in the year after they voted for it.  It's more likely that they've moved onto newer, and for them, more current songs.  Why assume (in this hypothetical example) that I liked "Habib Galbi" as much in 2016 as I did in 2015?  Because a bunch of other people decided to start liking it too?  Wouldn't I vote for it again if that were the case?  And assuming that I vote for ten different songs in 2016, doesn't that give me an unfairly expanded ballot with eleven songs instead of ten?

Oh but what's the harm with adding in a few extra votes as long as the poll gets the big picture right?  If five people vote for a song in 2014, and another fifty discover it in 2015, then let's forget about the calendar quirks and give the song its fifty five total votes for 2015, i.e., the year that it'll forever be associated with.  The bulk of the votes came in 2015, and the carryover votes are a small correction that don't impact the main results of the poll.  Well, except this year, when "Uptown Funk" got 44 votes, a majority of which (24) were carryover votes from last year.  Most of those voters were probably sick of it by mid-February and wouldn't even dream of voting for it again.  Or maybe they did and their votes were double counted!

And Maxwell?  I have no idea why that carryover rule should apply to songs and not albums, whose "impact" can equally well be spread over multiple years.  So Maxwell's 2008 points from last year should add with his 190 points from this year (18 mentions), boosting him from 42nd to 2nd place.  Anyone out there remember when CFNY named Smashing Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" their #1 album in both 1995 and 1996?  I still enjoy laughing about that one.  

I'm just looking for some consistency in these polls, that's all.  

-- There was no token top forty techno-related album this year, presumably because Philip Sherburne had better things to do than rally the troops.  The highest was Arca's "Mutant", which is a great record that I may have unfairly passed on for too much of the year, especially judging by the list of like-minded voters who did.  Other electronic-ish albums turn up in the 70's, including those by New Order, Holly Herndon, and Floating Points.  

-- The Christgau, Tate, Powers, and Levy end of year verbal jam session didn't live up to my high expectations, unfortunately.  Possibly because I don't know a thing about country and didn't learn anything new about Kendrick Lamar that I haven't read in a hundred other places.  Yes, it's an album dealing with black issues and primarily intended for a black audience.  At least they do acknowledge -- the white critics anyway -- that the debate leaves them on the outside looking in to some extent. 

-- As I expected, I was further from the consensus this year than ever before.  By far.  Glenn McDonald, as always, has the numbers to prove it.  

In Centricity, I was #432 out of 480, or bottom ten percentile.  My score was 0.058 (the higher the score, with one being the absolute maximum, the closer you are to the critical consensus).  My average over the previous seven years was 0.273.  The albums in my top 10 earned only 47 other votes in total.  In most previous years I listed at least one album with more than one hundred other votes. 

Going back to 2008, only in 2012 did I submit a ballot where no album earned more than 50 other votes.  That year, 50 other critics voted for Swans' "The Seer", and 39 voted for Beach House's "Bloom".  This year, my most popular albums, Beach House's "Depression Cherry" and New Order's "Music Complete", earned just 19 and 11 votes respectively.  Five of my albums were voted on by nobody else but me, a personal record.  One of those was Howling's "Sacred Ground", which is not a shock because nobody else (literally, besides one other critic who liked the 2009 Moderat album) ever votes for Modeselector, Moderat, or anything on their label(s).    

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