In my official capacity as tabulator of this poll, I hereby confirm the decisive victories of Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange and Carly Rae Jepsen’s song “Call Me Maybe.” Thirty-five percent of critics voted for Channel Orange, close to the historic 37 percent Kanye West received in 2010, and far beyond the 19 percent with which tUnE-yArDs won in 2011. “Call Me Maybe” got 1.74 times as many votes as the second-place single, which is also nearly as high as the epic 1.78 margin for Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” in 2010 and far higher than any other recent song winner.
Beyond the winners, though, 2012 was another year of relatively weak consensus. In 2010, there were seven albums that received votes from at least 15 percent of the voters, and 13 that got votes from at least 10 percent. In 2011, only three albums received 15 percent, and 10 got 10 percent. In 2012, there were four that got 15 percent and only nine that got 10 percent. That is, 99.4 percent of the albums didn’t even make the top 10 for more than 90 percent of the voters. But the other way to say “weak consensus” is “inspiring diversity”: This year’s voters contributed an average of 3.2 different albums per person, which is easily the highest since we started calculating this figure in 2008.
Album voters assign each album five to 30 points, with 100 total points to distribute across 10 albums. As is usually the case, this point system made little difference to the top of the overall ranking. Were the poll tabulated strictly by vote count, the top seven would stay the same. Grimes would jump Killer Mike into eighth place, and Jack White would jump Beach House into 10th. But the more interesting thing points gives us is an enthusiasm rating, which is an album’s average number of points per voter. The three standout albums by enthusiasm were Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black Is Beautiful (15.7 ppv), Lambchop’s Mr. M (15.4), and the Steve Lehman Trio’s Dialect Fluorescent (14.2). The highest enthusiasm score among the top 10 albums went to Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, which got 12.4. (Due to the point rules, enthusiasm scores more than 15 are rare, and scores over 12 are notable.) At the other end of the table, the three albums with the lowest enthusiasm (counting only those with at least five votes) were Rick Ross’s Rich Forever (6.9 ppv), Hospitality’s Hospitality (6.9), and Mac DeMarco’s 2 (6.4). Of the top 10 albums by points, the lowest enthusiasm score was Grimes’s Visions, with just 9.5.
Although the poll is primarily designed to rank music, it is also a way to rank voters. We do this by centricity, which measures how close each voter came to picking the 10 albums with the most total points. The joint winners by this measure were Jeremy D. Larson and Michael Gallucci, whose albums represent about 85 percent of the maximum possible points, in both cases including more than half of the actual top 10. At the other end, there were four voters whose album ballots contained entirely one-vote albums: Brett Callwood, Chuy Verela, Jacob Edgar and Angela Sawyer. Whether this makes them extraneous or invaluable is a matter for you to decide.
Although this centricity score might not be inherently interesting to you unless you are one of the voters, it allows us to calculate a derivative rescoring of the album poll called kvltosis, in which each vote’s points are inversely prorated by the voter’s centricity. This measures the extent to which an album represents diverse agreement among voters who otherwise don’t follow the poll’s general consensus. The top such cult discoveries this year were by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, Wadada Leo Smith, Gojira, Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin, Black Breath, Lee Ranaldo, Black Bananas, Future of the Left, Screaming Females, and High on Fire. So if anybody complains that the winners were predictable, this is where you send them instead. The closest albums to the poll’s consensus that weren’t themselves winners were Action Bronson and Party Supplies’ Blue Chips, El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, and Chairlift’s Something.
The last general-purpose album metric is hipness, which measures the fraction of an album’s points that came from voters who also filled out their singles ballot (a snide contention being that grouchy older voters tend to skip the singles, while hip young kids do not). There were 19 albums this year whose voters all also voted for singles, with the most notable being Jessie Ware’s Devotion (#30 in the main poll). The hippest album among the top 10 was Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream (almost completely hip at .962), and the least hip was Tame Impala’s Lonerism (borderline passably hip at .699). The bottom of this ranking provides some compelling support for the voter-age hypothesis, with hipness below .333 for Patti Smith,the Beach Boys, Graham Parker, and Can.
The only alternate score we calculate for the song poll is singularity, which measures the fraction of a song’s votes that came from people who did not also vote for an album by the same artist. This is an attempt to factor out perfunctory singles ballots that are really just repeats of the album lists. The runaway winner in this category is Gotye, whose omnipresent “Somebody That I Used to Know” was on 31 song ballots this year and eight more carried over from 2011, but not a single one of those 39 voters voted for his album Making Mirrors. And the single voter who did vote for the album didn’t vote for that song. “Call Me Maybe,” perhaps surprisingly, ranks only 56th by this measure, lower than Usher’s “Climax” and Kanye’s “Mercy.” At the other end, everybody who voted for Killer Mike’s song “Big Beast” also voted for his album, and almost 75 percent of the people who voted for Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” also voted for Channel Orange.
The last meta-analysis we do is a similarity matrix. This process identifies similar albums and similar songs by voter overlap, and similar ballots and voters by album/song/artist overlap. In some ways, this is actually the most interesting view of the poll’s data, as it identifies voting patterns that are not otherwise readily apparent. It reveals, for example, that the voters for Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Fiona Apple, Japandroids, and Miguel overlap substantially in all directions (more than usual for a top five), but Tame Impala at #6 has a different faction (who also like War on Drugs, Cut Copy, Cloud Nothings, and Beach House), as do Swans at #7 (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, El-P, Baroness, and Spiritualized) and Grimes at #9 (Beach House, Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, and Scott Walker). This analysis includes all data from 2008 to 2012, so we see, among other things, that the most similar album to Taylor Swift’s Red is her own 2010 album, Speak Now, but that there are actually 11 other albums more similar to Red, by voter overlap, than Swift’s Fearless.
Click any album, song, or voter in any of the lists linked above to see a consolidated profile page with similarity rankings for albums, songs, artists, ballots, and/or voters. The whole stats site is cross-linked in this way, with a page for every voter who has participated in the poll in the past five years and every artist for whom they have voted. Arguably, this explorable critical hyperindex is what the poll really exists to build.