The Pazz & Jop poll accepts ballots from a diverse pool of hundreds of critics, and a huge breadth of music makes its way onto the list— 1,554 albums this year, in fact. Name any album from 2012, and chances are good somebody gave it a vote. And we cherish each and every one. No one is going to be asked to turn in their critic’s credentials for their five-point vote for Yellowcard’s Southern Air. And not just because no critic voted for it. It would have been great if someone had. Plenty of people make the safe picks, but it takes guts to stick up for the downtrodden, the forgotten, the critically unpopular. We salute you, guy who voted for Our Lady Peace. Your courage is worth 1,000 Frank Ocean votes.
Motion City Soundtrack. LiL iFFy. Knife and Fork. Ice Choir. Troubled Horse. Macy Gray. Ting Tings. Tom Jones. These acts and nearly a thousand more make up the incredibly imposing One-Vote Team, the list of which could take up this entire page. In this year’s poll, if you combined the total points for the hundreds of albums that earned one lonely vote, they’d have beaten Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange twice over. (For more numbers-crunching wonk-tastic data, see Glenn McDonald’s tabulation notes.)
But let’s take a moment to consider some albums, like Yellowcard’s, that were overlooked entirely, the plucky underdogs who missed the cut by a mile due to being meritless, untimely, or otherwise basically shitty. While the year’s great musical achievements shine like the glittering Pazz & Jop firmament above, the year’s uncounted albums are the reassuring mud beneath our feet.
For example, Changed, by pop-country outfit Rascal Flatts, racked up an even zero points. In these times of deep ideological division, it’s an extraordinary consensus: Every critic agreed that Rascal Flatts deserved no mention whatsoever, even as a last-place, five-point pick, anywhere among the thousands of albums released. It’s all the more extraordinary when you consider that many of these same critics helped vote Moby’s Play as the best album of 1999—but the line must be drawn somewhere, and we can take comfort knowing that Rascal Flatts lies far, far beyond it.
How did Changed—a crossover hit from a major national act—pull not a single vote? First and foremost, through dogged and relentless sucking. The kind of workhorse sucking that doesn’t win the big awards, but goddamn it, it gets the job done (the job is bad music). Maybe Rascal Flatts doesn’t score big with critics, but Rascal Flatts is why critics exist: to figure out which music isn’t Rascal Flatts and make you aware of it by putting that music on lists.
Also wandering in the zero-vote wasteland are the albums that occurred to no one—not necessarily the worst of the year, but the least noticed. Like Vulnerable by the Used. It’s probably not so terrible, right? The Used, hey, there they still are: capturing no zeitgeist, leading no scene, provoking no second glances from critics, past that fleeting moment when teens found something to appreciate in screamy post-hardcore, holding out hope for that big red Best New Reissue from Pitchfork in 10 years. They yell into the void and continue to exist despite it all. And this is where true art lives: where nobody is paying attention. Or probably not. I just thought that would sound cool.
Any “best of” list, no matter how carefully curated, is still an attempt to impose order on wildly subjective matters of art and personal taste. That’s why the ballot system is so wonderful: Maybe no two critics will agree completely, but we can add them all up to find points of agreement, to catch a glimpse of the critical context of our time. Enjoy the wonderful, exciting music compiled in the poll, but save a fond thought for the crap that didn’t make it. Without bad albums, we’d have nothing to judge the good ones against.