In 2010, this poll had a high voter-count of 712. In 2013, only 457 critics filed ballots (offset slightly by the percentage of completed ballots rising from 66 percent to 75 percent). The results, however, are rather similar. In both years Kanye West won handily, appearing on more than a third of all ballots, which was half again as many as anybody else. Of the 104 Yeezus boosters who also voted in 2010, 79 of them supported that year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Vampire Weekend and Janelle Monáe made both top 10s. LCD Soundsystem’s 2010 dance slot went to Daft Punk in 2013 and Big Boi’s 2010 non-Kanye rap slot to Chance the Rapper; Beach House’s breezy pop morphed unradically into the Fleetwood/Mann-erisms of Haim; we swapped Sleigh Bells for My Bloody Valentine, the Black Keys for Kurt Vile, Robyn for Sky Ferreira. Arcade Fire and the National both had albums in both top 25s. The biggest changes in 2013 are probably Beyoncé’s No. 4 improving on, roughly, Erykah Badu’s No. 23, and Kacey Musgraves winning over a few more adults than Taylor Swift in 2010.
The song lists have more than a little in common, as well, with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” taking over for CeeLo’s “Fuck You,” Lorde subbing for Robyn, Miley Cyrus for Katy Perry, and most of the other slots going to a vote-splitting crowd of Kanye album tracks.
Despite the general approximate isomorphism, though, overall consensus continues its slow decline. Only three albums appeared on 15 percent of ballots, down from seven in 2010. In 2010, each voter contributed an average of 3.62 unique artists; this year, each voter contributed an average of 4.58, although this is partly a factor of the smaller absolute number of voters. Beyond Kanye, Vampire Weekend, and Daft Punk, it’s a five-album tie for fourth and an eight-way tie for ninth. The song distinctions get similarly fiddly after “Get Lucky,” “Royals,” and “The Wire.”
But the tops of the rankings are never the fun part, anyway. Here are some of the other stories hiding in the numbers from this year’s poll:
• Enthusiasm scores (the average number of points awarded by each voter, which can range individually from five to 30) favor the extremes. Four of the top 10 albums by enthusiasm are metal (In Solitude, Black Sabbath, Locrian, Carcass), and three of the others (Dean Blunt, Autre Ne Veut, Julia Holter) are conversely atmospheric and oblique. The top of the full Enthusiasm table is quite a bit more adventurous than the raw winners list, and well worth poking through for new discoveries. At the bottom, the top 10 album with the lowest enthusiasm score is Haim’s Days Are Gone, whose 9.6 average indicates that voters actually went out of their way to change the suggested 10-points-per-album default in order to properly quantify the limpness of their support. Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time would be ninth by simple vote count, but drops to 16th on points. The lowest enthusiasm score for any album with at least five votes is the Bon Iver spin-off Volcano Choir’s Repave, which managed a remarkable 6.3.
• If those aren’t quite adventurous enough, the Kvltosis table re-ranks the albums with an inverse weighting by how popular each voter’s tastes skew, to deliberately look for intriguing anomalies. This reveals even more underground metal (SubRosa, Gorguts, Ghost B.C., Inter Arma, Windhand) and a variety of contrastingly rootsier folk/world/psychedelia (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Wayne Shorter, Mavis Staples, Rokia Traoré, Tal National, William Onyeabor). The Kvltosis winner (the album that people who don’t tend to agree with anybody kind of agree on) is Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s English Electric. (Did you know OMD had a new album this year?) At the other end, the least kvlty album, and thus arguably the one even more definitively representative of the voters’ aggregate tastes than the raw winners, is Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz. Let this modulate your opinion of the whole enterprise however it must.
• The year’s least hip album, by the cheerfully inane Hipness measurement of how many of its voters grumpily refuse to bother voting for “singles,” was Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions. The top end of the Hipness table has 21 albums with perfect hipness (all their voters diligently and stylishly filled all 10 song slots on their ballots), and the hippest high-scoring albums are Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time, Disclosure’s Settle, and Haim. The percentage of ballots with song votes rose to a high of 82 percent this year, though, so this metric may be on its way to extinction.
• The Metalism table, which re-ranks the albums by prorating each voter’s votes according to how much metal they voted for, turns up mostly metal, as it better, with In Solitude taking the title of Most Metal. Scanning through the rest of the Metalism top 20, though, makes me wonder if voters have actually listened to the things they say they like, as the non-metal entries show a distinct and frankly suspicious bias toward names you might mistake for metal bands if you didn’t know: Chelsea Wolf(e), Burial, Forest Swords, Joanna Gruesome, Darkside. Although they didn’t fall for Chvrches or Volcano Choir, which both seem like perfectly good metal names to me, so maybe it’s fine. The two most popular completely un-metal artists, by this calculation, are the hip-hop group the Uncluded, and Elvis Costello and the Roots, which seems plausible.
• The Singularity table shows our one alternative ranking of the rather simpler song poll (no points are used in this one, so it’s just plain vote counts), with the songs re-scored according to the percentage of their voters who didn’t also vote for an album by the same artist. There are 35 songs that received all of their votes from people who didn’t also vote for the album, the two most notable being Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” but the most surprising perhaps being the otherwise inescapable Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush.” Their “Doin’ It Right,” in fact, is in the bottom 10 by this metric, along with a pile of Vampire Weekend and Kanye tracks that nobody but their fans ever need to hear.
• The Pazz & Jop statistics site has a metric ton more information and analysis, and both historical and composite data back to 2008. Click around on whatever interests you. Among many other things, there are mathematically derived similarity lists for albums, songs, artists, ballots, and voters, calculated solely from the overlap patterns in the poll voting. Click on Yeezus, for example, and you’ll see that from voting indications, the most similar album is Modern Vampires of the City. The reverse is also true. But the closest album to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is Haim’s. And although Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper’s similarity lists resemble each other a little, you can tell when you hit My Bloody Valentine and Kacey Musgraves that you’ve stumbled into some very different voting blocks. Or find Miley Cyrus, and compare the pop-skewed similar-song list for “We Can’t Stop” to the more rockish list for “Wrecking Ball.”
• This year’s critic who came closest to embodying the collective wisdom of the electorate was Harry Burson, who voted for seven of the top 10, and nothing that didn’t have at least 18 other voters. The year’s most individual voter was Kerry Dexter, whose 10 albums and 10 songs include only a single song (Tim McGraw’s “Highway Don’t Care”) that got any other votes (and it only got one other; Kerry, meet Mike Seely). Once again the poll also serves as a music-critic dating site, with similar-voter lists for every voter. Heartbreak awaits some of us, though: My most similar voter is Brandon Stosuy, but I don’t even crack Brandon’s top 20. Presumably Brandon and mutual most-similar Brent Burton are somewhere right now eating burgers named after metal bands and chatting happily about how great Torche was in 2008.
• The funniest voter typo, in my statistical opinion, was “Pete Ubu” for Pere Ubu. Another voter who I will not mention by name not only voted for his own band’s new album, but also attempted to vote for another release by the record label he owns, only to accidentally type his album’s title instead of the other band’s, thus triggering one of our automatic weird-data alarms and prompting me to discover all this. There is, of course, no rule against voting for yourself. In his case, nobody else did, but even I didn’t vote for me, so points (albeit only the minimum of five) for self-confidence.
All these numbers, and the exploration and discovery potential of the poll data, would be even more interesting with more votes and more perspectives. So if you write or think about music with a large amount of your time or energy, especially kinds of music not already being made by Kanye West or Vampire Weekend, send a note with your name and background to firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the voter list for 2014.
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