Pazz & Jop’s last word on 2014 benefits from two things: effort and luck.
The one the Voice can definitely take credit for is the recruiting initiative that pushed the voter count — which had been in decline for a couple years — back over 600. But luck came in the form of the December 15
release of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah — which arrived long after most of the more impatient periodicals had already committed to their year-end lists. Beyoncé’s similarly late-breaking album made No. 4 last year, but Black Messiah picks up almost three times as many voters, and wins the 2014 album poll on points despite tying Run the Jewels 2 on raw vote-count.
The rest of the album top ten is kind of stripey. After D’Angelo v. Run the Jewels comes a similar battle for the indie vote between the War on Drugs and St. Vincent, with War on Drugs prevailing narrowly on points despite fewer raw votes. FKA twigs (a/k/a Tahlia Barnett), who has probably appeared on the most year-end critics’ lists overall, only gets enough album votes from this likely older-skewing audience to reach No. 5 on the list. Sturgill Simpson’s reverently gritty Metamodern Sounds in Country Music beats 1989,Taylor Swift’s shiny defection from country, but Taylor still beats Angel Olsen’s hauntingly spare Burn Your Fire for No Witness. We can add people up, but that doesn’t mean they make any collective sense. Spoon’s They Want My Soul is the last of the nine records to get votes from at least 10 percent of the voters (which is a typical level of
album consensus), and the tenth spot goes to Against Me!, in another nail-biting points-over-votes victory, with both Ex Hex and Flying Lotus receiving more votes but fewer points. Recent Pazz & Jop winners failing to repeat despite well-received new releases in 2014 include 2008’s TV on the Radio (No. 39) and 2011’s tUnE-yArDs (No. 29).
Meanwhile, the song list shows the least consensus at the top since I started keeping stats in 2008. Future Islands win with votes from less than 16 percent of the voters, and only the top five songs get votes from at least 10 percent, both of which are new lows. Swift’s “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” split her voters almost evenly, giving her both the No. 3 and 4 positions on the list. But if the song poll were aggregated by artist, she would have won handily (and she is No. 3 in overall artist ballot percentage). iLoveMakonnen and Beyoncé take the most advantage of the P&J rules for counting carryover and remix votes, as neither would be anywhere near the top ten on raw count. Nothing from the Billboard year-end top 100 makes the critics’ top ten, although “Happy,” Billboard’s No. 1 single for 2014, comes close at 13. The highest Billboard-ranked song in 2014 to get zero P&J votes was Maroon 5’s “Maps,” (29 on Billboard’s year-end list), although plenty of songs above that get only one or two of the P&J critics’ votes.
While we’re counting the points and votes, though, we also calculate a bunch of other metrics that are interesting for other reasons:
• Enthusiasm scores measure the average number of points awarded by each voter, which can range individually from 5 to 30. Dean Blunt’s Black Metal, which is not black metal, wins this going away (and Blunt’s last album was No. 3 by this metric last year), with Wild Beasts’ Present Tense also scoring particularly well. The enthusiasm winners are maybe a bit less extreme this year than last, with only two real metal albums (Nux Vomica’s and Behemoth’s), but the Scott Walker–SunnO))) collaboration at No. 14 is probably strange enough by itself to compensate. D’Angelo rates No. 16. Spoon earn the unenviable distinction of the lowest enthusiasm score among the top ten albums, and some other bottom-of-ballot standouts this year are Jack White, Mac DeMarco, and Tinashe (although one might delicately suggest that there’s a difference between a critical icon falling to the bottom of a ballot and a pop newcomer climbing into it). The lowest enthusiasm score for any album with at least five votes is Half the City by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, whose 5.8 average means that all five voters went way out of their way to skew the point-distribution so that this album could get close to the minimum allowed by the rules.
• Kvltosis scores re-rank the albums with an inverse weighting by how popular each voter’s tastes skew, to deliberately look for albums with shared support from people who don’t otherwise follow the poll’s consensus. The winner by this metric is Gridlink’s valedictory grindcore epic Longhena (twenty minutes, almost twice as long as their previous album). But the top of this list is full of other things that have at least not suffered from mainstream overexposure, including the blackdreamgaze of Nothing, the fluttery minimalism of
Actress, the strangled black doom of Thou, live jazz albums from Marc Ribot and John Coltrane, Mauritanian psych-desert-blues from Noura Mint Seymali, and several
“album” votes for a magazine mix by the label/collective/prank PC Music. At the bottom of the kvltosis list, where albums get the most support from the center of the consensus, Popcaan and Lil Herb arguably represent current critical common ground even more distinctly than the two winners.
• Hipness measures albums by how many of their voters took the time to vote for singles. There were 27 albums that were only voted for by people who also voted for 10 singles, the most popular of which were Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint, Toni Braxton and Babyface’s Love, Marriage & Divorce, and Ariana Grande’s My Everything, with a few other r&b-inspired records close
behind. At the other end of this list,
Morbus Chron’s throwback-metal album
Sweven gets five of its six votes from critics who didn’t bother with “singles” at all, and Leonard Cohen, Rosanne Cash, and Bob Dylan all get significant chunks of the curmudgeon vote. The anti-Nicki by this measure would be Pallbearer, which I suspect would offend neither of them, but also might well foreshadow a Minaj-
augmented Pallbearer remix.
• Morbus Chron also win by metalism, which re-ranks the albums by prorating each voter’s votes according to how much metal they voted for. The top nine albums by metalism are all metal, but if you want to listen to the kind of thing metal fans might like, except you don’t want to hear any
actual metal, try John Luther Adams’s
Become Ocean or Thee Silver Mt. Zion
Memorial Orchestra’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything. If you want to stay as far away from metal as possible, the most popular album with no votes from anybody who voted for any metal was Azealia Banks’s Broke With Expensive Taste, which, ironically, includes a song called “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” although this one is even less metal than Sky Ferreira’s “Heavy Metal Heart” last year, or Lady Gaga’s “Heavy Metal Lover” in 2011.
• Monolithity re-scores albums by the percentage of their voters who didn’t also vote for any songs by the same artist (but who did vote for songs). Eight albums got all their votes from people who didn’t also vote for songs by those artists, which in some tenuous sense suggests that people listen to them as unified wholes. The most popular of these were Robert Plant’s Lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar and the Black Keys’ Turn Blue. At the other end, everybody who voted for iLoveMakonnen’s album also voted for either “Tuesday” or Drake’s “Club Goin’ Up on a Tuesday” remix, and more than two-thirds of the voters for Taylor Swift’s 1989 also voted for at least one of its songs.
• Singularity, conversely, re-scores songs by the percentage of their voters who didn’t also vote for an album by the same artist. Forty-nine songs got all of their votes from people who didn’t also vote for an album. The five most popular of these (from Kendrick Lamar, DJ Snake, Mark Ronson, Meghan Trainor, and Drake) didn’t have corresponding albums; Ariana Grande’s “Problem” is the first that did. At the other end, 69 percent of the voters for “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” also voted for Run the Jewels’ album.
• The one new metric this year, in honor of the large cohort of new voters, is vitality, which re-scores albums by the percentage of their points that came from those new voters. New voters represent about 20 percent of the votes, so albums with vitality above .2 are disproportionately supported by new voters over old, and below .2 vice versa. Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days is a standout by this metric, with over 50 percent of its 186 points from those 20 percent new voters. Of the 39 albums with five-plus votes that no new voters picked, most had small enough vote-counts that we can attribute this to chance, but Wussy’s Attica! had 28 voters and still none of the new ones, the probability of which happening randomly is about .002 (though whether this says more about the album or the new voters is a human question not answered by the numbers).
• The 2014 voter with the ballot closest to the critical consensus was Jeff Gage, who voted for all of the top six, and then Nos. 13, 19, 30, and 57. At the other end, Southern Soul specialist Daddy B. Nice had nothing on his ballot that got even one other vote. There were 15 voters with at least 15 unique album/song votes, and 84 voters who were not the only voter for any of their picks. Overall these voters picked an average of 4.18 unique artists per ballot, which is lower than the last two lower-turnout years, but higher than 2008–2011.
• In music-critic matchmaking, the potential couple of the year is passionweiss.com co-contributors Jeff Weiss and Max Bell, provided they can get past their disagreement over Boosie Badazz and Slackk.
• 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 through the top ten albums, for example, and you can see that FKA twigs voters align pretty well with D’Angelo/Run the Jewels voters, but St. Vincent voters less so, and War on Drugs voters even less. Sturgill Simpson voters differ dramatically, but Angel Olsen voters don’t nearly as much. Taylor Swift voters are notably more likely to vote for other female artists, including Against Me!
• There were no particularly funny typos this year, unless you count some of the ones I “fixed” only to discover that they were correct in their original form, like Saaab Stories and “Awwsome.” But then, it was going to be hard, anyway, for any error to be funnier than “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock.”
2015 Pazz + Jop Essays Index
• A First-Rate Year for Second Acts
• Black Lives Matter
• The Comfort in Being Sad
• Pop’s Not-So-Secret Weapon
• Pazz + Jop 2014: The Critics’ Best Comments
• Tabulation Notes by Pazz + Jop Ballot Master Glenn McDonald
More:Pazz & Jop