In the eight previous years I’ve tabulated this poll, only once did two albums get votes from at least 30 percent of the voters. This year, three did. Only once did three different albums get votes from at least 20 percent of the voters. This year, five did. In a year that seems otherwise likely to be remembered for division, music offers at least a token show of consensus.
Fittingly, in still-far-too-vivid memorial, the 2016 album poll was won handily by David Bowie’s harrowing farewell album Blackstar. The late Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker also made the top ten, and it seems safe to assume that Prince and George Michael would have been there, too, if they had had time to make one last record.
The living world, on the other hand, belongs to Beyoncé. Lemonade was second only to Bowie in the album poll, “Formation” ran away with the song poll and eight of her other songs got votes, and altogether Beyoncé appeared somewhere on 45 percent of ballots. And, for added dynasty points, her sister Solange had the number five album and number three song.
Even beyond the Knowles family, the poll continues to reflect the era’s increasingly unmistakable dominance of pop by hip hop, r&b and their relations. A Tribe Called Quest, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, and Kanye all made the album top ten, and Rae Sremmurd and Rihanna also had top-ten songs. The old new guard really had only Radiohead to rally around.
The two surprises, it seems to me, are the number nine album showing for Car Seat Headrest (inheriting a large share of the 2015 Courtney Barnett vote), and the number five song tie for Mitski’s underground anti-pop pop song “Your Best American Girl.”
Look deeper down the lists and the voter-overlap patterns, though, and it’s possible to cluster everything into three major voting patterns.
The hip-hop/r&b/chart-pop line continues with Anderson .Paak, Blood Orange, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Childish Gambino, KING, Noname, YG, Young M.A., Young Thug, D.R.A.M., The Weeknd, Desiigner, and Fifth Harmony, and arguably Mitski and Anonhi in a less rhythmic variation. And if we can stretch the definition this far, then we can also count Jenny Hval’s synthesis of the more oblique bits of Mitski and Anonhi.
The old-school roots-rooted faction, which starts with Bowie and Cohen, continues with Angel Olsen, Nick Cave, Sturgill Simpson, Drive-By Truckers, Miranda Lambert, Margo Price, Maren Morris, Brandy Clark, Iggy Pop, Esperanza Spalding, Whitney, and of course the quintessentially rooted throwback blues album by the Rolling Stones.
And although the Radioheaded indie rock vein no longer runs nearly as deep as it did when the voting ranks were first expanding from print critics to include blog writers, we still have Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Bon Iver, The 1975, Pinegrove, Parquet Courts, Savages, and The Hotelier.
Many other styles (some of them wildly popular) hardly register in this poll at all, but if you want something other than poptimism, rockism, or indie-rockism, there’s at least a bit more variety to be found by other methods than just vote-counting.
• Enthusiasm scores measure the average number of points awarded by each voter, which can range individually from 5 to 30. Beyoncé’s 12.5 is the highest score among the winners, but 7 albums scored higher, most notably Kevin Gates’ stark trap epic Islah and the alternately frail and blaring debut by Heron Oblivion. Radiohead’s resolutely muted A Moon Shaped Pool has the lowest enthusiasm score of the top ten, at 9.5, but the clear consolation-prize winner is the Monkees’ Good Times!, at 7.2, which is pretty much the quantification of sheepishness as a voting strategy.
• 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. This is sometimes where we first discover some focused aggression, and that’s the case again this year with Oathbreaker’s noise-doom, Nothing’s loud shoegaziness, Sumac’s lumbering roar, and Nails’ punk-metal at numbers one to four. Number five, however, is the astonishing Taureg acoustic-guitar album Les Filles de Illighadad, by Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni, which is about as far from the usual concept of aggression as you can easily get. The poll winners always score low on kvltosis by definition, and six of the top ten take the bottommost 2-7 spots, but the grisly secret epitome of the poll’s animal-brain collective taste, by this measure, is the one album that scores an even lower kvltosis than any of the winners, Wildflower by the Avalanches.
• Hipness measures albums by how many of their voters took the time to vote for singles, which in modern poll history has tended to correlate with youth and pop-centricity. Same as in 2015, there were 22 albums that were only voted for by people who also voted for ten singles, the most popular of which was Kevin Gates’s Islah. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo was the hippest of the top 10 albums, which seems to me to make a lot of sense given that it was almost too cool to ever be finished. The least hip album with at least ten votes was Dinosaur Jr.’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, which I suspect might please J Mascis more than upset him. The two very least hip records, albeit with fewer votes, were Julie Ruin’s Hit Reset and Tacocat’s Lost Time, which suggests that there may actually be a new cohort trying to invert the significance of this score.
• There’s no point pretending that metalism, which re-ranks the albums by prorating each voter’s votes according to how much metal they voted for, exists for any reason other than that I am personally a metal fan and I do these calculations. This poll is not where you should go for any kind of extensive metal exploration, but the handful of Voice metal voters agreed on at least a few things, the most metalist of which is Finnish quintet Oranssi Pazuzu’s cosmically cacophonic Värähtelijä. The non-metal album most disproportionately loved by metal fans this year is Margaret Glaspy’s spiky, spectral Emotions and Math.
• 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, but the only ones with more than ten voters were Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate and Nicolas Jaar’s Sirens, which I will not describe for you because the whole point of this is that you have to listen to them properly, meaning alone, at night, with extremely expensive audio cables. The least monolithic album was, of course, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, whose contents were almost Heisenbergianly impossible to both listen to and enumerate at the same time.
• Singularity, conversely, re-scores songs by the percentage of their voters who didn’t also vote for an album by the same artist. Twenty-two songs got all of their votes from people who didn’t also vote for an album (continuing a downward trend from the last couple years). The most popular of these was Drake’s “One Dance,” which is obviously a release-date anomaly since the album came out in 2015. But of the 58 voters for Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” only three also voted for Sremmlife 2, so that seems like the year’s most singular single. The least singular singles, unsurprisingly, were David Bowie’s “Lazarus” and “Blackstar,” each of which had about two-thirds of their voters also vote for Blackstar the album.
• The 2016 voter with the ballot closest to the critical consensus, and indeed closer to the consensus than any other voter since I started checking this, was Ed Masley, whose only deviation from the winning ten albums was voting for Angel Olsen’s number-twelve My Woman instead of Leonard Cohen. Two voters tied for farthest from the consensus by filling out full ballots with ten albums and ten songs that got no other votes at all: Jay Farrar’s experimental noise and operatic art-punk, and Kerry Dexter’s renegade acoustica. Terrence Pryor, for the second year in a row, had 19 eclectic and unaccompanied picks and just one pick with other votes. There were 13 voters with at least 15 unique album/song votes, and 59 with at least ten unique votes. At the other end, there were 67 voters who were not the only voter for any of their picks.
• In Pazz & Jop matchmaking, the couple of the year is Mike Rubin and Rob Michaels, who agreed on Bowie, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Moodymann, and Spacin’, and were the only two voters for Omar S’s The Best, but will now be doomed to spend 2017 arguing about whether Rob sold out by voting for Solange instead of Floorplan.
The Pazz & Jop statistics site has much, much more data, both historical and composite, back to 2008 and sideways however far you have the patience to click.
P.S.: The prize for the best voting typo of the year goes to former Voice music editor Rob Harvilla, who voted not for YG’s mordant anti-Trump rant “FDT,” but instead for “FTD”, his instantly timeless and viscerally vituperative takedown of corporatized floral-delivery. Fight the Flower.
See more of Glenn McDonald’s work at his website.
Don’t miss the rest of the 2017 Pazz & Jop, Village Voice Music Critics Poll coverage:
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