Pazz & Jop 2011: Part Two (bloody consensus, my album voting, compatriots)

Part One is here.

It was totes adorbs when P&J dropped yesterday — a very specific piece of Facebook went a little nuts. People linked to their ballots, there was much gnashing over Goblin's ranking (and much merriment over Bon Iver's), and we got to see the first returns on griping.

One writer yawned that the top 40 was, with a handful of exceptions, utterly boring. (As is standard with these sorts of judgment calls, his submitted ballot looks BAFFLING in this light.) I cracked a stupid joke about how “hivemind” (not my word) voters could claim to be trendsetters; thankfully, no one really noticed.

But really, I shared his gut reaction to the Pazz longlist. I haven’t really been keeping up with music criticism this year (beyond bingeing on year-end lists), but just the same, the first few dozen names didn’t really surprise. War on Drugs was the first unfamiliar name, I think. Still, taking digs at the perceived aesthetic impression of an ordered list of critically-liked albums? Asking for pain

In his Pazz & Jop essay, Seth Colter Walls does a fine job sketching a portrait of a lonely album vote, of which there seems to be close to a thousand. One thousand! Without knowing anything about profit margins, longer touring schedules or access costs, one would be inclined to say the state — if not the quality — of music as a public, creative activity seems to be quite strong. What about the state of criticism? Xgau’s precious consensus found little harbor in 2011. Many know that in 2010, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy* won by the largest margin of any P&J poll, but the 10th place finisher (Brothers by the Black Keys, 89 votes) got more mentions than this year’s tenner (Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up, 72 points). Additionally, 2011 saw more albums get 30+ votes (39) than the previous year (32). mcdonald’s centricity calculation found way fewer people approaching any kind of “consensus” on albums. Trend? Blip?

One wonders, then: what does consensus mean for a community in which the runaway best album of the year, the one that generated more dust than any in 40 years, only got votes from one-third of the electorate? This year, 700 people of varying devotion, internet connectivity and access to promos nominated 1,734 albums. We’ll have to wait a month for the 2011 stats, but Nielsen counted 75,000 albums that saw release in 2010. If the numbers hold, a band with a 2011 release had about a 1-in-50 chance of getting trapped in glenn mcdonald’s stats gulag.

Personally? I don’t trust consensus, mostly because I don’t know what it’s for. In his splenetic piece on Spin’s recent review-via-tweet policy, Everett True tries to disabuse the critical community of the notion that it ought to be a consumer guide foremost. Doesn’t that make sense? I’m guessing most of my followers make regular trips to Longform or Let’s Get Critical. You likely checked out Slate’s year-end music roundtable, or the Voice's, even though you'd long since formed opinions on the music discussed. SPIN, of course, has access to pageview and subscription stats, and it’s super easy for a subset of a subset (regular music buyers) to look at personal experience and assume it can become the norm. But SPIN's challenge — and the challenge of any similar publication — would seem to be an editorial problem, not a crisis of criticism. Even though I thought 21 a B-level album, I’m going to read anyone’s thoughtful take on it**, or Adele herself.

There was a comment on that same Facebook conversation from another Pazz & Jop voter (and fine writer), who held that while he tends toward centricity, he’s not going to champion an album just because it’s getting a lot of heat. All other factors being equal, though, he’s going to go with the record or artist that made a huge cultural impact that year.

To which I would reply: what is “cultural impact”? (Apologies for channeling Carles here.) A record that 8% of America’s voting critics got jazzed about? Singles that got used in several movie trailers? J. Biebz? I’m not trying to be dense, but my stomach muscles start roiling whenever I read some kid (not the writer in question, as far as I know) declaring some record as the perfect document for our uncertain, war-ravaged, technology-gorged times. If those were the defining adjectives of your 1999 or 2003 or 2011, maybe you should try drinking more green tea. Or reading hard sci-fi. Pazz & Jop supports (in theory, and often practice) pop close-readers, jazzists, metalheads across the greyscale, chasers of the New Underground, and the rock ‘n’ roll old guard. It promotes the happy, the political, the enraged, the callous. A healthy ballot would include as much of the above genres and moods as possible.

To me, anyway. Trying to explain 2011 via a clutch of albums is kind of ridiculous. Trying to unpack yourself through selections that appealed to your dark and light sides seems a more manageable task, and one that is impervious to the passage of time. (Not that we stay the same people, but the personal/subjective view resists rewrites; the historical/objective view is always being assailed.) Your 2004 could very well revolve around The College Dropout or Smile (Pazz & Jop’s 1 and 2, respectively), but a year that revolved around 26’s The Messiah or Yowie’s Cryptooolgy is every bit as meaningful.

I’ve probably said this before, but I’m going to extract anything from all this listening and writing, it’s going to be humanity way more often than history, and I truly believe it can come from anywhere. My ideal is the “deep coherence” that Josh Langhoff ascribes to Chuck Eddy. And again, I have to be honest here: without an album-reviewing gig, it’s harder for me to display that coherence by voting for something that’s long since circumnavigated the blogosphere. I’m not going to knock something for exposure, but to give it any further exposure, it’s got to be pretty fucking great. For me, with all things being equal, I’ll go with the margins.

That’s me speaking in January 2012, anyway. I’m new to this having-a-say thing.

So! I’ve already posted a screenshot of my albums ballot. What I’m interested in is what souls voted alongside me. Four albums got other votes. They are:

Jenny Hval - Viscera (121st)

As far as point allocation goes, I separated my top ten into tiers. The 11-point selections were stem-to-stern triumphs, the 9-pointers had enough high points to lend the CD in question a warm fuzzy takeaway. Since they’re the ten best albums I heard, and the idea of advocacy for this specific set was ridiculous, I didn’t go for a huge point spread.

Viscera was the highest-placing record I voted for. It got tremendous love at Cokemachineglow, placing high on a number of staffers’ lists, a subset of whom participated in Pazz & Jop. Eric Harvey’s supplementary essay on the body’s politics would have done well to include her, but hey, only seven votes. (Squishily enough, all Hval’s voters were men. Worth noting and/or feeling weird about.)

Roll call: Alan Babin (five hip-hop and a couple garage rock albums), Calum Marsh (an entirely hip-hop/R&B singles list), Christopher Alexander (high centricity, two tUnE-yArDs singles), Joel Elliott (jazz albums! and singles!), Jordan Cronk (he actually voted for two albums I did… no singles ballot, but trounces me in a best-last-name contest) and Scott Reid (the only other voter to have Hval as his top-rated… 10s across the board don’t count for my or mcdonald’s purposes).

Needlebase claims that a Do Make Say Think album has the highest weighted empathy to Viscera, but the Colin Stetson album seemed to make most of these guys’ ballots.

Here’s the video for “Blood Flight”.

Half Man Half Biscuit - 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (346th)

Any time HMHB releases an album, I have to vote for it. I gave them a nod in both album and single category for Stylus Magazine’s best of the 2000s poll; Stylus (more specifically, Dom Passantino) introduced me to their hyper-detailed, Anglocentric brand of absurd piss-taking folk rock. Seems there aren’t a lot of British voters in Pazz & Jop, which doesn’t seem to be intentional. Lord know they have enough bullshit to vote on over there.

Roll call: Andrew Harrison, first-time voter (I think). Little bit of IDM, one of three Ladytron votes (seems low, right?). Two albums with “fun” in their contradictory titles. No singles.

Here’s "Left Lyrics in the Practice Room". It only gets darker, mind.

Septicflesh - The Great Mass (515th)

All my 11-point albums got additional votes. Septicflesh had only ever gotten one vote (from glenn in 2008). It’s facts like this that get me thinking about a metal Pazz & Jop. Sack Blabbath? Westless & Riled? Or just Countdown to Extinction?

Roll call: Shawn Macomber, no singles (again). I think Shawn is a pretty cool guy, if his website’s any indication. A half-metal ballot - jealous!!! - with Tom Waits, Fleet Foxes, and Allison Krauss. A quandary: how come The Atlas Moth is stoner metal and El Hijo de la Aurora is stoner rock? You put An Ache for the Distance up against Wicca: Spells, Witchcraft and Magic Through the Ages and tell me which head’s going on a spike.

Here’s "The Vampire From Nazareth".

Robag Wruhme - Thora Vukk (347th)

Ordered in a small cluster right behind the HMHB record. Four total votes, but two of the voters alloted it the minimum 5 points. Lovely record, just lovely.

Roll call: Andrew Gaerig (formerly of Stylus, currently a developer for Pitchfork, a few RA-friendly entries, as you might expect), Chet Betz (best voter name? also: lots of hip-hop, that damn Colin Stetson record again), CRONK.

Here’s "Pnom Gobal". Super Books vibe.

And that’s it. Of the records I tabbed that didn’t get other votes, Doppelgangaz surprised me the most. Hip-hop reviewers strike me as thorough, so this gives me a little pause. Although Schoolboy Q got five measly points, so I dunno. Any of you rap-friendly Pazzers like the Brainwash Projects? Not Pigeon John solo. The BPs.

*It sucks to type that out. Every time. I mean, if you saw that title nestled between parens on the back of a MCR CD single — possibly after the words “Climbing the Scaffold Stairs” — would you blink? Good Ass Job worked on the conceptual level, and in retrospect would have been an editor’s dream, headline-wise.

**Which, to be honest, doesn’t really mean album reviews for me. One of my goals this year is to read more release-week reviews. Most music writers I know have the reverse goal.

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