Pitchfork: 2013 best year for new albums since the last three!

Back in January I wrote a piece on whether we could glean information on the death of the album by analysing data from Pitchfork’s album reviews from the previous three years.

I thought it would be interesting to see if 2012 had been judged a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year for albums by looking at the site that is most committed to the album format. Love them or hate them,  Pitchfork publishes 1200+ album albums every year, devoting 500-800 words to each and allocating a score out of 10 specific to one decimal place. Surely this would be the place to mark any trends downward or otherwise?

Although I wasn’t expecting to see a downward trend, I was surprised at the lack of variation. Having compiled, consumed and compared annual best of lists for 30 years, I’d assumed one would see the ebb and flow of quality releases reflected in the data. But there was none of that. The most striking thing about it was how each year looked much the same as any other. It was as if they had to recalibrate their critical faculties every January 1st to make sure no year was better or worse than another.

While I’m not suggesting that actually happens, I can’t help seeing this as something that only benefits Pitchfork – if new music is your bread and butter, you can’t afford to acknowledge a drop in quality, however temporary. It seems weird to be able to say with confidence that next year will be judged no better or worse for new music than any other. While it may be comforting to think there will be no drop in quality, it also rules out the possibility of an astonishingly great year for new albums.

But, based on those results, I felt confident making a couple of predictions about 2013 which proved correct (see below) and one punt which sadly I missed out on because that twat Kanye didn’t try hard enough!

Anyway, here are the key facts for 2013 and how they compare to the previous three years

  • Total: Pitchfork reviewed 1226 albums in 2013 – a similar number to 2012, 2011 and 2010.†
  • Average: As predicted: in 2013 the average (mean) score awarded to an album was 7.1 – the exact same as in 2012 and 2011 (7.0 in 2010).
  • Brilliant: Less than 1% of new albums in each of the last four years were awarded 9.0 or above.
  • Well Below Average: As predicted: almost exactly 25% of the albums in 2013 were awarded a score of 6.4 or less. ‡

Again, I can predict a similar scenario in 2014 – of just over 1200 albums yet to be released, 300 or so will be judged to be worth less than 6.5, the average will be 7.1 or very close and less than 12 new albums will score over 9.0. Pitchfork hasn’t given a new album a 10 in over three years, and it’s hard to see another one on the horizon but you have to feel they’ll give one out to someone/anyone next year just to take the pressure off themselves. I’m guessing It’ll either be a male bedroom producer from the UK or a female artist who is yet to release an album. Or at an outside chance some questionable post-metal band.

Pitchfork’s Top 50 albums critics’ list closely tallies with their highest rated albums of the year, but there are always a few albums that fall out of favour or are bumped higher up the list. If you want to know when the best time to release an album is or who were the winners and losers, read on.

  • Timing: For 2013 the best time of year to release an album was Oct, followed by May. Sixteen of the top 50 end of year albums were reviewed in those two months. For 2012 it was October and April (17 out of 50), for 2011 June and January (14 out of 50), for 2010 it was May and September (15 out of 50).
  • Grower M.I.A. ‘Matangi’ was the album judged to have improved the most this year, despite only being released last month and being awarded a lowly six-points-below-average 6.5 – it has leaped over an incredible 850 higher rated albums to secure the number 46 spot in the end of year review. Sky Ferreira ‘Nigh Time, My Time’ was the second highest mover.
  • Unlucky: Whereas Phosphorescent ‘Muchacho’ was judged to have aged poorly, finishing behind 24 albums that scored lower.
  • Permanence: Records by Burial, A$AP Rocky and Parquet Courts had the most staying power – the only releases reviewed in January to make it inside the top 20 at year end.
  • Waning Charms: Youth Lagoon ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ and The Field ‘Cupid’s Head’ were the biggest losers – scoring higher than 33 albums that did make the top 50 but failing to place.

†Pitchfork review five albums a day each weekday excluding American public holidays and none during the industry down time of the last 2-3 weeks of December when practically no new albums are released. Occasionally, individual albums in a box set will get individual scores, hence the slight disparity in each year’s review numbers.

‡ I call a score of <6.5 ‘The Everrett True mark of failure’ after the music critic who ranted about “a world full of music critics lazily and cravenly praising everything in their path … for if they don’t, their editors won’t run the review or feature or article. Look around you. It’s already happened. How many reviews graded below 6.5 stars do you think Pitchfork runs?” His opposition to what Pitchfork does having coloured his views of a an easily verifiable fact. i.e. even Pitchfork thinks that a quarter of the albums they review aren’t very good and are unafraid to say so, 25% in each of the last four years.

4 thoughts on “Pitchfork: 2013 best year for new albums since the last three!

  1. Pingback: Pitchfork: 2014 Albums less good, less bad, more average. | In The Pharmacy

  2. Pingback: Pitchfork albums of 2014: less great, less bad, more average | In The Pharmacy

  3. Pingback: Pitchfork 2015: fewer albums reviewed, less of them terrible | In The Pharmacy

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