2014 was a great year for new music, but many of the best tracks didn’t appear on great albums. This is nothing new, it’s the main reason I started creating these fortnightly playlists. Somewhere to keep all the best new music without having to wade through the filler on long players of questionable quality. But I remain a fan of the album, at its best the ultimate expression of an artist’s vision (or just a collection of damn fine songs).
Back in January 2013 I wrote a piece on whether we could keep a check on the health of the album by analysing data from Pitchfork’s album reviews since 2010. I did the same at the end of 2013 and made some predictions. Below are the 2014 numbers, what I got right and what I got wrong:
- Total: Pitchfork reviewed 1224 albums in 2014 – a similar number to 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010.1
- Average: As predicted, in 2014 the average (mean) score awarded to an album was 7.1 – the exact same as in 2013, 2012 and 2011 (7.0 in 2010).
- Brilliant: As predicted, less than 1% of new albums were awarded 9.0 or above. Though at only four, this was even lower than I expected (the previous four years it had been between 5 and 8 albums each year).
- Well Below Average: Only 275 albums were awarded a score of 6.4 or lower (22.5%, down 2.4% on the previous four year average). I predicted “300 or so will be judged to be worth less than 6.5” so this one is a miss.2.
I also took a punt on Pitchfork handing out another perfect score (10) even though I couldn’t really see where it might come from (though I suggested a debut from a female artist or a UK bedroom producer). No joy there, it’s now been four years since the last perfect score.
For 2015 I’ll repeat the first three predictions from last year: average score of 7.1, around 25% scoring 6.4 or lower and less than 1% scoring 9.0 or above. I reckon 2014 was a blip for the high and low end and we’ll see it back where it’s been for the last few years. I’m less confident about them handing out another 10.0, in fact I don’t think they will.
Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2014
Pitchfork’s Top 50 albums list3 used to closely tally with their highest rated albums of the year (with a few albums that fall out of favour or are bumped higher up the list), but it appears that they may have changed the way they compiled it this year. All the Best New Music tagged albums (usually those that score 8.3 or higher) figure in the top 504, but they are are not close to being in order of score.
- Timing: For 2014 the best time of year to release an album was October followed by March: 11 of the top 50 albums were released in October, 8 in March. The highest average scores were awarded in October, the lowest in August.5
- Grower: Of the albums Pitchfork reviewed at time of release, Shabazz Palace’s Lese Majesty was the album judged to have improved the most this year. Despite only scoring 0.1 above the average of 7.1 back in July, it jumped over 486 higher rated albums to secure the number 35 spot in the end of year review.
- Unlucky: Thou’s Heathen was the only album that scored 8.4 but failed to make the top 50, while Old Man Gloom, The Inter Arma, Tombs, Agalloch and Theo Parrish made the only albums scoring 8.3 not to make the list. All of these apart from Parrish are metal albums.
- Permanence: Sun Kil Moon’s Benji had the most staying power – reviewed at the beginning of February and still in the top 10 at year end.
- Waning Charms: How to Dress Well’s What Is This Heart?, (8.8 back in June) was the biggest loser, finishing behind 20 albums that scored lower.
- Surprise: The Top 50 includes two albums that Pitchfork failed to review at the time of release. Firstly, Leon Vynehall’s Music for the Uninvited which came out in March and was covered (but not given a score) in Pitchfork’s annual ‘July overlooked albums’ feature (41). The second was Taylor Swift’s 1989 (31). It’s just as well they don’t do an overlooked albums feature in December, they may have felt a tad irrelevant including the biggest record of the year in there.
1Pitchfork 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 (though they found time for Nicki Minaj and D’Angelo in 2014). Occasionally, individual albums in a box set will get individual scores, hence the slight variance in each year’s review numbers.
2I 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.
Here’s the breakdown for previous years:
2010: 307 / 1216 scored 6.4 or lower (25.4%).
2011: 294 / 1210 scored 6.4 or lower (24.2%)
2012: 314 / 1256 scored 6.4 or lower (25% exactly)
2013: 305 / 1226 scored 6.4 or lower (24.87765%)
3 Called ‘The 50 Best Albums of 2014’, and “based on the impassioned and knowledgable opinions of our writers and editors” and filed, as in previous years, under Staff Lists.
4 D’Angelo’s album missed out as it was released after the list was compiled. Don;t expect to see it next year as
5 The best time of year to release an album in previous years:
2013 – October, followed by May (16 of the top 50 end of year albums).
2012 – October and April (17 out of 50)
2011 June and January (14 out of 50)
2010 May and September (15 out of 50).