Thirty-three new tracks from the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden. New music from Parquet Courts, Woods, Stina Tester & Cinta Masters, Paws, Japanese Breakfast, White Lung, Hockey Dad, PJ Harvey, Frankie Cosmos, M83, John Heart Jackie, Amber Arcades, Twin Peaks, Operator, Culture Abuse, Honey Radar, September Girls, Winterpills, Britta Phillips (pictured), Autolux, Plastic Animals, Kristin Kontrol, Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, Attic Abasement, The Rivers, Weaves, Estrons, A Giant Dog, Coping Skills, Silences, Goat, Low and S. Carey, and Kevin Morby.
Love them or loathe them, Pitchfork are still one of the biggest champions of the album format: Lots of words on lots of albums, that’s their strapline*. At the end of 2012 I wrote a piece on whether we could keep a check on the health of the album by analysing data from Pitchfork’s reviews since 2010. I did the same at the end of 2013 and 2014 and made some predictions based on the results. Below are the 2015 numbers, and the results of how those predictions panned out:
- Total: Pitchfork reviewed 1192 albums albums in 2015 – down a couple of percent on recent years and largely down to the fact they published reviews on fewer days in 2015.1
- Average: As predicted, in 2015 the average (mean) score awarded to an album was 7.1 – the exact same as in 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 (7.0 in 2010).
- Brilliant: As predicted, less than 1% of new albums were awarded 9.0 or above (actually, less than half of one percent).
- Well Below Average: I got this one wrong. Only 223 albums in 2015 were awarded a score of 6.4 or lower2. That’s 18.7% and what I thought was a blip is now looking like a downward trend from a six year high of 25.4% in 2010.
- Perfect Score: As predicted, there was no 10 score given out to a new album this year. That makes it over five years since they handed out a perfect score (for Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
For 2016, I predict we’ll see the average score stay the same at 7.1, with the number of albums scoring 9.0 or above staying below 1% (I reckon between 5 and 8 albums). I’m guessing that we’ll see a similar number of publishing days next year, which should mean a similar number of reviews (i.e. slightly down on previous years), unless they make a lurch further into the pop market
Will there be another 10 awarded in 2016? I’m going to say no, because I think they’ve lost their nerve. But I’ll hedge a little here and say that If they do hand one out, it’ll either go to a fairly mainstream artist or a solo female artist. With Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepson clearly taking them by surprise in recent years and the fact that they are now owned by Conde Naste who see the brand as a way of “engaging high-value millennial audiences”, I think it’s safe to assume we are past the days where …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead could earn a 10 review. Shame.
Will we continue to see the percentage of albums scoring 6.4 or lower continue to shrink? That’s a hard one. The trend says yes, but my heart says no. It can’t be a good thing to squeeze everything into the middle, and, y’know…some albums are just a bit shit.
Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2015
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 last year it appeared that they changed the way they compiled it. Not all the Best New Music tagged albums figured in the top 504, and the order they appear does not necessarily equate to their score. The golden rule is, don’t release a metal album.
- 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 and December.5
- Grower: Of the albums Pitchfork reviewed at time of release, Carly Rae Jepson’s E*Mo*Tion was the album judged to have improved the most this year. Despite only scoring 0.3 above the average of 7.1 back in August, it jumped from 529th place to secure the number 37 spot in the end of year review.
- Permanence: D’Angelo / The Vanguard’s Black Messiah was the big winner here. Pitchfork changed the rules so that this album, released in December 2014, could be included in the list (footnote). It was the reviewed on December 19 last year, got a score higher than any other album on the list (9.4) and managed to make the no.7 spot in the year end list .
- Unlucky: Once again, metal albums were the big losers: Tribulation The Children of The Night (8.4), Baroness Purple (8.5) were overlooked completely.
- Waning Charms: Viet Cong’s Viet Cong, (8.5 back in January) and Prurient’s Frozen Niagara Falls (8.5 in May) were the biggest losers, both failing to make the top 50, being beaten by behind 26 albums that scored lower. In the case of Viet Cong, it looks political (they were judged by some to have handled poorly a controversy around their name). In the case of Prurient, it’s probably guilt-by-association in that the release is on renowned Canadian metal label, Profound Lore.
- Surprise: The inclusion of FKA Twigs M3LL155X EP at number 16 and Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP at 31 are the biggest surprises. For review purposes, Pitchfork has always treated EPs the same as albums. But they are not the same and they shouldn’t be judged as such.
1Pitchfork review five albums a day each weekday excluding American public holidays, a summer break in August and and none during the industry down time of the last 2-3 weeks of December when practically no new albums are released. Plus, this year they didn’t start the new reviews until a week later than 2014 and may have taken some extra time off around the Pitchfork festivals, publishing reviews on only 226 days versus 2014’s 233 in 2014 (when they managed to score 1224 albums). Individual albums in a box set will often 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%)
2014: 275 / 1224 scored 6.4 or lower (22.5%)
3 Called ‘The 50 Best Albums’, and no longer qualified as “based on the impassioned and knowledgable opinions of our writers and editors” but “Presenting our list of the Top 50 Albums of the Year. Records released this year and records that made their greatest impact in 2015 were eligible.” 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:
2014 – October, followed by March (17 of the top 50 end of year albums)
2013 – October and May (16 out of 50).
2012 – October and April (17 out of 50)
2011 June and January (14 out of 50)
2010 May and September (15 out of 50).
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.
2012 has been another great year for new music across many genres, but much of that great music has not necessarily come from great albums. I’ve listened to more new music in 2012 than I have since I left Xfm in 2008. I’ve experienced various levels of disappointment with most of them.
But among the disappointments have been some revelations. Interestingly, only three of these albums are debuts. And one of those is by a band made up of veterans of their respective genres.
10) The Walkmen Heaven
It’s not always good news when a band matures, but The Walkmen have been pulling it off with aplomb for a few years now.
This their sixth album finds them 10 years on from their debut and 8 years since the heady rush of ‘The Rat’. What was their most iconic song now has a rival in its polar opposite ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, a vocal led number with a great wordless sing along refrain. When Hamilton Leithauser sings “It’s been so long at the 2:37, you don’t doubt for a second that he really means it.
Elsewhere, the even more minimal ‘Southern Heart’ provides another highlight while their more familiar scratchy drunken guitar lines and little circular motifs pop up on the likes of ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Heaven’. An album that delivers more with each listen.
[Listen on Spotify]
9) The Mountain Goats Transcendental Youth
There’s currently a petition to the White House to have Mountain Goats’ mainman John Darnielle made US Poet Laureate. They could do worse than send this, his 14th album, as supporting evidence. It opens with a song for Amy WInehouse (‘Spent Gladiator’) and peaks with one for another less celebrated dead-too-young pop star Frankie Lymon (‘Harlem Roulette’)
The rest of the album finds the guitar-bass-drums set up of his last few albums augmented by a horn section on songs about agoraphobics, fictional gangsters, junkies and Judas all told with what one review called “radical empathy” and another called “deceptively plainspoken poetry”.
[Listen on Spotify]
8) Django Django Django Django
A maximalist melting pot of poppy psychedelia, electronica, the twang and rumble of early rock and roll, Krautrock, eastern motifs and delicious harmonizing. This is an endlessly engrossing debut.
[Listen On Spotify]
7) Beach House Bloom
While Bloom may not have quite as many peaks as its predecessor, it is still a masterclass in electronic dreampop, with the likes of ‘Lazuli’, ‘Myth’, ‘Other People’ and ‘Wishes’ among their very best.
[Listen on Spotify]
6) Bowerbirds The Clearing
Boy and girl record two albums of rough-edged folk music, one falls seriously ill and nearly dies, she recovers and they build a house / recording studio / art space in the woods of rural North Carolina. Somewhere in there they also split up and reconcile while also spending time recording their more polished but no less charming third album at Bon Iver’s studio in Wisconsin.
It’s understandable why issues including a preoccupation with mortality, belonging, and balancing the domestic rural idyll with the life of a touring band permeate these songs, but these themes are tackled with some of the most straight-up beautiful music of 2012.
[Listen on Spotify]
5) Hospitality Hospitality
Released back in January, the gentle charms of this near flawless album seem to have been forgotten by many despite a bunch of glowing reviews at the time. For shame.
This collection of glowing indie pop songs may not be breaking new ground but there’s a timelessness to Amber Papini’s songwriting that will find you coming back to this collection for many years.
[Listen on Spotify]
4) Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
Despite owning a couple of their previous records, I’ve often found Dirty Projectors’ music something to be admired rather than embraced. They’ve often had the odd moment of brilliance, but the idea of listening to one of their albums the whole way through rarely appeals. This made Swing Lo Magellan one of this year’s greatest revelations.
David Longstreth channels everyone from Led Zep to the Beatles to The Beach Boys to The Velvet Underground to Talking Heads, weds it to his taste for West African guitar styles, polyrhythms and layered vocals, throws in some judiciously placed strings and raises the quality of the songwriting exponentially. In ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ he has crafted a production the equal of any of John Barry’s classic Bond themes.
[Listen on Spotify]
3) Tame Impala Lonerism
Whereas their debut Innerspeaker was a stone cold retro-rock classic packed with 11 great late-60s indebted songs that sounded like it could only have been made in a valve-tastic analogue studio, Lonerism is a slightly different beast.
Although the overall psychedelic feel and Kevin Parker’s Lennon-indebted vocals remain, the production techniques reveas itself to be much more modernist in its approach. It’s the striving for the warmth and breadth of those analogue recordings the late 60s by combining instrumental chops with the modern production tehcniques of electronic music, coupled with the excellent songwriting that make Lonerism work.
[Listen on Spotify]
2) Grizzly Bear Shields
Brilliant though Veckatimest was, it’s a shame that this wasn’t the record that introduced most people to Grizzly Bear. Those that have written them off for being difficult or wilfully eccentric may have found much more to love within the grooves of this their fourth and most accessible album.
Lush and multifaceted,Sheilds moves seamlessly from the crunching Led Zep riff of ‘Sleeping Ute’ to the piano and snare-led ‘A Simple Answer’ to the warm and enveloping ‘Yet Again’ to the fretless bass and electronic effects of ‘Gun-Shy’, this album worms its way into your heart not just your brain.
[Listen on Spotify]
1) Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
Spoon’s Brit Daniel, Wolf Parade / Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks’ Dan Brown team up for the album that had me returning to it the most this year. Scratchy guitars, supple bass lines, new wave keyboards and some of Boeckner and Daniel’s best ever tunes.
Not only is this my favourite album of the year, in ‘Baby Gets Worse’, ‘Flaggin’ A Ride’, ‘My Love Is Real’, and ‘Like Ice Cream’ it also includes some of the greatest individual tracks, while their take on Boys Next Door’s ‘Shivers’ ranks amongst 2012’s best cover versions. And how iconic is the album artwork? The whole package.
[Listen on Spotify]
In The Pharmacy’s top tracks of 2012
Six hours of music featuring some of the best songs from 2012. These are in order of what makes the best listening experience rather than ranked from first to one-hundred-and-first. Keen followers of the In The Pharmacy cloudcasts will find some tracks that weren’t amongst the 357 tracks featured this year. They may also note that while psych-rock, psych-pop, electronica, electronic pop, hip hop and all things retro still get a look in, this list tends more towards the indie rock end of things. I make no apologies for this, these were simply the best tracks of 2012, imho*.
*It’s a Spotify playlist so a few of my favourites weren’t available (notably tracks from Lambchop, Ladyhawk, Kate Boy, Ceremony and Mungolian Jetset) but that just made it easier to get the list down to 101.
Sent from my iPhone
Sent from my iPhone