Monday, December 29, 2014

Our Favorite Albums of 2014

Soo...looking at the calendar and seeing it's almost the end of 2014, time to get this out there.

Every year we do this, it's interesting because we get an eclectic mix of people from across the diaspora of the industry who all come with different perspectives, musical interests and so, what's more interesting isn't so much seeing where we diverge, but where our interests actually match up. Because if you can get more than two people in this group to agree on an album, trust me, it must be the goods.

Word of advice. If you are ever putting together a list of musical albums that involves Excel and a nerd who is an amateur sabermetrician in charge of compiling rankings because you'll get a lot more than you bargained for. Because there were so many ties within certain rankings, I was able to create an album "batting average" which each album is ranked against the total number of points possible to score (650 this year or 50 x 13 participants) to give us a better glimpse than the pure ranking points could. If that's not enough, ties were broken based on the number of ballots an album was featured on, as there were some albums that showed up quite a bit for a bunch of us.

Six years after starting this little experiment, we're still at it and glad to have you join us.

Many of the members of the band have listed their own individual albums with reviews that you can read from this year. Others (like me) will follow later.

Check out reviews from Eric, Laura, Joel, Andy and Georgy.

With that, here's the top albums of 2014 list based on the entire team's rankings.

The Top 20 albums are pretty clear cut. (Top 10 in orange)

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams356
The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream278
Beck - Morning Phase230
Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music213
Spoon - They Want My Soul205
St. Paul & The Broken Bones - Half The City182
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There181
Jenny Lewis - The Voyager180
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2176
St. Vincent - St. Vincent158
Jack White - Lazaretto155
Real Estate - Atlas152
The Both - The Both137
The Rural Alberta Advantage - Mended with Gold131
Ben Howard - I Forgot Where We Were127
The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers124
Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland119
Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker115
Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal114
Bahamas - Bahamas Is Alfie105

Once you get out of the Top 20, things get dicier. So many people, so much diversity means lots of ties. Again, a late calculation adjusted our rankings a bit, so Top 50 took many forms before it looked like it does below.

Phantogram - Voices103
Dawn Golden - Still Life99
Blondfire - Young Heart95
Haerts - Haerts92
Shovels & Rope - Swimmin' Time92
Swans - To Be Kind88
First Aid Kit - Stay Gold88
Wild Cub - Youth86
Grouper - Ruins85
Wye Oak - Shriek85
Mac Demarco - Salad Days84
Damien Jurado - Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son84
The Colourist - The Colourist84
Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast83
Bleachers - Strange Desire82
Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers81
Strands of Oak - Heal81
Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain81
Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield81
Angel Olson - Burn Your Fire for No Witness80
Future Islands - Singles80
RAC - Strangers78
Ben Frost - A U R O R A74
U2 - Songs of Innocence74
Bad Suns - Language & Perspective72
Alvvays - Alvvays69
Justin Townes Earle - Single Mothers67
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - Give The People What They Want64
Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow64
FKA twigs - LP164

No album with 3 or more voters choosing it anywhere on their list managed to escape the Top 50, so it was a pretty reliable indicator of a Top 50 spot on our list.

Here is more data I managed to mine out:

Albums with the most ballots
Ryan Adams had eight ballots.
Spoon came in second with seven ballots.
Beck came in second with six ballots.
The War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, Run The Jewels, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Jenny Lewis, Real Estate and Parquet Courts came in second with five ballots.
Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, The Both and The New Pornographers latest releases logged four ballots.

There were 15 other albums that had at least 3 ballots. 

Top albums list by H/L adjusted score
For those albums that appeared on a lot of lists, which ones were outliers that got one or two high (or low) rankings compared to their peers? Which was truly the best album of the year according to our rankers? When you subtract the highest and lowest score an album received, the Top 10 albums stays composed of the same albums, there are just some position changes. This remains basically consistent in the Top 20 except for a notable change.

Real Estate - Atlas (LP) For a brief moment, it appeared this album which appeared on five lists, would end up in the Top 10. But it was not to be. Instead, it came in 12th but using an adjusted metric, it actually ranked 10th. 

Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal (LP) vaults from 17th to 13th when you rank by adjusted score. In fact, it's the lowest rated album on the list of any album with 4 or more critics ranking it on their lists. But whether it was Top 10 or Top 50, bottom line is, people liked it and liked it enough to rank it. 

Biggest outlier album
Young Heart (LP) by Blondfire finished at 23rd on the strength of just two ballots. Joel and Tim both ranked it into their Top 5. Clearly they heard something the rest of the gang didn't, since no one else ranked the album at all. Maybe the group as a whole needs more electro-pop in their lives?

In that same class was Still Life (LP) by Dawn Golden which both Eric and Stephen rated highly, raising it to the 22nd spot on the rankings, when it initially looked like it wouldn't be rated at all. 

Most underrated album
How do you determine underrated in an exercise like this? Take the lowest ranked album with the most ballots and highest score. The winner in this category? Bad Suns - Language & Perspective (LP) which appeared on three ballots, but was ranked 45th, but had an adjusted ranking of 30th meaning you ought to give it a list.

Most overrated album
This category is a bit of a misnomer. But for the purposes of this exercise, we're talking about an album that appeared on a number of ballots (which means it can't be that bad, right?) but has a lot of scoring variance. The album in this category? Bahamas - Bahamas Is Alfie (LP) which cracked the Top 20 at #20 overall on the big board this year, but had a median score of just 21.5 which is lower than any album in Top 45 or so albums. If nothing else, it means the people who liked it, liked it a lot, but there wasn't a consensus about whether it was truly one of the elite albums of the year, given how many people left it off their list.

Critic with most Top 50 selections
In these parts, we've taken to appreciating our musical diversity. We wear it like a badge of honor. Still, it's fun when a few of us overlap. This year I've noticed more of that than normal, especially when you look at the top list and notice how many people had Top 50 albums on their lists.

After crunching the numbers, Dylan had 24 of the top 50 on his list.

See you next year! Interested in playing along next year? Say hello on twitter @ronbronson.

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