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Pazz & Jop: 3 Out of 10 Ain’t Bad

The annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll is out. Of my top-10 album selections (previously posted here, with some comments), just three have votes from other participants. This is par for the course: of the 1,839 albums listed in the poll’s ballots, the majority have only one or two mentions. In contrast, the winner, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, has 266 mentions, for 3,250 points. Critics have 100 points to divvy up between the up to 10 albums they select. (Ditto for singles, a poll in which I didn’t participate.)

The three albums I shared with other voters were:

Yellow SwansGoing Places, with 15 mentions, for a total of 141 points;

Scott Tuma‘s Dandelion, with 3 mentions, for a total of 30 points;

Oval‘s O, with 2 mentions, for a total of 20 points (Oval’s Oh was also on the list, with one mention for 10 points).

The list of critics is extensive — more than 700 — and if you peek around, you’ll find some neat variations from the standard music journalists, among them musician Elliott Sharp, who in addition to having five albums on his list for which no one else voted, did a smart thing in his list of favorite singles: he simply selected a favorite track from each of his top 10 albums.

Right now there seems to be a technical glitch on the Voice site, so the album pages linked to from individual critics’ ballot pages don’t list the other critics who voted for the albums. There’s been no major upgrade to the system that the Voice uses to publish the polls, which is unfortunate: no tools to fine-tune comparison between ballots, no links from critics’ ballot pages to their own sites, no links from critics’ ballots to their ballots from previous years, no “artist” pages to collect information on various releases, comments only on article pages (not on ballot or release pages).

Before the rise of the Internet, the annual Pazz & Jop poll was a rare source for music discovery. The ready availability today of opinions makes the poll far less valuable than it once was, but rather than embrace the tools of the web to make the most of its key virtue (the impressive expanse of participants), it’s gotten technologically stagnant. Maybe next year?

A taste of what the poll could be, as a correlated index of opinion, can be had at needlebase.com. That site’s Glenn McDonald is credited with tabulating the poll, and on the needlebase.com page goes into greater depth. In addition to some nifty sorting, it provides individual pages for ballots (here’s mine), including an “empathy” factor that tries to align one critic with others that share some sort of consensus. That consensus, of course, is measured solely by the hard data of specific albums rather than, say, genre or average BPM, and it doesn’t take into consideration, by definition, information the poll neglected to ask about, like, for instance, albums that we were disappointed by (for example, my top “empathy” colleague loved at least one album I couldn’t stand). Again, maybe next year the official Voice poll’s presentation will be enlivened by some of the sorting and collating that needlebase.com touches on.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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