Sunday, 1 January 2012

UK Blogger Albums of 2011

At the start of every year one of the UK’s longest serving and most under-rated music blogs Sweeping the Nation publishes the results of the UK Bloggers Album of the Year Poll. Each music blog that is involved (which includes our own) submits its 10 favourite albums of the year and through some sort of calculation wizardry Simon from Sweeping the Nation computes the results. You can see Breaking More Waves chosen 10 using this link and from that post there are links to articles on each album itself.

End of year lists from the likes of critics, journalists and music bloggers often tend to not reflect what the mainstream public has been buying. This year PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake won the Mercury Music prize and cropped up on so many year-end lists that we began to wonder if the list writers were actually the same person. Unsurprisingly it tops the UK bloggers poll as well. Yet the masses were largely ambivalent – the album only reached no.8 in the album chart and nose-dived quickly after that.

If the writers are ‘right’ then why is it that so often the public ignore them? After all isn’t one of the roles of a critic to help sieve out the good, the bad and the ugly to help enable the record buying public make informed choices? Isn’t their job to bring the underground to the mainstream? And to kick the dull and average into touch? Well if it is, they’re not doing a particularly effective job. For example, Jessie J’s album is 2011’s biggest selling debut album in the UK despite the critical panning it got.

Maybe these days the role of the critic is dead, as even if they do highlight the good they don’t have the authoritative voice they had in the past. These days everyone’s a critic. Set up your own website (we did), post a comment on someone’s review, ‘like’ something on Facebook, text a radio station and tell them that the new song they’re playing is amazing – all of this mass interaction dissolves the power of the professional critic to nothing but a vague limp cloud hovering somewhere in the distance.

So this is the UK music bloggers list of their favourite albums. What ‘influence’ it has we  guess would be close to zero. More likely anyone reading it or seeing it will criticise it one way or another. It will either be seen as ‘a good list’ because it represents your own tastes or a ‘bad list’ because some of the records chosen you haven’t heard or don’t like.

This is how music criticism works these days – through blinkered prejudice with everyone as a participant.

The Top 5 (in reverse order) are

5 RADIOHEAD - The King of Limbs

4 WILD BEASTS - Smother

3 tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l

2 BON IVER - Bon Iver

1 PJ HARVEY - Let England Shake

You can see the full list at Sweeping The Nation using this link, together with the blogs that voted.

So here’s our criticism, or rather our analysis of its relevance to ourselves, because it seems that’s what criticism is these days – it’s become very inward rather than outward looking. Of the 75 records chosen, 8 of Breaking More Waves favourite 10 made the list (with a neat spread throughout the top 75) indicating that by and large our tastes bear some similarity to our peer group. The only omissions of our chosen 10 were Florence & the Machine’s Ceremonials and our number 1 album of the year Last by The Unthanks, however we strongly suspect we were the only blog to vote for Last and that a high proportion of the bloggers haven’t even heard it.

Whilst PJ Harvey achieving number 1 placement is no surprise, there are a couple of records in the top 10 that may raise eyebrows.

 First is Radiohead’s high placing at number 5. The King of Limbs has been widely discussed on the internet this year, but the overall consensus was that it was far from their best. Radiohead however have always been massively revered by UK bloggers, so we suspect the fan factor crept in here giving bias towards their position. From our perspective we remain huge Radiohead fans; In Rainbows, Kid A and OK Computer are some of our most treasured recordings that we own, but with the exception of Codex and Lotus Flower, The King of Limbs left us cold.

A second surprise comes with the high placing of Noah and the Whale’s Last Night On Earth at no.8, which is a record that seems to have slipped off the radar a little and not been particularly well featured in the end of year lists, even though it’s a very solid album. So, it’s nice to see an element of the UK blogging community giving that record some recognition.

A further point of note is the lack of influence US hip-hop has on the UK bloggers poll. In fact the highest placed rap record is Ghostpoet (our own no.4 album) at number 20, but this is an unreservedly British sounding record.

Other albums that we would have expected to appear on the list include M83, Yuck and Rustie, but none of these make an appearance.

Finally, a small cheer for our favourite member of Girls Aloud - Nicola Roberts - and her album Cinderella’s Eyes. If you’ve followed us on twitter or have seen our own end of year list, you’ll know we’ve been big fans of Miss Roberts in 2011 and it’s pleasing to see that her album has managed to sneak onto the list at 58.  It shows that some UK bloggers know a superb honest pure-pop album when they hear one.

So overall, a good list in so far as it neatly summarises what UK blogs have been getting excited about this year. 

Thanks to Simon from Sweeping The Nation for his work in compiling it. Here’s the link again to the full run down at Sweeping The Nation.

Tomorrow we’ll be bringing another blog compiled list –  the results and winner of the Blog Sound of 2012– UK bloggers alternative to the BBC Sound of 2012. For now, here’s the winner of the 2011 UK Blogger Album poll.

PJ Harvey - The Words That Maketh Murder

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