Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Geeky Science Of Creating An Albums Of The Year List

Warning: This post is pretty geeky. We've been thinking about end of year lists far too much. 

Fundamentally there are 3 types of end of year album list*:

1. The 'best' albums of the year.

2. Favourite / most liked albums of the year.

3. Most played albums of the year. 

Each one is subtly different. 

*(Of these 3 types some end of year lists are presented in some sort of numerical order, some in alphabetical order and some in no order whatsoever. Each one probably says something about the psychological make up of the list maker, but let's face it, whatever way they've chosen to present it, it's a list.) 

‘The Best’ is the most subjective, based on some sort of critical appraisal. It also has a certain sense of arrogance - 'our taste is better than yours'. 

‘Favourite / most liked’ is less subjective. The question here is that the list is decided in a snapshot in time and sometimes over time favourites may change. (Question for all list makers - of your favourites of 2013 are you still playing them now? If not, are they still your favourites?)

‘Most played’ has the potential to be factual. It is what it is. A record may not be what you consider your favourite but you still might have played it more often than the favourite. Yet often this factual list isn't as factual as we think.  Because people who create most played lists sometimes don’t actually count how many times they’ve played a record – they just take a guess. Then there’s the timeline. A most played list is statistically more likely to contain many records from earlier in the year than later in the year as there’s been more months to play them. Yet often they don’t. 

It’s why in producing our end of year list (a most played type) we took the geeky / slightly more scientific approach of recording each time we played an album over the course of a year (physical, digital or streamed) on a spreadsheet and then at the end of the year divided the number of times played by the number of months from when we first heard it to give an average plays per month. 

Of course even this method isn’t 100% foolproof. 400 mile journeys in the car may have been soundtracked by the same album on CD on repeat. By the time we got home and recorded we had lost track of how many times we played it and had to hazard a guess. Those car journeys may have also included choices of music played by other members of the Breaking More Waves household. The question was then should we include them on our list? We decided we would. Also the very fact we were recording created an almost experimental false condition which could have influenced our behaviour in what we chose to play, attempting to bump certain records further up the list. And what about the question of part plays? What if we just played 4 songs from an album and then moved onto something else? For this we decided to record it as a fraction. So if it was a 12 track album and we played 4 songs, we recorded it as 0.33. However, we didn’t include single tracks or when tracks were played on shuffle – the tracks had to be played as they were intended in the order on the album. Those were the rules.

This was all rather excessively geeky but at least when we look back at our list of albums of 2014 we can say with a near degree of certainty that they were the ones that soundtracked our year. It’s why for instance Broods, an album that appears on just a few UK end of year list is at number 2. 

It’s also important to note that this year we listened to just 74 new albums that were released this year. A good 30% of them we only listened to once (streaming is to blame for this). It’s why we don’t produce a Top 50 or Top 40 like many other blogs. If we did, to be honest the record at number 50 would be one that hadn't really engaged us in any way.

Having said that, ironically if we’d put our ‘critic’ hat on and simply ranked these records in order of subjective artistic quality the list wouldn’t be that different – perhaps Honeyblood would have been a little lower on the list, Todd Terje a little higher, but we figure that if we’re recommending records to readers (which is partly what this list is about, as well as being a diary entry of sorts for our own personal satisfaction) we prefer to recommend records that we’ve played lots and not tired of rather than anything else - after all an album is a friend for life.

In posting about these records it was also important for us to create 15 different blog posts and write more than just a couple of sentences on each one and upload one each day. This was for a variety of reasons. First we haven't reviewed albums on the blog for a number of years now, so in some cases this is the first time we’ve written about a particular artist and their work, and we want to give some context or at least a decent description of the album. A second reason was that we find no value or help in blogs / websites that simply list their favourite records of the year with no information about them. Thirdly, we kept our list relatively short (15) for the reasons explained earlier. Finally, the other reason for doing things the way we do and not just upload 1 albums of the year post was because all the posts can be pre-written a week or so before the series commences which then gives us a couple of weeks off from writing the blog at a time when we're very busy doing other things away from the internet.

So we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the LPs we’ve been wallowing in the most this year. Female vocalists have taken nearly all the higher places in 2014 (except no.1) and for the second year running a Scottish act has found itself at the top of the pile, Young Fathers (pictured above) taking over from Chvrches last year and joining a list that also includes Bon Iver, Blue Roses, The National and Lana Del Rey.

Finally, to conclude this year’s Albums of 2014, if you’re the sort who really can’t be bothered taking 3-5 minutes to read a blog post (in which case you’re probably not reading this) we’ve summarised the whole of our end of year list below, click on the album name to read the original blog post.

1. Young Fathers – Dead

2. Broods – Evergreen

3. Honeyblood – Honeyblood

4. Kate Tempest – Everybody Down

5. La Roux – Trouble In Paradise

6. Sophie Ellis Bextor – Wanderlust

7. Slow Club – Complete Surrender

8. FKA Twigs – LP1

9. Taylor Swift – 1989

10. Chet Faker – Built On Glass

11. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos

12. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

13. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

14. Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business

15. Jungle - Jungle

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