Data-Mining the Year’s “Best-Of” Lists to Come Up with Some Real Answers About What Was “Best”

Overwhelmed by the oppressive number of year-end “best of” lists? To illustrate the point that year-end lists are like assholes, ThatEricAlper has collected links of nearly 600 lists purporting to name the best music of 2014.  When I saw this list of lists, I couldn’t help wonder if anyone would dare to data mine them for consistencies, consensus and commonalities.

The good news is that someone has tried to, albeit not with Eric’s massive set of lists.  This is from The Concourse.

Used to be, you could count on just a few Best Albums of the Year lists to slice through the chaos of the previous 12 months. Pick up a December issue of Rolling Stone or SPIN, clip out your local newspaper critic’s personal Top 10, and you had a ready-made guide for how to spend the Best Buy gift cards you got for Christmas. But just as unprecedented access to music online has induced listener paralysis, the crowded internet-rock-critic ecosystem now produces a blizzard of competing lists every holiday season. Triangulating a consensus list now requires trawling through dozens of sites annoyingly fond of slideshows and pagination.

So starting last year, I decided to simplify this process through the ancient art of data entry, gathering nearly every staff list I could find into a single Google spreadsheet and using some basic statistics to collate the results. The result, which you can check out here, is a meta-list that’s part year-end cheat sheet, part a primitive attempt at music sabermetrics, part a commentary on modern criticism, and part (the biggest part) a music-geek cry for help.

With 35 lists touting 588 albums (see the comments below for my methodology), 2014’s contest has settled into its final mathematical contours, bringing some shape to a calendar year that was strangely lacking in Big Event Releases. (No new Kanye West album, in other words.) Nevertheless, this year’s meta-list gave us late drama in the race for No. 1, encouraging results for gender equality, evidence for the continued existence of geographical differences in taste, and a new/old site for finding the obscure music nobody else is talking about.

Continue reading.

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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