Top album lists have been done to death, but they’re nowhere near dead. Every couple months, or, at the very least, at the end of the year, various publications come up with some excuse to put out a ranking of significant records, and I look at every single one I can get my hands on.
These lists are a win-win for everybody. They’re relatively easy to compile, and fans gobble them up. The most recent list of note is Pitchfork’s “The People’s List,” which chronicles the top album’s of the website’s lifetime, from 1996 to 2011.
What’s special about this list isn’t that it covers more than just a year or a decade, but rather that it spans the era that most discerning college-age students were developing their first mature musical tastes. Essentially, this list represents the entire lifetime of Pitchfork’s readers, and the fact that it was decided by the readers makes it that much more of an important, relevant and special list.
Almost 28,000 ballots were submitted, totalling over 116,000 albums, so very few stones, if any, were left unturned. Due to the hand-picked nature of the list and the years it covers, it’s less of a list and more of a cultural survey, containing valuable information about what serious music listeners were into, and not just what critics liked.
As Pitchfork says in the introduction to the list, “Seeing all these ballots from current and former contributors, from our peers at other publications, from artists, and from friends, reminded us that we experienced the music of these past 15 years together. But even more interesting was seeing how we experienced it differently.”
As a voter, compiling your list was simple: add the albums you wanted and reorder them however you saw fit. What Pitchfork did with this giant mass of data they collected is a bit more remarkable — they analyzed and categorized the hell out of it.
After the main top 200 albums list, there is a huge pool of data that you can sort almost any way you want. You can see which albums received the most votes from people aged 41 to 50, the top albums not to get a single vote or the top albums by people who primarily listen to metal. This list goes so far above and beyond others that it’s really more of an online application than a list, with its slick presentation and mountains of options.
I had made a list when voting was open and now I wish I had spent more time on it. I didn’t invest much of myself into it because I didn’t realize what a beautiful thing it would be a part of. I threw a list of 39 albums together in a couple minutes. While it’s not entirely accurate, there are a few key albums I would have liked to see make the list.
The first is arguably my favorite record of all time: “The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place” by Explosions in the Sky. It is the album that got me into post-rock in a big way and opened me up to the world of instrumental music. It allowed me to finally appreciate the likes of Miles Davis, Pink Floyd’s longer jams, house music and classical compositions. For me, no album has ever said more without a single word than this has.
Another of my favorite albums ever, Youth Lagoon’s “The Year of Hibernation” also didn’t make the cut, which isn’t overly shocking. It didn’t set the world on fire because it had a low-key release, but musically, it was a top 2 or even 1 album of 2011. It uses basic song structure that takes advantage of reverb in a way that I haven’t seen yet, despite all the groups who have tried. It’s the perfect album for both introspection and jubilation, for rainy and sunny days. Had more people heard of it, I’m sure it would have cracked the list somewhere.
The last album whose exclusion from this list I have strong feelings about it “The Back Room” by Editors. Musically speaking, it’s a beautiful and varied post-punk record and it did very well, both commercially and critically — at least in the UK, its native territory. Still, I figured enough of Pitchfork’s readers paid attention to the British charts to realize the greatness of “The Back Room,” but I suppose not.
Besides my minor grievances, this is maybe the favorite top albums list I’ve ever read. It’s beautifully presented, put together in a way that those reading it can’t reasonably complain about, and it has more data than anybody really needs while not coming off as overwhelming. Experience the list at pitchfork.com/peopleslist, but make sure to keep one eye on the clock or you might end up browsing it for more time than you can afford.