Annual semi-data-driven favorite songs list: 2011

Posted by Rob Walker on June 1, 2011
Posted Under: Uncategorized

It’s time once more to take a semi-data-driven look back at my 10 favorite songs of the year just ended. (I have previously conducted this empirical/subjective exercise for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.) I’m posting this on, which is technically a dormant site, because this is the easiest place for me to take advantage of useful plug-ins. I’m “hiding” (sort of) this post by giving it a fake post date — the real post date is January 8, 2011.

Here’s the top ten. Number-crunching and analysis follows.

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As always:

  1. I start out by seeing which songs I played most often, per iTunes data.
  2. Then I cross-match that information with my one-out-of-five-stars ratings, and tweak accordingly.
  3. Then I sometimes tweak a little more.

This was a weird year for me, music-wise. I still haven’t gotten around to buying a lot of the 2011 releases I still intend to buy. Partly I’ve been busy, partly I’ve been on a budget, and partly there’s so much interesting music around that’s released free-and-legal, I haven’t really found myself sitting around craving new sounds as much as usual. (But that may be because of the “I’ve been busy” factor just noted.)

Also: I don’t track this data (I wish I could), but I’m quite certain I spent more time in 2011 listening to podcasts than in years past — including music podcasts. I also suspect I listened to more Internet radio and streams than usual: Pandora, KCRW, Give The Drummer Some (the show and the stream), Rock ‘n’ Soul Ichiban (another WFMU stream), WWOZ, and WBGO, to name some examples. (What about Spotify? I’ve used it a little, but honestly not much. And I never did get around to exploring

But since this is supposed to be a data-driven exercise, let’s look at the numbers. Last year I added to my iTunes library 262 songs that were released in 2011 (as opposed to older songs that are “new to me,” as they say). The comparable number in 2010 was 350; in 2008 it was 377; in 2007 it was 325. So it does seem my 2011 inventory is a bit light. (I added 779 songs overall to my iTunes library in 2011, meaning that as usual “new” music was in the minority — but this number is also generally low by past standards, again suggesting an overall trend, for the year at least, away from adding to the library at all, for whatever reason(s).)

So let’s look at the Top Ten.

  • The most obvious thing to address is Adele. Given that Adele’s record was far and away the mainstream success story of 2011, I’m predictably sheepish about a list that announces, “Hey, I like the popular thing, too!” But the facts are what they are. That’s sort of the point of this entire exercise, isn’t it? The background is that I was quite interested in hearing the new Adele release as soon as it was available, basically because I liked her earlier song “Cold Shoulder.” When I listened to the snippets of 21 on iTunes, I liked three songs. The rest struck me as kind of bland. So I just went with the three I liked, and it turned out I really liked them, evidently. One, “Rolling In The Deep,” later became a massive sensation. I think “Rumor Has It” has also had a pop life, but I’m not sure whether “I’ll Be Waiting” was ever promoted as a single or not. I am aware that one of the bland songs became a hit, and I hear it from time to time, but the fact that I don’t recall its name suggests that my opinion about it hasn’t changed.
  • Meanwhile, you might wonder what the exponentially less-familiar Kubik is doing near the top of the chart. Here’s the deal. For some time now I’ve been a devotee of the Popcop Music Alliance Pact: Basically this music blogger gets a bunch of other music bloggers from around the world to recommend and offer up one notable single each, in a monthly exercise. I always download the entire ZIP file of 36 tracks. Generally, most of it is not my kind of thing, and gets deleted immediately. Yet almost every month there are a few keepers, and sometimes a song or two that’s not just a keeper, but a killer. It’s stuff I’d be unlikely to hear otherwise (although every so often one of these artists eventually breaks through in some more traditional way) but I also enjoy the process: I like that I have to wade through a bunch of junk to find the gems. It’s kind of like listening to the radio! Anyway, Kupik is from Portugal. The data suggests that I quite enjoy “Shina-Kak,” and I agree with that suggestion. It’s from the June 2011 installment of the Pop Cop Music Alliance Pact.
  • I know I’ve mentioned the Music Alliance Pact in the past, and I might even have included a song from it in a prior year’s top ten. But this year there are two. The second is “You’re Gonna Hate Me,” by a Greek band called Victim of Society. It’s from July.
  • Not only that, but three more tracks found via this same Pop Cop project were under data-driven consideration for this year’s top ten. “Hey Kidz,” by Swiss band Cryptonites (from March), got 15 plays; “White Walls Painted Black,” by another Greek band, Plastic Flowers (from August), got 14 plays; and “A Boy And The Birds,” by Your Hand In Mine, yet another band from Greece (from September), got 12.
  • Brian Eno’s “Glitch” was put above these on my top ten because of its five-star rating. Also, I really enjoyed pretty much everything on the record Drums Between The Bells.
  • I also gave five stars to “Dedication to My Ex,” by Lloyd. With only eight plays, this requires a quick explanation. I actually became familiar with this song rather late in 2011 from an actual terrestrial radio station, heard on my strictly analog car stereo. It made an impression on me and I looked it up via the lyrics when I got home. I discovered that what I’d heard is the clean version of a song earlier whose “real” version is so soaked in sophomoric profanity that I’m embarrassed to listen to it. So I ended up buying the “clean” version! I am an old man! Get off my lawn! Whatever. I resolutely insist that this version is far superior, and a really top-notch pop tune.
  • The decisions leading to the last three songs rounding out the top ten are a bit subjective. Some others got more plays, and equally high ratings. (Notably, I actually played Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” 14 times, but I am more interested in hearing “Lovecrimes” again right now, so there you have it.)
  • Three tunes found via Disquiet also merit mention here: “Meditation,” by Hypoetical, got 15 plays; “Before Pale,” by Joshua Treble got 13, and “Fennel,” by Y?Arcka, got 10, despite being added late in the year.
  • Also high-ish on the playcount list: “Bedroom Eyes” from Dum Dum Girls, which I obtained via Huh, had 13 plays; and Peter Bjorn & John’s cover of “Is This It,” from the Strokes tribute collection put together by Stereogum, got 11.

In the past I’ve done some additional analysis based on LastFM data, but there was some kind of glitch between me and LastFM this year, and basically I consider all my data over there totally useless for now. In recent months the glitch seems to have resolved itself, so it’s possible LastFM data will be useful for 2012 — but sadly its utility as a tool for assessing longer-term trends is now completely suspect.

A final note: This is the fifth time I’ve done this. I think now perhaps enough time has gone by to consider a serious re-assessment of past lists: How will my best of 2007 hold up in 2012?  I don’t really intend to think about that overtly in the year ahead, but I think it will be something worth visiting when the year is done. Unless that Mayan end-of-the-world thing is true, in which case I guess this will have marked my final entry in this series…

Happy New Year!

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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