Every year, NJArts.net contributor Tris McCall puts together his own Critics Poll and publishes it on TrisMcCall.net. I’ve been reading it and enjoying it for many years (I also used to vote in it, too, when I was doing more music writing). As anyone who has read Tris in The Star-Ledger, NJArts.net or elsewhere should expect, it’s authoritative, highly opinionated and very entertaining. In this year’s poll, for example, he writes that on Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes, guitarist Tom Morello “plays like a fifteen-year-old angling to get punched in the face by the frontman of his metal band.”
In an attempt to help make more people aware of the poll, I’ve asked him to write a short explanation of it, which is below, followed by links to the poll’s different elements.
Hi, I’m Tris McCall. Every year on the second of January, I invite my friends to submit lists of favorite albums and singles released in the year gone by. Some of those friends are music critics, others are musicians, and others are just people who are crazy about popular music. Since it can be hard to settle on a favorite album while recovering from the holiday season, I typically set an early February deadline for submissions. Once everybody is in, I count it all up and post the results to my website. Generally, the Critics Poll summary consists of six separate posts: an overview of the voting and a list of the 40 top scoring albums, a singles list accompanied by a personal essay that often gets a little political, miscellaneous categories and commentary by voters, a two-part representation of my own ballot, and a final word. I try to keep the tone casual and playful, and I write as fast as I can, so mind the typographical errors and don’t throw too many tomatoes.
Preparing for the Poll is, for me, as ritualized as writing it up. Beginning around Christmas, I’ll listen very carefully to two albums every day. Sometimes I’ll take notes. These won’t be the only albums I’ll listen to that day, but they’ll be the ones that get my undivided attention and that I’ll think hardest about. Before I begin, I’ll circulate that listening schedule to some of the voters, many of whom make their own modified version of the list. For a few weeks, we’ll often be listening hard to the same record at the same time, and, occasionally, arguing about that album’s merits. It’s become an enjoyable way to get through the shortest, darkest days of January. In early February, I take a few days to count the ballots, and then I’ll spend a week writing up the results. By the time I’m done, the coldest weather is behind us (well, most years it is) and pitchers and catchers are ready to report. The ancient Druids had their solstice festivals; we have the Poll.
This is the 25th version of the Poll. We’ve been at this for a quarter-century, and although many fewer people participate now than at our mid-’00s peak, it’s proven to be too much fun to kill. If you’d like to argue with me about any of this, or wag your finger, or wring my neck, well, that’s what it’s all about. Feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.