High Impact Albums of 2007

In my last post, I detailed the ten albums that earned the highest ratings from me during 2007. But while I did find them each to be fantastic recordings, ratings don’t necessarily reflect popularity. That is to say that the most highly rated albums might not have been the most often played.

Indeed that’s not the case. I took data from the past year and ran it through my Impact report, which measures the relationship between total play counts and the number of songs an album or artist has in my library in order to see who has received the most attention relative to their size

While the results show some significant overlap with the top rated list (of course I listen to what I like), it turns out that being highly rated doesn’t necessarily guarantee a lot of playing. So without further ado, here are the albums that made the biggest splash last year.

1 Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Impact Rating: 1072

Showing Trent Reznor at his best, Year Zero received significant airplay throughout the year, enough to earn it the title of “Tunequest’s Most Impactful Album of 2007.”

2 Air – Pocket Symphony

Impact Rating: 1064

I listened to Pocket Symphony in a huge burst after its March release and kinda petered out over the remainder of the year. Still, that initial burst was enough to coast to a second place ranking.

3 Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight

Impact Rating: 1021

Rilo Kiley is one of a handful of musical acts that both the modernista and I actively like. It should be no surprise then that despite its late summer release, Under the Blacklight was in heavy rotation for the duration of autumn, so much so that it claimed the number three spot.

4 The Polish Ambassador – Diplomatic Immunity

Impact Rating: 936

The Ambassador’s debut disc broke into my brain early last year and left a substantial wake in its path. Our intergalactic diplomat’s electrogrooves are really really catchy. In my library for nearly the entire year, Diplomatic Immunity garnered the most play counts of any album I acquired in 2007.

5 Radiohead – In Rainbows

Impact Rating: 355

Radiohead’s revolutionary distribution may have brought the record to my ears, but its quality kept it playing again and again. Though In Rainbows narrowly missed my Top Rated Albums of 2007, it was listened to enough to become the fifth highest impactful album of the year, quite a feat considering the early October release of disc one and the early December release of disc two.

Also of note, here we see a huge drop in impact ratings between places 4 and 5. It’s clear that the top four were the breakaway albums of the year. Those four albums were responsible for 20% of the impact points generated among new aquisitions last year. Which means that either those albums are fantastically good (and they are) or I need to diversify my habits a bit (which I probably do). But hey the ears like what they like.

Moving on:

6 David Arnold: Casino Royale

james bond casino royale 2006

Impact Rating: 338

I’ve been checking in on David Arnold’s film works every so often since the late 90s, when I discovered his score for the original Stargate film. Since then his scores have continued to impress me, especially his work for the James Bond franchise. His composition for Casino Royale, the 2006 re-booting of the Bond character, is perhaps his finest contribution yet. Lush, inviting and full of suspense and action, Casino Royale projects the best of the Bond musical heritage with a suave confidence that’s the hallmark of the character. But it adds its own unique motifs and ambience, keeping it from sounding like a re-hash of John Barry’s seminal soundtracks.

A highlight of the record is I’m The Money, a short 27-second track. But those 27 seconds are filled with the distlled essense of the entire score and they evoke the predominate atmosphere of the film as well, from the exotic and intriguing to the dark and dangerous.

I’m The Money:

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The more I listen to this one, the more I might think it’s the best score of Arnold’s carreer and perhaps the best in the entire James Bond series.

Rounding out the Top Ten Impactful albums of 2007

All the remaining records also appear on my Top Rated 07 list.

7 Susumu Yokota – Symbol Impact Rating: 335
8 Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon Impact Rating: 324
9 The Polish Ambassador – The Phantasmal Farm Impact Rating: 301 (A good year for the Ambassador around here)
10 The Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist Impact Rating: 261

For those would would like a baseline, the average impact for all records acquired in 2007 was 68, while the median was 16. Additional math shows me that the top 20 records were responsible for just more than half the impact ratings generated throughout the year. So I’ve resolved this year to show some more consideration with my musical choices. Last year’s massive influx of new tunes was largely a response to having neglected many new records and trends in music while partaking in the original tunequest. This year I’ve decided to purposefully not seek out too many new records and spend more time with the ones I do get.

So, here’s to tunequest 2008, whatever form it may take.

Yeah, What They Said 8/25

Links to interesting stories. This edition is long overdue.

Medialoper: 5 Ways to Improve eMusic
I love eMusic. At ~$0.25 per song, it’s easily one of the best values in the digital download arena. While generally functional, parts of the site could use some overhauling. Medialoper leads the discussion on how.

Cognitive Daily: Even the musically untrained respond differently to new symphonic movements
“A new study of brain responses to music has found a striking difference in brain activity when a symphonic movement ends and the next one begins, compared to other parts of the musical work.”

Fredflare: Rad Chat with Ratatat
Fredflare talks it up with Evan Mast of Ratatat, one of the greatest bands of the current millennium. Amongst other things, he explains the origin of the band’s name:

The band was originally called Cherry, but there was conflict with other bands using the same name so we had to change it. We just sat down and brainstormed for a few days. It was slow going, but then the name just popped into my head and it was the first idea we’d had that we didn’t absolutely hate. After a while we even started to LIKE it. Now I really like the name Ratatat and I don’t like Cherry much anymore. Cherry” made us sound like sissies! “Ratatat” makes us sound tough, right?

Hollywood Reporter: Unique stories lie behind every licensing deal
A series of anecdotes about the various licensing deals a number of artists have entered into and the effect those deals have had on their careers.

A lot of people claim that they can’t hear the difference between a 128kbps file and a 256kbps file. This video proves that there is indeed a difference.

I think every English speaking person in the world should read this story all the way to the end. It’s a life-changing experience. After you’ve finished, you’ll probably want to die, or kill, or both.

Have a non-iPhone phone or PDA with audio capabilities? Out-of-the-box, iTunes doesn’t offer much in the way of getting audio files onto them. SyncTunes however, might be your savior.


And finally, a RatingQuest update: As of 8/25 6:30PM EDT, I have rated 8,050 out of the 15,865 songs in my iTunes library. That’s 50.7% completion, a 2.6% increase from when I started.


As of today, my active library contains 15,601 songs. Of those songs, 7,501 have been given star ratings, leaving 8,100 unrated. So, just as I spent last year listening to every song in my library, I will spend the rest of this year working to completely rate my library and assign stars to as many songs as I can.

The effort I’m putting into this is substantial, but not as all-consuming as the tunequest was. I’ve got plenty of audio to listen to without devoting huge swaths of time to this project. Hopefully, I’ll break the 10,000 mark by the end of the year.

I’ve got my playlists ready; first up: all unrated songs from before 1980 (1332 songs. 3:07:58:26).

Off I go!

What’s in a star rating?

Yesterday, I wrote a detailed article about the new formula I’m using to quantify the overall quality of albums in my iTunes library. It’s been working for me, but I realized that everyone rates their music differently. Webomatica, for example, explains in the comments that his song ratings are relative to other songs by the same artist.

So I’d like to explain the thought process that goes into my rating system. I’ve been using the same star rating criteria for years and that system has gone a long way toward helping me maintain control over my sprawling library. It allows me to quickly construct playlists of quality music, which is the single largest goal I have when managing and utilizing my library.

When thinking about a song’s rating, I basically need it answer one question: How likely I am to want to hear this song again? They are not designed to attribute a greater cultural value to a song, though the song’s general artistic worth plays a large role in the rating it receives. I’m more likely to enjoy a high-quality song and thus want to listen to it more often.

The rating is essentially a weighted vote for helping me determine how often a particular song gets played in the future. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars: This song is excellent. It shows poise and craftsmanship and I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this one the next time.
  • Rating: ★★★★☆ 4 stars: This song is very good. Well done and not off-putting, I’ll most likely enjoy this again, but it’s not brilliant enough to be a 5. The majority of songs in my library fall into this rating.
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3 stars: This song is good. I’m not going to go out of my way to hear this one, but if I’m listening to an album beginning-to-end, I won’t skip it.
  • Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2 stars: This song wasn’t very good. I’m fairly certain I’ll never want to hear it again. These songs are candidates for deletion. If any song stays at 2 stars for long enough, it is either upgraded to 3 stars or removed from the library.
  • Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1 star: Not used for rating purposes. Instead, songs that are marked with 1 star are taken out of circulation, usually because of encoding problems or bad ID3 tags. Its normal rating is returned when the problem is solved. Additionally, special audio such as comedy or spoken word is automatically given 1 star to keep it from mingling with music.
  • It is also worth noting that my ratings are not static. As my tastes fluctuate, I’ve been known to change them. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a 4 star song might become a 5. Or it could fall to a 3 if whatever aspect of the song I found appealing the last time I heard it is missing. In one extreme example, a song went from 5 to 2 stars and was subsequently deleted.

    There you have it. That’s where I’m coming from as I discuss song and album ratings on this site. I’d be interested to know how other people handle ratings in their iTunes libraries?

    Finding Statistics About Your iTunes Library

    iTunes logo with graph

    Anyone who has been reading the tunequest for a while knows that statistics, numbers, figures and graphs have played a large part in its progress. In fact, it was the discovery that 10% of my songs were responsible for 49% of my total play counts that prompted me to set out on this endeavor in the first place.

    To this day, I’m still surprised by the lack of sophisticated options available for gathering and analyzing iTunes’ stored data. That XML file has been a statistical treasure trove since the day it started recording star ratings and play counts. You’d think that in the four years since, there would be a more mature market of programs to choose from.

    However, 2006 has actually seen some positive developments in that regard. While there is still no killer app for iTunes stats, there are a number of solutions for parsing your XML file and learning more about your music, and yourself.

    Continue reading