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Sputnik Roundtable #1: Music Assessment

All discussion prompts submitted by the user nightbringer.

So far this year, we have implemented a handful of new, different ideas of our website’s staff blog — while some have predictably flamed out, others have endured and seem primed for a bright future. About four months ago, I surveyed our collective userbase for additional concepts, and this latest one came to us from nightbringer, who suggested all seven of the below discussion topics. We organized a small committee of writers (granitenotebook, JesperL, JohnnyoftheWell, and myself) to answer as we saw fit. In this first installment of what will hopefully be many, we observe the nature of music critique: from “what makes a classic” to how album art influences our perception of the music we hear. If you have questions you’d like to submit for future Sputnik Roundtable installments, please submit them here. Thanks, and we hope you enjoy the article!

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(1) What are music reviews for?

Sowing: A music review is really just a persuasive argument.  Yes, we critique the art based upon its objective merits as well as its subjective implications, but there’s a reason we don’t merely assign it a number and move on. The objective is to sell that opinion to the consumer and convince them that your take is the correct one. Why else would someone be reading – or thanks to YouTube – watching a music review? Outside of artists who actually care what online critics think of their work, the vast majority of people click on reviews in order to (a) find out if an album is worth pursuing or (b) verify an existing opinion of an artist’s work, and either way the goal of the review doesn’t change: it’s meant to sell the consumer on the product, or otherwise dissuade them.

granitenotebook: i mostly agree w/sowing on this one (i.e. i think that’s the case 95% of the time) but I do think there’s something to be said for music reviews just on their own. For example, sometimes they can serve as an accompanying piece that can make the music more meaningful. Or sometimes they can serve as somewhere to just tell a story about the reviewer’s life or the life of someone they know. Those are my favorite reviews, the ones that don’t feel like they’re trying to convince me to listen to something. That’s not to say that it’s not fun to convince people to try something, or that it’s not fun to be convinced. I just prefer music reviews that almost don’t even work as reviews, but are just like pieces accompanying the art in a way similar to the album art.

JohnnyoftheWell: I think there’s a sense on Sput (and elsewhere), where probably a minority of our userbase even read reviews, that they’re meant to be perfunctory and a little token. A couple of is-it-good/bad-s with a few descriptions of the sound, maybe a little artist background if people are into that, and you’re done: one block of text at the top of a discussion space that immediately eclipses it. Community happy – good job.

I don’t think that has to be the sole reality, though. I think that whatever a review’s for is something the writer has to square between themselves, the record and (maybe) their imagined audience in a maybe-different way every time. Shit depends. Sometimes you’ve got to keep people happy (nothing I hate doing more than writing a positive-ish piece for a band I like to convince other people who also like that band that they still like them), sometimes you have to tell people they’re wrong, sometimes you have to fight an artist’s corner where no-one else is, sometimes you have to throw them under the fucking bus. I like this question. It’s easy to forget that there should be a reason.

JesperL: Writing music reviews is for people who think their opinion on something matters more than it actually does. Reading music reviews is for people who like reading and like music. Sometimes I read music reviews to figure out whether something is worth checking. Most of the time I read music reviews because I already like or dislike the music, reviewer, or website. Reading roundtable blog posts by music reviewers about music reviews is, eh, a choice.

File:Debate Logo.svg - Wikipedia

(2) Why debate music?

Sowing: Debating music is, to me, sort of like debating politics. It’s a bunch of people airing their opinions, 90% of whom won’t alter their stance if they already have an established opposite opinion. After all, I’m not going to listen to an album that I feel was poorly done and then suddenly enjoy the music more because somebody else tells me that I should. The best two things that come from debating music are (1) the transferring of facts/information (for instance, because context matters in music, it’s possible that sharing an artist’s backstory could lead someone who was previously unaware to enjoy the music more), and (2) the resultant sense of community that comes from engaging in a topic of mutual interest with your peers. I can disagree with someone in nearly all regards with respect to a musical piece, but if their argument is respectful and well-formed/presented, I still will find myself drawn to interact with them further. That’s what makes online music communities like Sputnik so special, because anyone can sign up and enter that community. Other online publications merely dictate their score and argument to you; here, you are free to openly voice your opinion while actively engaging with others who share an interest in the same kinds of music.

granitenotebook: because it’s fun + you can learn something new

JohnnyoftheWell: granite [2]. You’ve seen those hail-mary Floyd or Opeth threads where it’s just the same gaggle people harping on and on about the same bullshit everyone likes – I can’t think of anything worse. Be critical. Put users[’ takes] on blast and let them do the same to you; other people’s opinions are weird and wonderful and sometimes deeply broken, and if you’re honest enough you’ll learn that the same goes for yours in ways you never expected. Sputnik can obviously be a complete toxic cesspool for any kind of discourse, but there’s also a lot of people here who remind me that good minds have a way of sharpening one another. Knives out!

JesperL: music doesn’t really matter but it also matters a lot (makes you think)

 

Free Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard Stock Photo

(3) What is the value of ‘originality’?

Sowing: Obviously, there is inherent value to novelty in the arts. When a new frontier is explored, the artist gets the coveted title of pioneering that style, whether it’s music, cinema, painting, or any other form of art. However, originality does not always translate to success – as anyone can tell you that being the first to do something does not make you the best. With music, I think there’s a tightrope that needs to be walked between experimentation and familiarity, and if an artist oscillates too far in either direction, they’ll be viewed as either too weird/unapproachable or cliched “sell outs.” I also think that the value of originality depends on who is appraising the music. As critics, we tend to value the creative and cutting edge, while being slightly more dismissive of albums that explore past styles and trends. However, what we view as brilliant might be seen as terrible to the average consumer who is accustomed to prominent melodies and obvious hooks. In that sense, the essence of the answer to this question lies with the listener.

granitenotebook: definitely agree that this is subjective + that critics care way more about originality than normal people. I try not to care about this too much, especially in reviews, because, yeah, the average person doesn’t give a shit if something’s been done before. Also, i think the average critic is way too confident they know what’s original and what’s not – almost everything in music has been done before, even the stuff you think is extremely fresh. Imo, the key to dealing with originality is looking back, not forward. It’s impossible to predict what will be original, it’s extremely difficult to know what is original just by your own tastes, but it is possible to do the research and discover the origins of what you love. And it’s a never-ending journey.

For example, i recently got into a genre/style called dariacore (many fans/creators do not agree with/like that name but it’s the only one that has really stuck). I really love it, it combines a lot of different things i like. But the core of the style is just jersey club, a well-established genre dating back to the mid-2000s. That doesn’t mean dariacore doesn’t have anything original about it, or is worth less because of that, but it does mean that i have a new avenue to explore, jersey club. And beyond that, i can look into the earlier club styles and house music that influenced jersey club, and from there, disco that inspired the house, etc. etc. i am getting off subject slightly i think but my point is – don’t focus on what’s original, focus on using what you find yourself thinking is original and explore further. Find out what makes it not original, and that’s where you can find the most value.

JohnnyoftheWell: Agree with a lot of the above. A fresh voice is far more special than a fresh sound – not necessarily a literal voice, but I don’t care how innovative an artist is so long as they make whichever sound their own. Originality is like a shiny halo around something that I’ll ultimately appreciate for other reasons. I guess the firmest answer I have to this question is in its antithesis – it grates on me when artists I don’t think are compelling or talented, or whose taste I just dislike, dredge up old palettes or genres and then fail to command them. Trend hopping really sorts who’s hot from who’s not, so everyone should do it.

JesperL: I’d probably agree with the above as well; goats and selling out and stuff. Originality in music is cool sometimes (rarely tbh) but most of the time I just want some nice reverb on a calm song about either wanting to die or wanting to live. Being original is cool but being good is way cooler and often also much harder.

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(4) What makes something a ‘classic’?

Sowing: Life experience. There is no amount of perfect instrumentation that can trump how an album makes you feel in a specific place/time. Many of my classics are albums that I did not know were classics at the time. Instead, I realized years down the road just how much they meant to me – a product of good music (of course) and unshakable memories. Manchester Orchestra’s A Black Mile to the Surface coincided with some tough times in my life, Yellowcard’s Southern Air with some of the happiest – neither of these albums are perfect, but they’re all perfect to me, and I guess that’s the difference. There’s superb albums, then there are albums that change your life. Honestly, it has less to do with the music and more to do with you.

granitenotebook: Gotta disagree here w/sowing, although i would agree if the question was “what makes something a 5?” because i disagree slightly with sput’s rating definitions. to me, a classic has to be made classic by wide agreement, nearly universal meaning. I.e. TPAB and MBDTF are classics. I don’t think they’re perfect albums, in fact i don’t even think they’re either of those artists’ best work from that decade. But they’re iconic. They’re mentioned constantly in discussions of the best albums of all time, especially hip-hop or the 2010s. To me, that has way more to do with something being classic than whether or not i happen to like it. Clearly, this isn’t an objective system, but i don’t think there can be an objective system. I do think that most of the time, when something is a classic, it will be seen as such by the vast majority of people in the field, and i think we should take that into account.

P.s. age matters too. Hindsight is 20/20. I don’t think something can be a true classic if it came out like last year or something, sorry. Idk where the line is but it’s certainly farther in the past than that

JohnnyoftheWell: Wow I have so little to add to granite’s take there. The Sputnik rating system (5.0 classic) is a total misnomer and, having dragged half the userbase through the mud for it, I think it actually discourages some people sometimes from putting the stuff that best represents them up on the top shelf. Classics are the albums you listen to because they’re classics, not the ones you decide are classics.

JesperL: album makes me cry

Free Grayscale Photography of Statues Stock Photo

(5) How should the historical context of a release factor into assessing an album?

Sowing: This is a really interesting question, because even though I technically don’t think that it should at all, I know for certain that it does influence my opinion all the time. There’s a clout possessed by the Wish You Were Heres and OK Computers that my combined list of 5/5’s couldn’t equal, and I think it’s a little bit intimidating to approach records of such perceived importance, especially for the first time. If you don’t get it, surely it must be a “you” issue, right? In that sense, I think some of these albums get more than their fair due, because people are inclined to say “oh yeah, I love Radiohead” even if they only sort of enjoy their music – or in other cases perhaps they’ve never even heard any of their music and they just want to fit in. Another way of looking at historical context is the events happening in the world at the time of an album’s release. To cite examples in my lifetime, there was Green Day’s American Idiot (something of an anti-war rallying cry in the immediate aftermath of 9/11), and more recently it could be argued that Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 could serve as a future reference point to the Black Lives Matter protests that broke out across the world during the summer of 2020. Does it change the music that was physically recorded? No. Might their context increase someone’s enjoyment of it? You bet.

granitenotebook: Agreed. I think this connects to the classic question a bit, in that we’re getting into talking about music in terms of objectivity and subjectivity. Many would argue that ok computer and wywh are objectively good whereas american idiot and rtj4 are not (or, to use an even more controversial example : summer in paradise by the beach boys, sitting at a 1.04 on rym currently). I really, really disagree with this idea. I think that music’s quality (not the same thing as whether it’s a classic or not) is 100% in the ear of the beholder. It’s completely subjective. That’s not to say you can’t make objective claims about music (“this person is playing a trombone and hitting this note” or “this artist’s work is considerably faster than their other work” or “this genre originated in 1985”), just that there’s no objective claims you can make about music’s quality. What sound could possibly be objectively better than another sound?

I think of oil of every pearl’s uninsides by sophie, which is full of very abrasive sounds that i normally would hate – and i love them there. It’s all about context, whether it’s the context of the sounds surrounding said sound, or the songs/albums/genres surrounding the song/album/genre, and most of all, it’s about the context of the person listening. I grew up never really listening to much rock/guitar music, and as a result, i don’t really like it now. Do i think that makes it Actually Bad, Objectively? No, of course not, i’m not that cocky. But consider that people have made those claims for other genres – crunkcore and electro swing are the first examples i can think of – and you can see where the argument begins to fall apart. If you’re into the history of the scene, you would probably appreciate those styles a lot more than the average person/critic. Does that make your opinion worth any more or less than someone else? No. is there someone out there with all the context who can confidently say “this is good and this is bad”? No, we’re not god.

Sorry for getting off topic again. Short answer: it should. Context matters. It’s worth examining context because then you can understand it in a different way, but not in any way more or less meaningful than some kid who’s listening to it in the back of their parent’s car and doesn’t understand the words, because there’s no such thing as a Right way to understand music.

JohnnyoftheWell: Context is good and important and we love it, but it does not a good record make. Sometimes the story of how or why an album was made is more interesting or valuable than the music itself – we all lived through the Donda campaign – and sometimes it makes an otherwise unremarkable release important in ways that you have to unpick. Love that.

I somewhat disagree(?) with granite because I think there are times (not always!) when you as a critic are going to be fully aware that your readers are neither the record’s target audience nor as informed as you, and I do think it’s then incumbent on you as a writer to explain/justify/dissect who the record is catering to and where that comes from. That’s probably not exactly what this question was asking, but it’s roughly as important so I don’t care :] I’ve really not loved doing this across language barriers, but it’s something you can see a reason for on a pretty much everyday basis – the amount of times I’ve rolled my eyes at metalheads criticising dance music for being overly repetitive…

JesperL: I wonder if a Bach or a Mozart ever considered this. Like do you think one of those bois just sat at a piano and thought like ‘dear lord I hope I don’t drop my next banger when the first world war finally happens!’

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(6) What ethical considerations, if any, go into reviewing or rating albums?

Sowing: Ah, the ever-present “separate the art from the artist” debate. I think there’s every reason to take a stance against those who seek to exploit and/or commit violence against others, in whatever form it might take. There’s a negative connotation to “cancel culture”, but honestly it has brought about some very positive changes and in some ways even elevated the voices of marginalized groups who were previously ignored or intimidated. At the same time, I think it can occasionally get a bit carried away – for example, attempting to de-platform or otherwise cancel an artist simply because of how they voted (not counting those who espouse particularly hateful ideologies), along with the “guilty by inaction” type of stuff. Ultimately, I believe in the autonomy of one’s decisions: those who choose to separate the art from the artist and appreciate a piece of music for what it is should not be shamed for it and/or otherwise coerced, while those who choose not to support an artist for their actions have every right to do so as well. It’s a bland centrist view – I know, I know.

granitenotebook: I’ll go on a different note here – one of the ethical considerations i take into account with reviewing music is i try not to give negative or even middling reviews to very small artists, as i don’t want to ruin someone’s chances/motivation at continuing to make music, etc. (i am 100% ok with negative reviews for bigger artists, though. They can handle it) i think it’d be different if i was working for like pitchfork or something, but i am writing volunteer reviews for sputnikmusic for fun.

Also i try to avoid the art vs. artist discourse for the most part but one thing i will say – your actions are not meaningless. You deciding to stream a artist who is a bad person means you are funding a bad person’s bad actions. Same with reviews, positive ratings, etc. it all matters.

JohnnyoftheWell: End of the day, it’s your choice when you platform an artist (i.e. review them or similar) and that’s not something I take lightly. You can take that argument as far as positive ratings if you like, but that’s where I tend to draw their line and leave people to format their thoughts however: much easier to ignore a stupid set of numbers. Sometimes you can do more by writing nothing at all, sometimes I think it’s worth going there and dishing the dirt out. Overall, I’m glad to see the frequency with which Staffers are innocuously platforming crypto-Fascists and sexual assault perpertrators is gradually decreasing. Big up to that pompous sack of shit that ended up covering the new Deathspell Omega – your dogwhistles gave us all the impetus we needed to shut the fuck up on that one. But tbqh, most of the time I’m more concerned about homophobic slurs and other brands of seething penisdisaster in (usually) older Sputnik reviews than whether or not people are choosing to review Artist X in the first place.

(side note: this question made me check myself and add disclaimers/victim testimony to a couple of reviews for recent-ish albums from artists who later turned out to be deeply problematic. Thank you for the prompt)

JesperL: Agreed with granite, I don’t give negative reviews to smaller artists unless they have done better/I feel like they could (and will) do better etc.. Also a general rule of no racism no sexism no nazism and so on is pretty cool (also ~in life~)

Free Photo of Multicolored Abstract Painting Stock Photo

(7) How does accompanying visual art (album covers, music videos) affect the listening experience?

Sowing: The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” seems to apply here – at least to the album covers portion of the question. People like to pretend that they aren’t swayed by an album’s artwork, but I think that they’re probably lying. Humans are visual creatures, and it’s hard not to be drawn to a really cool looking album cover while ignoring a very boring and/or hideous one. It obviously has no bearing on the quality of the music, but it certainly could influence the number of people that pop in to say hello – and in the music industry, that could significantly move the needle in terms of streams, downloads, et al. So while it isn’t everything, it certainly does matter. As for music videos, I think they can also certainly add value to the listening experience. I don’t personally care for them too much, because they require you to dedicate added/undivided attention when you can just listen to the song instead. However, there are certain music videos (especially from my teenage/early adult years when I had more free time to spare) that I remember shaping my outlook on a song/album/artist, so I still believe in their power for sure.

granitenotebook: Album art definitely affects how people listen to music whether they admit or not, agreed w/sowing completely there. I will say that music videos are an underrated art form for sure! I’m glad rym recently added them, hopefully that will add to their significance in the Official Internet Music Canon. I suspect rockism (+the death of MTV) is to blame for so many people ignoring them when they’re easier to access than ever. They take enormous effort and deserve to be appreciated much more than they are now. The good news is, in some of the various demographics that the Official Internet Music Canon frequently ignores (i.e. women, LGBT+ people, people of color, etc.) they are much more significant. That’s a good sign that they will become more accepted over time as we learn to accept minorities into the Canon.

JohnnyoftheWell: Profoundly and deeply and in more ways that we will ever be fully aware of, I guess? Depends on the album/artwork combo, but I can think of a load of records where the image is a really interesting or helpful filter for perceiving the music… and a few where it grates on me. Most good musicians aren’t, say, good lyricists, but I do think that many of them have a great knack for finding a visual complement for their music – so I probably set a little too much stock in art that I do/don’t enjoy than I should. Some associations are dangerously close – take one look at the cover of the new Sharon van Etten, and is it any surprise that the music is overproduced indie that ties her performance style to an aesthetic that doesn’t much suit it? But at the same time, it could easily have been the other way. Maybe everyone should have a day when they only check new releases with covers that don’t appeal. Music videos are more of an occasional novelty for me personally, but, like, I’m glad they exist lol.

JesperL: Good music videos are nice and a lot of music videos suck. Good album art is nice and a lot of album art is OK. I like looking at things. Give me things to look at.





Sowing
07.21.22
Thanks goes out to nightbringer for offering up these discussion prompts, as well as Granite, Jesper, and JOTW for participating.

Teal
07.21.22
Thought-provoking read. I enjoyed this.

pizzamachine
07.21.22
Love this, very entertaining read.

Sowing
07.21.22
glad you both enjoyed it! I'm hoping we can do more like this.

pizzamachine
07.21.22
That would be swell.

Demon of the Fall
07.21.22
I enjoyed this too!

You should probably dock Jesper’s pay for doing by far the least work though, cheeky blighter

(I know there’s no actual pay)

YoYoMancuso
07.21.22
based Jesper 5 criteria

Willie
07.21.22
I really like this idea. Personally, I only started writing reviews on Sputnik to open up the discussion areas so we could all bullshit about albums I liked that didn't have a review (and subsequently no place to talk about the album). I still try to only review albums without any reviews (and slim chance of ever getting one) so the discussion area is open... the one time that is different is if I get promos.

Sowing
07.21.22
Jesper's presence definitely keeps things lighthearted at all the right times, lol.

I also really appreciated this take from granite, because I do the same thing i.e. essentially omitting overtly negative reviews of smaller bands/startups because sometimes one bad review can ruin their chances, or at least their spirit: "one of the ethical considerations i take into account with reviewing music is i try not to give negative or even middling reviews to very small artists, as i don’t want to ruin someone’s chances/motivation at continuing to make music, etc. (i am 100% ok with negative reviews for bigger artists, though. They can handle it) i think it’d be different if i was working for like pitchfork or something, but i am writing volunteer reviews for sputnikmusic for fun."

I'd always much rather just not review it, and if they ask why (assuming there was a prior arrangement for coverage) I'll honestly explain why to them in private. I've actually done this before, and they've appreciated the fact that I didn't damage their credibility. Like granite said, though, if it's a huge artist who's already made significant money and has an established reputation/fanbase/income, then I'm much happier to let the criticisms fly as long as they're fair.

Sowing
07.21.22
Thanks WIllie! We pulled this idea from a "blog ideas" thread that I posted back in March, so all credit goes to nightbringer for submitting those questions.

I've occasionally done the same thing as well (posted a review just to have a place to discuss it).

pizzamachine
07.21.22
That’s what I love about Sputnik, the love for music. The effort taken to bring to attention all types of music, and while we are not all “contributors” or staff, we still contribute as unified comrades.

sin69
07.22.22
Loved the read, here are my two cents on some of the topics. Wholeheartedly agree with Sowing on the problem of classics, ofc the problem is the definition of the word, but seeking objective criteria in something completely subjective as music, is pointless. More so, settling on the definition of objectivity as "majority opinion" is obviously flawed. Is the album that stays with you for the rest of your life less of a classic than the album you never listen to, but is deemed as such by the media (majority opinion)? What is the purpose of such designations?

The other thing is the cancel culture or rather, cancer* culture. That's precisely the reason why critics and their opinions are quickly becoming irrelevant. You cannot portend an objective position, as most critics do, by shoving down one ideology and criticizing another (whichever it is - "right" or "wrong" in this case are arbitrary positions). It's kinda like saying to someone that pop-punk sucks and they should listen to progressive post-rock shoegaze instead. The problem gets muddled when it comes to something like listening to Lostprophets, but that there belongs to the debate of immanentism or contextualization, and I firmly believe music belongs to the former category. That makes "supporting the artist" irrelevant, and shifts the emphasis completely on the personal meaning of the music.
Cheers

JesperL
07.22.22
this was a lot of fun to read/do, thanks for not nuking my dumb answers hahah


MiloRuggles
07.22.22
Damn, peeping the wreckage from this wild Google Docs soiree has got me devastated that I didn't don my penguin suit and lurk in a corner too scared to say anything.
That's all to say that this was a good read and I'm loving seeing all these responses roll in!
What if the art is the artist and the artist is the art? Stay tuned, folks

Trifolium
07.22.22
Yes this was lovely I read! Certainly makes me think about how I would answer these. Agree with many, disagree with many, it's just like actual life!!!

"I think that whatever a review’s for is something the writer has to square between themselves, the record and (maybe) their imagined audience in a maybe-different way every time" especially this. A review can serve many purposes.

theBoneyKing
07.22.22
Cool piece folks! I have some Thoughts but I think I’ll save em for another time.

MetalMarcJK
07.23.22
Great read as I wait for Domestic Terminal’s new album to be released for purchase. Thanks for taking the time to have this round table discussion.

Sowing
07.24.22
Thanks all! This was fun to do and the questions were on-point.

neekafat
07.24.22
Jesp com’n buddy exist

Sowing
07.24.22
Jesper's response to prompt #5 is one of the best answers here, however

MarsKid
07.24.22
Some cool thoughts here. I agree that "Classic" probably shouldn't describe a 5. Most, if not all of my favorite albums are not and will never be considered classics in the traditional sense.

Sowing
07.24.22
I don't mind so much that the site calls it "classic" (although I realize how this could lead some people away from rating their favorite albums as such). I think people should just define their own classics instead of trying to be objective. No sense in rating OK Computer a 5 if you hate it; you shouldn't be held hostage by the opinions of the world at-large.

MarsKid
07.24.22
Yeah, if you view them in the context of a 'personal' classic rather than a classic in the view of the world at large, then I totally get it. By the end of the day, it's whatever speaks to you the most, and that won't always be something that has the 'classic' descriptor.

Sowing
07.24.22
Yup, exactly -- the name assigned to it matters less than the number. If it's one of your all-time favorite albums, it should be a 5/5.

MarsKid
07.24.22
A question not asked here, but perhaps for later, might be how many 5s would be appropriate/a discussion on objectivity? I doubt most care enough to talk about it but it could lead into a conversations on different standards, what is a 4, 4.5, etc.

Sowing
07.24.22
Considering the next roundtable will likely deviate from the umbrella of "music assessment", this is probably the best place to discuss it. There are users here who literally have a certain % of their ratings that can be 5's, and if they get too many then they bump some down to a 4.5. I don't care nearly that much, I just rate stuff what feels right to me at the time. For me a 5/5 is basically anything that might contend for my AOTY for that respective year, so I typically give out anywhere from 5-8 "classics" annually which by most people's standards here is absurdly too many.

MiloRuggles
07.24.22
Lukewarm take: (words + opinions) >>>> ratings

I think there's a real hard roof on how useful numbers are in art criticism. I like to think of them as a little bit of seasoning you can sprinkle on your arguments to augment their effect somewhat

Sowing
07.24.22
I agree 100%. To reduce art to something as simple as a number seems like a ripoff. I can't imagine walking around my closest art museum being like "this painting is a 3.5". Responding to art with words is the only way to truly convey the sort of impact it's had on you.

MarsKid
07.24.22
I can argue that The Long Procession is the best thing ever for as long as I live and breathe so I will bring WORDS to your TABLE and your ears are not prepared for them! (I agree)

And I am honestly one of those people @Sowing, though not in a very strict % sense. I just limit how many I have/give out since a 5 means a lot in my valuation system, and it implies that it must have some significance to me/I appreciate everything it does on a profoundly deep level. It takes a lot to reach that level, personally.

Sowing
07.24.22
I get and appreciate restraint with the 5's -- I honestly wish I was more discerning. I'm very much an emotional listener (as opposed to an analytical one), which I think is another important point to consider. If an album reminds me of a person or place that carries a lot of meaning to me, I'll 5 it instead of an album that is objectively complex/groundbreaking. Of course, I will still 5 those ones too -- but as a general rule, I tend to lean towards "reactionary" in the sense that if I hear something right up my alley while sharing a special moment with my wife or kids or mom/dad, I'm far more likely than the average user here to slap a 5 on it immediately while betting that said music will remain tied to that moment for many years in a meaningful way. Worst case, I overreacted and I knock it down half a star or something. Ratings, to me, are fluid entities that can't be nailed down at any particular point in time. Albums grow into classics for me, and sometimes I outgrow them and they become part of this fond emeritus class of former 5's that I barely ever listen to anymore.

MarsKid
07.24.22
Yeah, at some level I can't 5 something unless I have some emotional attachment to it/resonance with it. That's a big component of my listening habits too and, try as I might, I can be just as reactionary when something strikes at the right place and the right time.

You hit the nail on the head though, a rating is never etched in stone. We grow, change, love things and fall out of love with others. So it's natural for some things to shift over time.

If anything, I wish I was less restrictive on 5s instead of maintaining this sort of facade, y'know? Sometimes you like what you like and you just gotta wear it, whether or not others appreciate the same way or not.

Sowing
07.24.22
I think there's a sweet spot to be had. I no longer have any shame with the 5's, so I've clearly wandered too far, but it's not too late to save yourself ;-). That said, there are different levels of 5's for me and also different types: like my Yellowcard 5's are all purely nostalgic and no one in their right mind could try to argue those records as perfect on their technical merits. There's also some stuff I like simply because of how cool it sounds, and/or how inventive it is (Radiohead is an easy example, so I'll cite it again), but I don't fondly recall anything by listening to Kid A. If I really wanted to, I could gut my 5's of the stuff that probably doesn't belong, because there's definitely also some B-tier 5's that are only there because I felt tickled to bump my score one random day.

PunkerBlast
07.24.22
SHUT UP AND DANCE! what whoah......I read this and then agsin. For serious. I just can't get over how this website is. I found this place before July because of Strung Out. This is such a amazing throwback to 2004. Kinda want to lay down but wow.

Kompys2000
07.24.22
Fun read, good job to all for finding engaging ways to bite down on some very broad and fuzzy questions

Imo a 5 exemplifies everything I want out of a particular sound or approach to music- a desert island record, a "this is why I love music" album. Historical import/influence or measurably impressive craftsmanship can play a role in my ratings but a 5 specifically is only for the stuff that most vibrates on my personal wavelength

BlushfulHippocrene
07.24.22
Loveee this. Fantastic work.

Sowing
07.24.22
Desert island record is a great way to describe what constitutes a 5/5

Divaman
07.25.22
For me, the main purpose of a review should be to describe an album in such a way as to help the reader figure out if they would like it or not. Sometimes I read reviews that seem to be so down the rabbit hole of flowery language or clever constructs that I walk away with no idea of what the LP in question sounds like. I like good writing, but in the end, I'd prefer a simple direct review that gives me what I need to figure out if this is an album for me over a beautifully written review that doesn't really describe the LP or EP the reviewer is writing about..

Sowing
07.26.22
I understand and appreciate where you're coming from. A review is no good if the reader can't comprehend the language or objective of the review. There's definitely a fine line between making a review your own and deviating too far fom the point.

JohnnyoftheWell
07.26.22
pfft if the main point of all reviews was to map out Wot The Music Sounds Like, they would have been replaced by genre tags eons ago

HelloJoe
07.26.22
Further on that point, with music being readily so accessible, is it really necessary to have someone recount that experience in text? Sure, you're going to get some colour of personal experience but if it's solely a coloured description, that's probably not going to be too interesting, right?

I think Johnny's comments in the blog resonate with me most in that, it's more honest to review what you care about and read what you care about, too. Does that lead to a bias toward a particular style of writing? Sure. I remember a disgruntled blog post from Ted Gioia critiquing the formulaic and stilted language of most music writing but at the same time, as Sowing says, if those are the terms that music is most easily communicated in, then that's what people are going to read. It's only intuitive that music reviews are done the way they are because that's what people like to read/ hear.

Similarly, there are mags for audiophiles or theory geeks who's writing is similarly affected by their interests, and describes a different aspect of music.

Although funny enough @Divaman, I came across a blog run by a guy critiquing the critics for the same verbosity. The blog had a tongue-in-cheek name. I can't remember what it was called but if I find it, I'll post it.

Divaman
07.27.22
All I know is I read the reviews to have some idea of would I like this album or not. Genre tags are too broad. Every year since I've joined this site, I've found at least 10 or 12 albums a year that I've loved and never would have listened to except that the reviewer gave me a sense that this LP would be my kind of thing.

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