The greatest music albums, much like novels, are their own worlds. Great albums can be more or less realistic, more or less impressionistic, and belong to any genre, but they all reveal entire worlds for listeners to explore and get lost in: soundscapes.
When we decided to launch Case in Pointe, I knew that I wanted to write about music. The problem is I don’t really like how most people write about music. Our melodic tastes and horizons are expanded furthest when we’re recommended music from real people with their own unique experiences and thoughts. If an album makes such an impression on one of my friends that they have to tell me about it, I take notice. In a sense, it’s a way for my friends to tell me something about themselves. Unfortunately the dominant style of album review seeks to break down these works of art into their constituent parts. The goal — to examine an album’s lineage, “originality,” and the like — tends to neglect or debilitate an album’s more ineffable qualities — the feelings and ideas that, when aided by technical skill, help create those sonic worlds. Quite a bit of “head,” not nearly enough heart.
My understanding of this trend of music criticism has developed along with my leap into the music world in general. Throughout middle school, I had mostly listened to the CDs in my parents’ basement. Boston, The Police, Elton John. Marvin Gaye, Gordon Lightfoot. Earth, Wind, and Fire. But I was ready to expand beyond the artists who colored my formative musical years. A friend suggested some websites, including the oft-derided site Pitchfork, to help me take a deeper dive into music. When I first explored the site, I gravitated to its “Top” lists, not because I blindly accepted their ratings, but because they had compiled a vast repository of albums, giving me ample musical terrain to survey. Plus, in general, I could respect their alt/indie rock reviews.
My problem with the many in-depth reviews of Pitchfork, Spin, The Quietus, and others, however, arose from a cognitive quandary. I slowly became aware that I approached albums differently when I just ‘found’ them as opposed to when I read the Pitchfork review before listening. Pitchfork and similar sites tend to present an album as less a work of art and more an intricate assembly of sounds and influences, begging to be picked apart. The best albums are labyrinths of constructs. A flowery clause describing a song here, a quip on the artist’s career progression there. When you read enough of these, they run together like head coaches of the Detroit Lions.
It’s not that I hate how Pitchfork and others approach music with a discerning eye; careful review is far more valuable than a regurgitated press release. It’s okay to suggest that a song like “Little Black Submarines” by The Black Keys (whom I LOVE) sounds like a “carbon copy” of an old Tom Petty tune. While there is a time and place for this analysis, I just don’t like how reviews of this ilk profoundly affect my opinion of an album before I even plug in my headphones. It locks the album into a box in your mind that you cannot break. I’m not allowed to feel the music as freely (I will NOT say authentically) as I would coming in completely ‘fresh.’ Thus I am setting out to write my ideal music review, one that expands, rather than constricts, the mind of the listener.
The reviewed music will adhere to my tastes, which run the genre gamut (even country!) for the same reason I mentioned above. We discover way more diverse kinds of music from the real people in our lives, unlike, say, Spotify, which picks songs based on your existing tastes. (I swear this is not just a fancy way of saying that I’m gonna write about music I like and you’re gonna like it.)
I will listen to an album and draw from the songs a series of feelings/ideas that I connect with. Then, I’ll spit out my reaction in the form of a short story. It won’t be only new music. I listen to music from many decades (centuries, technically), and will likely bring some of those into this series when the inspiration strikes me. By writing a review this way, I hope to write about the world that an album creates for me. No commentary, just feeling.
I do not believe in any way that I am a perfect conduit for interpreting great music. My friends will probably tell you that’s a laughable thought. But when I hear something I love, I tell all my music-loving friends about it. I don’t want to be a tastemaker. I don’t even really want to tell you what to listen to. Keeping in line with the theme of Case in Pointe, I’m simply taking a dynamic shared between myself and my friends and humbly offering it up to you.
My first real review will (hopefully) come next issue; I didn’t realize how challenging this would be! I sincerely hope you enjoy!
Just like every other study lounge, in ours not everyone agrees with everything said; people change their minds, and there is no institutional position. The views and opinions expressed herein are the individual author’s personal views and are not necessarily reflective of the views of Case in Pointe or of its constituent writers/editors.