Lit  and  Crit

THE EXTABLISMENT GUIDE TO

MUSIC APPRECIATION

by Kevin Salveson

 

There is a lot of good music out there; there is even a lot of great music out there. Then there is also a sea of just okay music, plus an ocean of pretty bad music. And then there is truly terrible music. Finally, there are a small number of select works of art which rise above and are among the greatest expressions of human beings. This guide attempts to rate the entire universe of written and record music with that framework in mind.

 

The questions we ask as criteria are: Does the work demonstrate deliberate artistic craft, imagination, and expertise? Does the work address worthwhile themes and profound human experiences or worthwhile humor? Are the emotions which the work stirs rich and varied? Does the work possess dimension, arrangement skill, or a pleasing flatness? Is the artist and their bio or history of achievements respectable and captivating? Are the lyrics poetic? Do they demonstrate word craft or verbal savvy? Does the work meet its own criteria for judgment; is it balanced or flawed, self-aware or provocative? Does it inspire? Has it rightfully earned its place in the cannon through underground popularity, sales, or consensus? Does it resonate within context of art history and others who perform the craft, or does it predict the future of it? Does the work reward repeat close listening? Do the performances demonstrate virtuosity or charm? Are the lyrics classless or degrading, or are they artful or funny? Is the production professional or beguiling? Was it conceived with admirable complexity, or is it charmingly simple or pleasurable? Has it stood the test of time? Do experts in the field revere it?

 

Certainly, these ideas are nebulous and taste is subjective. Nonetheless, bad music isn't good just because it's popular. Taste exists within a context of education and the past as well as its ability to last. A popular song that won't stand the test of time is still a lousy song no matter how many ears it tickled in its time. How music works has been investigated by scientists and artists for millennia; a consensus regarding what most would agree is good (and why) has certainly formed over centuries and it stands up to reason. Beauty is not just in the ears of the beholder, there are standards and classics, techniques and tools of the craft. (Rules can be broken, but they should be appreciated as a general guide).

 

Nonetheless, how a work rates within that all that context is ultimately subjective in terms of my own tastes as expressed in my reviews and essays. Indeed, it is slightly ridiculous to assign a number to a work of art.  Music receiving an 82 is not really any worse qualitatively than one receiving an 80. Still, if you only had five dollars in your pocket and both albums were on sale at a garage sale, the 82 rated album would probably be the one you would buy.

 

Here is the rating system broken down using an A-F artist rating folded into a 1 - 100 grading system. Generally, an A artist gets 10 points and a C artist gets 6 points. The rest of the score up to 100 is a rating of the artwork itself.

 

First off, artists are assigned a grade from A - F. 

An A grade equals an artist of the first order, like an A student in your high school music class. An F student really fails to rise to the requirements of any known civilized culture, they are beasts among men. The student who gets a C overall may be capable of A work, but as an oeuvre their work does not merit a higher grade. They may be derivative, they may be somewhat unimaginative yet satisfy an itch at the base of your spine, or they may be boring. If they get a D they may be slightly insulting or inept. An artist with a B grade probably did some A work over the semester but failed to achieve the highest heights of human artistic expression.

 

For example, Pink Floyd's The Wall gets that band an A rating for their deftness at combining anti-war, pro-humanist ideas and mental illness compassion into a libretto worthy of German opera. It outshines the progressive rock band Genesis, for example, because while Genesis showed aspirations in the arena of long form music they failed to fan their spark of genius into a universal flame of humankind like the Olympics-sized The Wall. I guess the proof of that Phil wound up the session drummer for others (Clapton, Zeppelin, Robert Plant, etc etc). whereas Roger Waters played his opus in Berlin with an all-star cast to make a global statement. It resonates still, today, considering Trump and his demand for a new wall. Meanwhile, you don't see Roger Waters playing bass for Peter Gabriel down in the New York Subways below Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Lamb Lies Down. It's just not in high demand.

 

Naturally, the higher score of any individual album or work will reflect the out-performance by a mediocre artist even if they receive a C grade overall because they really have nothing to add to the canon that someone didn't do first or better. Thus, one hit wonders can get a high score once but their grade as a D rated artist doesn't change. Generally, you can expect that bands and artworks achieving a high score are also impressive in terms of their bio, consistency, groundbtreaking innovation, or other such notable career achievement. 

 

90 - 100: Flawless works of art by masters of their craft.  Balanced, evocative, rewarding of infinite numbers of repeated listens, these works demand and earn their place in the canon. It is truly impossible to judge one as 'better than' another.  Rather, they all are singular works of genius. In order for our merit-based scale have some teeth, very few make it here and many more hover on its border.

 

80 - 90: These are fantastic works of art in almost every way. Inspiring, evocative, timely, poetic, worth as much time as you ever want to give them. Yet, small deficiencies are noted versus the absolute masterpieces in terms of the above criteria.  Maybe the music used some dated sounding Casio 8 bit drums in a standard way and it was cool and funny when they first got big but then the joke got old a little. Still, great works of music reside here, some of the greatest ever created.

 

60-80: Most of the world's good music falls into in this category.  All of this music is well above average, certainly enjoyable listens which than can become a personal favorite. Still, music in this category may fail to stand the test of time vs. other greater works of art for one reason or another. They may lack some aspect of poetic depth or vision, may be charmingly simple yet unimpressively so when in fact compared to other much more complex or masterful works, etc.  A lot of the pop tunes of your childhood live here.

 

40-60: Average music. A lot of what you might think is good music is simply average music since most music is fairly good in its own way or it wouldn't be recorded or score a hit or get radio play. Probably will, because you might have heard them over and over until you realize they are light on substance.You might turn the station on the radio if such a song comes on, might not. But you might not, depending on the mood. These get a chuckle when they turn into TV ads later on in life. Some of these are good in their cheesy way, but they also might be used at an actual Chuck E Cheese. (Do they still have those animatronic shows that sing happy birthday or play Cotton Eyed Joe or whatever, or did they get rid of those because they creeped people out? I think they still exist somewhere.)

 

30-40: Certifiably bad music. Someone with below average education might have bought the CD in their teen years and now it won't ever leave the charts and so some radio station somewhere run by robots keeps it in rotation, but it is probably pretty insulting to music itself when looked at with any objectivity.  A lot of average music hovers just above this level.

 

20-30: Horrible music. Just bad.  Something about it might be ok to someone, or even for you once in a blue moon for a chuckle, but it's objectively retch-inducing. Probably charmless but mostly harmless. 10-20: Offensive music. This shit lacks almost any redeeming qualities. 0 -10: Barely qualifies as human expression at all. Pathetic and insulting to listeners everywhere, even torturers and devil-worshippers. Absolutely  un-musical, amateurish and without charm.

 

Meanwhile, there are also additional characteristics such as "Summer mMusic" etc which provide guidance regarding recommended usage and dosage. With that in mind, let's start throwing ratings out there and see how it goes!

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