Dancing about Architecture: A Personal Rating System for Music

Dear visitor, do you, like Julian, find alphabetical grades from A to F and star ratings deeply unsatisfactory yet still crave heuristic rescue from actually having to read an entire music review? Fear not, Julian's hastily scrawled criteria are digitized below, with helpful equivalents in parentheses! The music business is woefully unjust, and we seek justice for the under-appreciated!

Rating a piece of music (a song or an album) may be done personally or objectively. To rate personally tells us more about the reviewer than the piece itself, but this can still be highly valuable, especially if the person doing the reviewing is someone in propinquity like a friend, family member, or spouse! A personal rating is made without consideration of others, based almost solely on the question, "How much do I like it?" Objective ratings consider other listeners, often with the pretense of representing criteria similar to the target audience or even all non-deaf humans. In some circles, objective reviews take on almost exclusively technical foci, including craft (i.e. the process of producing a piece of music) and the technical skill of the musician(s) (i.e. some will only listen to something made by a virtuoso of a given instrument or a group which can objectively make sounds that "no one else can"). Still others, like the A.V. Club, attempt to decide for all ear-equipped what is "essential" listening or "non-essential" fluff or a commercial product which contributes nothing artistic. We may be able to say what is original or derivative, what's made for art or entertainment, but your site host prefers a simple triumverate of music, silence, and noise (not to disparage noise artists categorically...here is only meant "unpleasant sound out of favor compared to silence").

Starting from silence, a rating of 5, the listener may assign any sounds this rating if s/he is indifferent or ambivalent towards them. Anything greater than 5 is music; anything less is noise (in the listener's extremely personal opinion, to which s/he is completely entitled). This is subject not only to taste but mood--sometimes we don't want to be challenged, jolted, or otherwise rocked. Other times, when we're sad or driving a car late at night, that ambient classic 10 album is exactly the wrong thing to play.

So, after that lengthy preamble, here's how Julian's going to try to review music on this site...

10 = Would vie for a place on list of all-time favorites. Inspires other great music. Far more likely to be a song than an album, as perfection can't be maintained over more than a few songs! If you don't like this, I don't like you. (A+, *****)

9.5 = Something minor keeps it from perfection, but it is an EXPERIENCE (A)

9 = Love it! Not finishing the album leaves me feeling incomplete. Anything 9 or above is something you'd recommend to someone who's never heard or even not into a particular style of music to change his/her mind. (A-, ****)

8.5 = A stunningly unique debut or amazing new sound which takes the form forward. You've got to hear this! (B+)

8 = Really like it! Nothing formulaic should get above this. The album must be listenable from start to finish. (B+)

7.5 = Tries something unique, innovative, or risky and mostly succeeds. Recommended generally for people who like a variety of music. (B, ***)

7 = Like it a lot. For albums, this means not DIS-liking anything. Probably won't impress someone not into the particular kind of music, but they'll probably tolerate it once (B, ***)

6.5 = I like it but can't really recommend it to others because it's too "hit and miss" or "out there" for general audiences. May require a radically different aesthetic to appreciate this. (B-)

6 = Like it, but (especially for albums) not all of it, i.e. 2 or 3 songs stand out. Those not into the particular kind of music can be expected to dislike and barely tolerate it. Albums of this rating are likely to be forgettable or disposable but not disliked. (C+)

5.5 = Probably highly derivative or formulaic, though still enjoyable if one's into "that kind of thing." Nothing special. Nothing stands out. Easy to label and move on to something more interesting. This includes Billboard-charting songs and albums I would grudgingly respect but am not going to bother to rate or listen to intentionally (as they're blaring out of car windows right now!) (C+, **)

5 = Indifference or ambivalence. OK as background sounds. Maybe used to like it but don't anymore. No strong preference for this over silence. (C, **)

4.5 = Took a chance and it "didn't work." For an album, maybe enjoy one song while the rest is either pedestrian, frustrating, or otherwise annoying (C-)

4 = Prefer silence to this unpleasant noise. Didn't like it and would need to be persuaded to listen again. An overly conventional, blah album w/ too predictable instrumentation & song structure, amateuristic production, and generally straining for mediocrity over the course of an album that didn't do enough fine-tuning will end up here in the Simpsons "meh" range rather than an "average" 5 that's at least tolerable. Really uninspired lyrics over interesting music shouldn't go much lower than this. (D+)

3.5 = A guilty pleasure (song) or one-hit wonder (album). Liking something for how "bad" it is is included here. Most of an album might sound dated or cheesy, especially if from a non-Western country. Put a one-trick pony that tries to ride out a long album doing the same thing over and over again here. Or an electronic album that trots out or reinforces the stereotype that the whole genre's sole purpose is to keep the dancefloor moving at over 100bpm, and a "good beat" is all you need to have a hit on your hands. That may have worked in the 80s & 90s, but that was a long time ago!(D+)

3 = Insultingly commercial, overproduced tripe...makes me angry. Back in the days as a college radio gatekeeper, this level of quality would result in placement on the "craplist" after listening to a song or two or at most one full listen to the album, usually w/out a second thought, for various reasons, such as the "focus track" on the promo label's description sucking hard or glaring incompetence overall (a terrible singer, being yet another bar band drums-bass-guitar-singer combo w/out anything distinctive, shoddy production, being a pale imitation of what a deluded band leader thinks will get played on commercial radio, etc.). (D, *)

2.5 = I completely fail to appreciate its merits or appeal, assuming that someone has claimed the piece has some. I can well imagine I'd place some critically acclaimed songs & albums here in styles of music I don't like.. (D-).

2 = Hate it. Possibly due to overplayedness, especially for an individual song. Lots and lots of commercially successful songs I despise go here. If tasked w/ rating the album on whih such a song appears, I'd skip the undeserving "hit" & try to give the rest a chance but not likely find anything enjoyable. (D-)

1.5 = Seems to revel or wallow in my hatred of it, rubs it in, adds insult to injury. Imagine an album that takes something you hate and leans on it as a gimmick over the course of an entire album, thinking they've found the key to success. I struggle to tolerate it if someone is playing it.

1 = If this is playing, I'll turn it off myself without saying a word. As an example, consider the lazy tendency of some "producers" to simply add a 4/4 dance beat to something and call it a remix with value added. Much as I dislike the Western disco music of the 70s, the rote MIDI-preset, tech-house electronic garbage that passes for "disco" in Asia (and possibly also Russia, E.Europe as the very lowest grade of Eurotrash) has a home well below it, right here. Just to be clear about what I am and am not talking about, here are some examples of the depths music sinks to, a pandemic far worse than Covid.(F, 0-stars)

.5 = Most of the AV Club's "least essential" listed music goes here. Dismissable without even needing to hear it.

0 = Unimaginably loathed. If you like this, I don't like you. (F-)


Integrity with this kind of system means that the distribution should be normal but skewed above 5 (because one tends not to listen to anything below 5). The vast majority of things one would bother writing about or rating formally will probably fall in the range of 5.5-8. I'll try to reserve scores of 8.5 and above for stuff I find really great and deserving of more attention than I think something's received. That said, anything between 5.5-7.5 is probably being damned with faint praise. Consistency of who's doing the liking and who's actually chosen to play the piece in question is something I'll work on in the future.

Note also that Julian does rate songs in iTunes' oppressive *-to-***** system. Only a **-rating, however, actually denotes a disliked song. What's the point of having two levels of ratings you don't like for something that's actually taking up storage capacity in your music library?! A *-rating is reserved for flagging tracks which have been misfiled in a mix or which didn't rip properly, kind of an alert. ***-ratings usually mean something is accessible, I could imagine hearing it on commercial radio or it's generally upbeat or catchy. ****-ratings are a catch-all for something interesting but maybe more on the experimental rather than accessible side. Very very few songs are worthy of a *****-rating, and as mentioned several times elsewhere, hearing them too often cheapens the emotional experience of listening to them. Clearly Julian's system (and indeed, MOST other systems) is vastly superior, but Julian isn't about to code an alternative to iTunes, which has been quite satisfactory since the mid-2000s for his purposes. You care a lot!

(The Favorite Music, Favorite Films, and Favorite Print and Other Media pages should serve as lists which meet with Julian's approval. But what about things which currently have his eyes' and ears' attention? What things does Julian recommend without reservation as the most deeply significant/if you don't like it he doesn't like you level?)



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