I’ve done quite a few reviews on my blog now, so I thought I’d do a rundown on my artistic preferences and how much priority I give them. Though there’s no concrete rule – what may apply to one song may not apply to another – I hope this will give you some idea of how I evaluate if a song is “good”, and give some perspective to my reviews.
Dat Vocal Bias
So, vocals. Important things first. As you’ve probably noticed, I put an enormous emphasis on vocals. Too much? That’s open to debate. And over the past year, I’ve become even more pedantic about them! I’m blaming my sister, who’s way more critical than I am, and is slowly brainwashing me into becoming super-fussy old fart.
For me, a song stands or falls on its vocals. But how do I decide if the singing is good? First, vocals need to pass some basic requirements. I don’t think well of singers are off-note (like this lovely example from Zwei), strained, nasal, or horribly squeaky anishit which makes me want to burn my ears . Other traits I find important are having a good head voice (or at least average… not like LiSA), being expressive and varying dynamics, making sure the lead and harmony vibrato are in time, not using glottal strokes too much, and hitting notes straight away instead of sliding around. (The last point has more exceptions than the others. While I usually consider sliding as sloppy technique, songs like Yume no Naka no Watashi no Yume effectively use this sliding theme, and slides can also be great for emphasising notes.)
To me, these points encompass rudimentary good vocal technique, which sadly much of J-Pop lacks. While I can tolerate small amounts of wonky singing, a song with too much will get a fail grade, often regardless of the arrangement quality. It’s just too darn painful.
There are also other things which I consider, which are more up to my taste than any general musical standards. I’m perfectly fine with English lines thrown into my J-Pop. I quite like recognising phrases, and I don’t mind the Japanese-ified pronunciation. When a whole song is in English, then my opinion depends on where it sits in my highly scientific graph.
Absolutely horrid English sounds like Japanese anyway, so I’m cool listening to it.
While there’s some kind of framework for assessing normal singing, I don’t know about one for growls, so I judge according to my taste. I usually prefer screams in the mid/high range, not like DIR EN GREY dinosaur growls or death metal vocals. I also don’t mind a sprinkling of grit on a singer. It adds personality to their voice, and is useful for emphasising key notes. ONE OK ROCK’s Taka is someone who I consider to have a good amount of roughness. But I find myself being turned off a little when the vocal distortion starts to obscure the actual notes.
Some singers have an “X-factor”, which I can’t explain. They easily pass my criteria and go way beyond, and I can see the areas in which they excel, but I can’t figure out exactly why I find them excellent as opposed to very good. I’m hoping that in the future, I’ll improve and be able to pin down those reasons.
As for musical styles, I (would like to) think I’m fairly open in terms of different genres. A lot of my favourites come from to rock/metal side, but I’m also happy with pop, folk, gothic and other styles. There are some genres, such as blues and jazz, which aren’t as much to my tastes, but I still like seeing their influences in pop music, and I can still appreciate them even if I don’t enjoy them.
What I think of the instruments in a song depends a lot on what style of music I’m listening to. In metal, I’d expect tight guitar and bass playing, and the drums to have a heavier, aggressive sound. But if it was a fun pop-rock track, heavy drums might go against the atmosphere, or in a blues piece I’d be happy with rougher guitar-work.
At the moment I’m uncomfortable with reviewing songs outside my “like” range. As music is so diverse, I can’t apply my reviewing techniques to some genres. Take rap for example. Rap music often has the same chord progressions repeated throughout the whole song, and very little singing. Not only do I have no idea about what constitutes a good rap, but the song’s focus is not so much on the musical aspects, but the message through the lyrics. Another example is dubstep/heavy electronic music, where there’s so little in the way of actual notes that I wouldn’t even know where to start.
A decent amount of my critique is on the quality of execution, but then there’s also the enjoyment factor as well. When a song’s in my taste range, enjoyment often depends on execution to some extent, so it’s easy to rate. When it’s not in my taste range, it’s more difficult. I have to ask myself things like “Am I justified in rating this average solely because it doesn’t match my tastes?”… aaaand then I find I don’t care. I never claimed I was fair and unbiased, heeheehee. I hope people actually read the critiques though, not just look at the score! The ratings give a rough value of the importance I place on the strengths and flaws, but it doesn’t tell you much about where the song succeeds or stumbles.
And a few miscellaneous things. I have a tendency to nitpick, and give small details more emphasis than they probably deserve. Tiny things, like one note being sung off can affect my enjoyment of the whole song. Usually, I try to put it in context though, and ask myself how much does it really matter. It doesn’t always work.
At time of writing, I don’t care too much about album flow. This stems from my habit of always listening to songs on shuffle. I’m not sure if I’m going to change this any time soon…
Finally, I sometimes neglect to mention flaws by really good/my favourite singers. When they do something that would annoy me in a bad singer, I just gloss over it. This is my worst bias. It’s partly because I don’t find those flaws as important in context of the singer’s awesomeness, and… partly because I feel bad speaking ill of my favourites. Yikes.
Cause I Feeeeeeeeel… (Or Not)
You might’ve noticed that I generally disregard talking about the emotional impact of music, and the reason is simple. I don’t really find songs emotional. I could count on one hand the songs which affect me emotionally. And as I don’t want to make stuff up, I leave it out. This ties in my with lack of attention to lyrics (except if they’re really lame). The lyrics often being in a foreign language doesn’t help either. It bothers me, not being able to glean some enjoyment or meaning from the song through the lyrics, but I’ve always found I appreciate a piece most via the technical elements – how a song’s performed, constructed etc. I suppose that makes my reviews both deeper and shallower. On one hand, I go into more detail than most about the execution and musical aspects of songs (though definitely not nearly as deep as some), and on the other I miss any message or themes the piece is trying to convey.
I’m picky with my music like a little kid with his vegetables. I place the most emphasis on the delivery of a song, especially the vocals. For me, it’s aesthetics over lyrics, meaning you probably won’t find anything sodeep. Question: What do you look for in your music?
Now you will understand why I rated your favourite album as shit. Until next time!