What/how things get reviewed here


When I started as a web reviewer, I had assumed that everything was simple and that I could just assign a rating to every release regardless of length/lack of new material. Actual web reviewing is a little tricky so I figured I'd outline my general guidelines as to what gets rated, what doesn't, etc....keep in mind this is far from a science, and I'm usually just doing this by what "feels right", whatever that means.

Compilations/Best ofs: Usually ignored unless there are some previously unreleased tracks. They might be mentioned if I feel it’s a particularly good representation of the group’s work. Although there are a lot of famous greatest hits albums, a lot of groups have a ridiculous amount of comps that stay on store shelves for about six months...how many assorted ELP or Zeppelin comps are out there? In general I don’t recommend compilations – they are always going to be “good listens” by default, but they take the tracks out of context, and make listening to the actual albums less exciting since you’ve heard the good tracks already. They usually don't grab me the way the full-length albums do. But hey - let's be reasonable. I've heard a lot of people say things like "listening to a greatest hits compilation is like playing a video game with all the cheat codes on", which sounds like a good metaphor until you attempt to take it apart at all. Video games are based on challenges; albums shouldn't be based on making it through bad songs. Taking the songs out of context is usually not that big of a deal for most groups and sometimes they just do a good job at showing off what a group is trying to do in about an hour's time. This can be helpful if you're dealing with an artist like The Fall or Frank Zappa who have something like 30-40 full-length studio albums out there. Sometimes these comps really helped me to determine whether I wanted to get into a group or not. Also, some groups are inherently singles acts - I really like the Jackson 5, but I'm not exactly going to recommend buying up all their original albums. The problem with comps is that they become more obsolete the more studio albums you wind up acquiring. In general, I would say just start with something I have ranked at 4 or more stars, especially if it's their debut or most famous album.

By the way, I do like anthologies (usually 2-disc collections with lots of non-album stuff and the better tracks that weren't hits or singles); if there's really something neat out there, I will put it on the page. Also, collections like Singles Going Steady are different so they'll get rated along with the rest.

Live Albums: I do grade these, and I realize in some cases they can be preferable to the studio albums. In general, it’s not really hard to make a good live album, but there are a few things I’m looking for. The most important thing is that I don’t want it to just sound like a compilation – if there’s more energy, some kind of variation on the songs, or just different arrangements, it’s a plus. Bands that just churn out tunes the way they played them in the studio won’t get graded too highly since they are kind of like compilations, making them unnecessary to those who already have the studio albums. Besides, even if they can replicate their studio sound, there’s usually got to be SOME kind of imperfection or issue in sound quality. Just taking things at a higher tempo can make live albums worthwhile. Some groups that seem tightly wound in the studio can really unhinge live and the results can be great (I’m thinking 80’s King Crimson here). Sound quality is the other big issue – if it sounds like a bootleg, it probably won’t get more than three stars, and all the highest-graded live recordings sound great on any system. Nowadays the issue becomes something like, “which live albums will you review?”, since groups like They Might Be Giants and Underworld have the technology to release every concert they play, and a number of bands put out bootleg series of live albums that aren’t really too much different from each other. This is a tough line to walk, but generally the idea is if I can find it on Amazon or in a record store, it’ll be reviewed. Also, if it’s just a one-shot or special release that captures a time that other live albums don’t (such as some of the limited Ween releases), it’ll be reviewed as well. This is especially true if the recording is particularly high quality.

I do grade these, as in some cases they can be preferable to the studio albums. Basically, I have to grade these on two criteria - one: "how will those who do not know the material like this?", and two: "how essential is this for those who are already fans?" In order to achieve the highest ratings you need to do well in both categories. If you score well in the first category but not the second then you have essentially made a glorified compilation. If you score well in the second but not the first then you're giving effort but not really putting your best foot forward. Of course sound quality is a make or break factor, and those recordings that sound like bootlegs won't score more than 3 stars. The other question is, which live albums do you review? This is a tough line to walk, but in general if I can find it in a record store or on Amazon, it'll be reviewed. Some groups decide to just master and release every show on a tour via some download package, which is neat but I don't want to be reviewing a bunch of live albums with similar set lists that only a few people are ever going to buy. I guess the only thing that really matters is if I have anything to say about it. Some guys release way too many live albums in general and a lot of those can be ignored (I'm looking at you, Robert Fripp).

EPs: I do downgrade albums sometimes for being too short, and in general, anything that’s less than 25 minutes is going to be hard to grade. The ratings ought to scale to each other and there aren’t many cases in which a 20-minute EP is going to be as worthwhile as a full-length album, but I don’t want to downgrade EPs just because of what they are. Furthermore most EPs do contain some material from the full-lengths (usually of a soon-to-be-released albums), so I don’t want to grade them again. So I am grading these on a case-by-case basis – I’d say if the material is all new, more than 25 minutes, and contain more than a few musical ideas, I’ll give it a grade.

Singles: I usually won't list these (this is an album review site, after all), though sometimes I'll mention them if I have them or if they include B-sides that are good or notable for some reason and can't be found anywhere else. If a single represents a huge turning point for a band, I may mention it then too. I think it comes down to how much I like the band and how much it will clutter the page. For example, I usually list Underworld singles because I'm such a huge collector. But in general, you should probably look to discogs.com for that kind of information.

Remix Albums: I really don’t like these, because it seems most DJs use them as promotional tools rather than an outlet for making actual music. The pattern is this – take some piece of music that got cut off your last album, remove a few elements and sub in a few pieces of the track you’re remixing, extend it to 10 minutes, and turn it in. I do grade these sometimes but they shouldn’t be counted for/against the band unless they themselves are doing the remixing (and these are the only ones that really turn out good). Compilations of the artist in question remixing outside material will be reviewed/graded as normal, but they shouldn’t really influence your opinion of the artist much either.

Tribute Albums: Is there anything more disappointing than tribute albums? Usually they get decent lineups, but too often I expect them to be a collection of good cover tunes, when again they seem to be mostly used as a promotional tool. Most tribute albums have at least one good cover, but few of them are good from beginning to end. Sorry for the rant; I’ll review the ones I have or am interested in, as some of them really are worth looking at. You'll usually find them in an aritst appendix of some kind.

DJ Albums: Reviewed and graded as anything else, but shouldn’t really be looked upon as an indication of the artist’s talent. In the world of dance music there’s tons of obscure stuff, so most of them should feature mostly material you haven’t heard yet.

Multi-artist compilations: Maybe one day I’ll have a special section for these. In general I don’t listen to discs that jump from artist to artist on each track, but a few of them are pretty good.

Collaborations: Usually appear the page of whichever artist I know the best, or felt had the biggest contribution to the album. All Brian Eno or Ryuichi Sakamoto collabs will probably go on their respective pages since they do so many and it’s simply easier that way. Either way I’ll try to at least link them from any of the collaborator’s pages. In some cases I’ll do another page for them, but in general I want to combine these since you'll likely be interested in these sort of collabs if you're a fan of one of the groups. For example, the Electronic side project is so tied in with New Order that it's kind of silly to want to break it off.