Book Review: Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff

The plus side is that I did not buy this book. The downside is I have to hold onto it and inevitably see it until quarantine is over since the Chicago Public Library is closed until May 31st currently.

Add this one to the fat stack of music books getting all of the attention they rarely deserve!!!

Not filing this as a review, because I believe you should only review a work you have experienced in its fullness. However, I would like to note that it took me a whole day to get through forty pages of this, and I found myself blankly staring at my phone scrolling social media without reading rather than attending to this book, which should be extremely interesting to me, for hours.

So, rather than read the rest of it, I opted to read other reviews of it instead. Many of these reviews confirmed what I expected: that this book would continue to be a waste of my time and attention.

I guess outside of the fact that the chapters bear little relationship to a lot of what is compelling in the introduction/premise and the connections are never made (according to many other readers), my main gripe is that the way this dude talks about music is extremely off-putting and the approach he is encouraging us to take doesn’t seem likely to deepen listening! Do you listen to music based on weird categorical fundamental properties, like slowness or loudness or speed? I sure as fuck do not. In fact, a lot of my favorite music is extremely dynamic, including musical parts that could fit into any of these vague categories in long, drawn out musical drives or in the quick succession of more explosive and immediate sonic openings. In addition to vague categories, Ratliff also often utilizes vague descriptions of music, which I found it extremely hard to want to continue to read.

It is possible this book could be valuable to the musical novice who has not really thoroughly explored the vast sea of musical experiments that exists and give someone lacking an intuitive way to appreciate and hear music some vague in-roads to beginning to have musical thoughts. Since it was not advertised as that, however, it has probably ended up in the hands of many people to whom it is not very useful. Someone on Twitter pointed out that it looks like a “bad self-help book,” and I think that is relevant, because this ultimately seems to be what it is: a self-help book for people who do not yet have their own methods and approaches to finding and listening to music.

Considering how low my opinion of the New York Times is in general, I suppose it makes sense that a music critic who worked for them for two decades would not be my cup of tea at all. The last book I had to quit reading that made me feel this annoyed by how much praise it received within music journalism despite being entirely uninteresting was Night Moves by Jessica Hopper. (In addition to Jessica Hopper listing in her bio that she is the daughter of a couple of writers, like some weird claim of biological predisposition.) I would appreciate if music journalists stopped applauding each other at the expense of promoting things that are not actually a worthwhile investment of our money, time, and attention.

One note worth making.


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