What is music in the age of the cloud? Today, we can listen to nearly anything, at any time. It is possible to flit instantly across genres and generations, from 1980s Detroit techno to 1890s Viennese neo-romanticism. This new age of listening brings with it astonishing new possibilities--as well as dangers.
In Every Song Ever, the veteran New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff reimagines the very idea of music appreciation for our times. In the age of the cloud, the genre of the recording and the intention of the composer matter less and less. Instead, we can savor our own listening experience more directly, taking stock of qualities like repetition, speed, density, or loudness. The result is a new mode of listening that can lead to unexpected connections. When we listen for slowness, we may detect surprising affinities between the drone metal of Sunn O))), the mixtape manipulations of DJ Screw, and the final works of Shostakovich. And if we listen for more elusive qualities like closeness, we might notice how the tight harmonies of bluegrass vocals illuminate the virtuosic synchrony of John Coltrane's quartet. Encompassing the sounds of five continents and several centuries, Ratliff's book is a definitive field guide to our musical habitat, and a foundation for the new aesthetics our age demands.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We haven’t heard music in quite the same way since diving into Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever. As websites and streaming services have forever changed the nature of listening by making everything easily available, Ratliff—a longtime pop and jazz critic for the New York Times—tries to help us make sense of the deluge. Each essay in this collection explores a single musical trait like speed, density, or quiet. In clear, thoughtful prose, Ratliff adds new dimension to familiar songs and draws thrilling connections among Nick Drake, Mozart, Billie Holiday, Black Sabbath, and others.
New York Times music critic Ratliff (Coltrane: The Story of a Sound) is known mainly for his books on jazz, but in this insightful guide to contemporary music appreciation, genre limitations are off the table. Proclaiming proudly his purposes of "listening for pleasure, and listening to more," Ratliff demonstrates 20 contexts in which music can be appreciated, now that centuries of masterpieces are available through the Internet. Ratliff employs a "strategy of openness" that dispenses with genre barriers, freeing himself to make leaps of musical logic. Famous artists such as Neil Young and the Jackson 5 share space alongside lesser-known acts such as Sleep and Aztec Camera. Ratliff's scholarship shines; there's a lot to be said for a book on music appreciation that can draw apt parallels between DJ Screw and Bernstein's rendition of Mahler's ninth symphony. Ratliff helpfully includes playlists after every chapter.