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Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty

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What does it mean to listen in the digital era? Today, new technologies make it possible to roam instantly and experimentally across musical languages and generations, from Detroit techno to jam bands to baroque opera—or to dive deeper into the set of tastes that we already have. Either way, we can listen to nearly anything, at any time. The possibilities in this new age of listening overturn old assumptions about what it means to properly appreciate music—to be an “educated” listener.
In Every Song Ever, the veteran New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff reimagines the very idea of music appreciation for our times. As familiar subdivisions like “rock” and “jazz” matter less and less and music’s accessible past becomes longer and broader, listeners can put aside the intentions of composers and musicians and engage music afresh, on their own terms. Ratliff isolates signal musical traits—such as repetition, speed, and virtuosity—and traces them across wildly diverse recordings to reveal unexpected connections. When we listen for slowness, for instance, we may detect surprising affinities between the drone metal of Sunn O))), the mixtape manipulations of DJ Screw, Sarah Vaughan singing “Lover Man,” and the final works of Shostakovich. And if we listen for closeness, we might notice how the tight harmonies of bluegrass vocals illuminate the virtuosic synchrony of John Coltrane’s quartet. Ratliff also goes in search of “the perfect moment”; considers what it means to hear emotion by sampling the complex sadness that powers the music of Nick Drake and Slayer; and examines the meaning of certain common behaviors, such as the impulse to document and possess the entire performance history of the Grateful Dead.
Encompassing the sounds of five continents and several centuries, Ratliff’s book is an artful work of criticism and a lesson in open-mindedness. It is a definitive field guide to our radically altered musical habitat.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published February 9, 2016

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Ben Ratliff

11 books26 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Deke.
Author 21 books68 followers
March 19, 2016
Fantastic premise, fantastic introduction, and then... no. Rather than providing true insight into the mechanics and perception of music, it reads like a music critic's proudly diverse iTunes account. Yes, many great songs mentioned, but knowledge or taste does not equal insight, and exposure does not equal perspective.
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews746 followers
January 13, 2019
It's rare that I write reviews anymore these days--despite the ongoing wish to write more of them--but today I feel the need. I need to WARN PEOPLE ABOUT THIS BOOK.

Read the title of the book, including the part that comes after the semicolon. Now, understand this: The book is NOT THAT. This is a collection of twenty brief essays about a variety of concepts as they are applied to music across a broad variety of genres. They are interesting, and if this book had just been titled something more accurate (Maybe "Some Music Essays," taking a cue from Earl Sweatshirt), I would have given it three stars.

But NO! My assumption about this process is that the query letter for "Some Music Essays" was not super-compelling to agents, so the author added an introduction that makes some broad comments about how accessible music is these days, and how we have such a variety of music at our disposal, mostly for free.

And then, the rest of the book has NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT. There's not even an epilogue or conclusion that somehow draws all of this to a close. The 2o chapters don't tell you shit about "ways to listen," unless things like "listen for loudness!" "Listen for quiet!" "Listen for improvisation!" count in your book. They don't count in mine. Not in mine!

Does this book wrestle with issues of ethics in modern music listening, when you can with the mildest of effort, hear most music without ever paying any of the artists? Nope, nothing touching on that. Does it wrestle with the changing role of musical artists in this new landscape? Nope. Does it even give a basic run down of some of the actual ways one might listen to music, given the plethora of online options for discovering new music? Nope, nothing there either.

None of these topics actually pertain more to an age of "musical plenty" than they would have to music in the 1970's. They have nothing to do with now, other than the fact that you can now hear most of these songs without buying them.

However. I finished the book, and being a huge music geek, I also enjoyed it.

But do you know that feeling you get when you take a sip of a beverage, expecting it to be one thing, and it turns out to be something completely different? That sense of shock and disappointment? You thought it was lemonade, but it's Mello Yello? You thought it was Dr. Pepper, but it's Diet Pepsi? You thought it was coffee, but it's just very dirty water? Think back to all those times that has happened. That's the feeling I had throughout this book, whenever I glanced back at the cover, and thought about what could have been.

Last whine, then I'm done: In these chapters, he doesn't even go as far as to say "Listen for X." That would have been a clearer book structure. Nothing is actually cast as a way to listen to music . . it's all just essays on broad concepts.

Okay, that's it. I'll shut up and move onto the next book now.

Profile Image for Indran Fernando.
214 reviews17 followers
May 5, 2016
The playlists have some interesting stuff from off the beaten path (Derek Bailey!). But Ratliff's diverse tastes in music and metaphor-laden writing style fail to conceal his lack of insights. Basically, take a verbose Pitchfork review, subtract most of the substance, then expand it to 200-some pages, and you have this book.

Other complaints:
1) Ratliff suggests that music appreciation needs an update for the age of the cloud. Far from achieving that update, he didn't even convince me why it's necessary. Eclectic tastes in music are not new, and neither are eclectic mixtapes.

2) As others on Goodreads have pointed out, Ratliff starts by critiquing genre as a capitalist construct, but then spends the rest of the book describing music in exactly those terms (psychedelic rock, ghettotech, doom metal, etc).

3) In his eagerness to find common ground between disparate styles of music, he tends strip it of its context, which leads to some pretty absurd generalizations. Example: Playing music fast is like "putting a sweater on a dog" (it's for show). I think it's pretty obvious that this isn't *always* the case, and that various tempos can reflect various feelings or muses.

Critics are notorious for being out of touch with the creative process, but this critic's out-of-touch-ness somehow still managed to surprise me. I'm just glad I know where to find a detox :D http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/D...
Profile Image for Josh O'Kane.
Author 2 books19 followers
March 7, 2016
From my Globe and Mail review:

As much as it pains creators, songs are now eminently discardable. Without anchors to keep listeners coming back for more, they can easily vanish into the ear’s ether without leaving a trace in the brain. This is where Ratliff’s new tools come in. They’re a series of connection points to draw between songs and bodies of work that don’t rely on genre – itself a corporate construct, really, with geographic and socioeconomic implications – for their definitions. Drake and the Ramones emerged from very different cultures, but the listener’s background – where they’re from; who their friends are; what their parents listened to – is no longer a reliable predictor of taste.

Every Song Ever compels a very specific, almost distracted, kind of reading. It, too, is tailored to life in the stream. I found myself with headphones shoved in my ears, toggling to a new song on Spotify every few minutes. It was necessary to keep track of all the little moments Ratliff wants readers to connect. I think, and write, about streaming a lot. The technology has introduced me to hundreds of artists I’d have never encountered without it, all thanks to ease of access. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t usually rely on genre to guide me.

Ratliff, on the other hand, wants to tear down the barriers those kinds of constructs impose. So it’s handy to have YouTube or Spotify or Tidal or Apple Music fired up as he draws you through dozens of fanatically detailed analyses of, and anecdotes about, songs, albums and artists to find mutual connections and new ways to enjoy them. Drake once suggested that nothing was the same; Ratliff is trying to say that in some way, everything is.

The full review: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/b...
Profile Image for Ian Hamilton.
455 reviews7 followers
May 12, 2016
Proof that even one's favorite and consistently trusted critic can be way off the mark sometimes. This collection of 20 essays accomplishes almost nothing, especially failing to espouse the book's subtitle: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music in an Age of Musical Plenty. This is little more than 200+ pages of an author's self aggrandizement. And to think I actually paid for this book...UGH.
Profile Image for Herzog.
896 reviews10 followers
March 3, 2016
The unfulfilled promise here is that this book is going to help you better appreciate the enormous amount of music available on the streaming services. As a consumer of the music on those streaming services, I could definitely use some help, but this book didn't deliver it. That said, I couldn't help but to be impressed with Ratliff's knowledge of the music, from a very wide range including jazz, punk, rap, classical and more, that he used to illustrate the qualities of listening discussed in the book. I believe that writing about music is difficult because it doesn't really lend itself to description.

I read this book in a paper edition. Every time I read a book about music, I am frustrated because short of going to Youtube or a streaming service, the music being discussed is not readily available. Ratliff seems to be a friend of Alex Ross. Ross's book The Rest is Noise, incorporates the music directly into the book - a technique that I wish all authors of books about music would incorporate. It's even easier these days with e-books.

The concept behind this book is certainly to be admired, but don't expect it to deliver what it promises.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,762 reviews18 followers
November 3, 2016
The title is completely misleading. This book has nothing to do with the ways we can listen to music (files/vinyl/videos/cds/etc.,) but talks about slowing down music, speeding up music, etc. Good grief, DJS have been mixing/changing speeds, etc., for at least 40+ years, rendering this book absolutely pointless. "Maybe we need slow funk. Is there anything more worthwhile, more worth slowing down for?" asked this author early in chapter 2. Well, how about a first kiss, a great meal, maybe the best sex ever, maybe slowing down to the speed limit so we won't get a speeding ticket. Maybe our hand motion as our fingers close in on a nuclear detonation red light. Maybe general hand motion in other situations. Maybe life in general. How this author duped anyone into publishing this is beyond understanding. But I know one thing: I can't take this book back to the library fast enough. BS book of the year.
Profile Image for Jason Comely.
Author 1 book32 followers
November 22, 2020
Sometimes I loved the writing and pacing of this book. Other times I found it grating on the nerves. Same book, same style of writing. Maybe it should be read in a non-linear way, like a book of poetry or recipes. If I'd done that, my rating might've been five stars instead of three.
Profile Image for Cody.
544 reviews43 followers
June 7, 2016
After hearing Ben Ratliff speak on What’s the Point, I was somewhat surprised by how little of Every Song Ever directly deals with the internet’s effect on music (this is the core subject in the podcast interview). That’s probably for the best, though, as plenty has already be said about the current and future state of art in the digital age. Instead, Ratliff sets out to remind us of the prodigious amount of sound that we have at our fingertips and urges us to make the most of it.

To help us out with this, Ratliff offers up twenty ways of listening more meaningfully, including a handful of themes, ideas, traits, etc. to listen for. For instance, try resisting the urge to bounce from half-finished track to half-finished track and, instead, dive deeply into a body of work. Or challenge yourself to concentrate at length on, say, a two-hour-long Morton Feldman piece (which, thanks to digital technology, can finally be heard as an uninterrupted recording). If nothing else, listen widely--there is a nearly limitless world of incredible music just a click or two away, so don’t let Spotify or Pandora pigeonhole your playlists. This last point, in particular, Ratliff really nails, as he pulls together a wonderfully varied playlist from each chapter, reminding us that even the most disparate sounds can yield insightful common ground.

In short: listen, listen, listen! We have no excuse not to. After all, "Algorithms are listening to us. At the very least we should try to listen better than we are being listened to." (P. 8)
Profile Image for Stephen Jenkins.
34 reviews2 followers
July 24, 2016
I'm a musician and this a book about music. I guess it's not surprising that there was much about it that troubled me. My biggest problem is my own high expectations for a NYT critic to help with the huge onslaught of music available to us this day. I think his subject was too big for him. At any rate, there's too much purple/confused prose and outright errors. Example of the former: "A perfect moment is often wordless, or indirect if has words. It is the song blushing: an unplanned or perhaps only semi-planned occurrence in which the music suddenly embodies its own meaning. The conscious mind of the singer or the instrumentalist goes out the window." Example of the latter: "The other thing "My Baby" did was to put three loud eighth notes on the four to close out every four bars." If the drummer played three eighth notes in the fourth beat, it would make the fourth beat one eighth note two long unless the time signature adjusted for it.

I did enjoy his lists of music at the end of each chapter and made playlists on Spotify to find out what the pieces he wrote about that I didn't recognize sound like.

This book reminds me of David Byrne's "How Music Words." Both of these writers are like the blind men with the elephant. They have a piece of the story, but are missing out on the overview.
Profile Image for Gphatty.
245 reviews
March 30, 2016
This book is suprisingly really good, despite its poor title/subtitle. The prolification of different methods to access music is not really the focus. Instead, I came away thinking about the many different ways I already approach listening to and thinking about music, ways that I had not yet put to words. (Plus many other concepts I am dying to put into practice.) Ignore the title -- if you like obsessively listening to music -- if you are inspired by writing that makes you want to seek out what is being described -- this is a great book for you.
Profile Image for Sarah.
100 reviews8 followers
June 3, 2017
I quit reading this book for a few reasons... it wasn't what I expected from the premise and introduction, and I didn't like how the author wrote about music. It came across as pretentious and a bunch of references to songs you didn't know without describing them... I couldn't get through it. Not to mention statements that assert nick drake couldn't have made music if he were depressed, rather than just sad... I couldn't do it. Would not recommend, unless you need some stock phrases to sound pretentious.
Profile Image for Sam Zucca.
104 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2018
Music writing is a very strange art to perfect. You only to have a stroll through Pitchfork's reviews to find some truly odd-expressions, and a frustration to capture how we feel about arbitrary sounds into words. This might sound a bit over-the-top, but can you think of many great descriptions of music in fiction?

Now this book is far from fictitious, but it drew me in because of how it tackled music in a different way. This isn't about music theory, and I assume not the sort of thing you'd learn studying music academically. It's not about music history and genre either, looking at waves of jazz, rock 'n roll, r&b, metal, punk roll on by through the ages. Each chapter is a different way of categorising music, and at the end of them you'll find a beautifully eclectic list of different pieces that correspond with the theme. For instance the first chapter, which tackles repetition, gives you a list ranging from Duke Ellington to Kesha, from Benny Goodman to James Brown, and from the Isley Brothers to Religious Music of India.

The idea is that in this age where (nearly) everything is available via streaming platforms, we should start opening our ears more to the spectrum of styles and genres that are there. By putting pieces from vastly different contexts, we can find something familiar in something that was alien to us before. And really what I used this book for was recommendation. I'd only ever pick it up with a pair of headphones or speaker system nearby, and I'd urge that you read through it slowly, indulging in all this new music, and trying to pick up on what Ratliff is pointing out about it. A lot of the time it can go right over your head, but then sometimes everything seems to click into place, and you can feel this piece of music in a whole new way.

As for recommendations I've heard some stuff I probably wouldn't have listened to otherwise. William Basinski's 6-hour Disintegration Loops that plays these tape loops relentlessly until they literally fall apart on the deck. Then there's Ghil by Okkyung Lee, an album made only using a violin, made to sound almost completely unrecognisable both in the way it's played and the way it's recorded. Aside from the more experimental stuff though I discovered some great tracks from Miles Davis, James Brown, J. Dilla, some countless brilliant latin and punk artists, and the music of Nick Drake and Betty White.

Musical exploration is certainly the greatest strength of Every Song Ever, but I think it can get too bogged down in terminology and the technicalities of certain concepts that I never really managed to grasp. Maybe it's just because of my own expectations, but chapters like 'Slowness,' 'Speed,' and 'Loudness' are much easier to grasp than the ones about 'Density' or 'Discrepancy.' Even chapters on more abstract ideas in music like 'Sadness' or 'Perfection' can at least be imagined to hear in a piece of music. I guess the main weakness or thing to take in mind is that if you're just a casual reader like me there will be large moments in which nothing will seem to connect. Just take the handful of recommendations and move onto the next chapter.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
910 reviews93 followers
January 27, 2022
“Music and life are inseparable. Music is part of our physical and intellectual formation. Music moves: it can’t do anything else. The same goes for us. Everything has a tone and a pitch, and rhythms,- or pulses, at least- surround us. We build an autobiography and a self-image with music, and we know, even as we are building then, that they’re going to change. Most human beings impose their wills on the world partly with and through music, even is they are not musicians. They way they hear- you can call it taste, if you want- is in how they move and work and dress and love.”

There is a Spotify playlist to accompany the book, and it is a multi dimensional experience to read and listen. I loved so much about the book, and while not perfect and needing better editing, it enhances the experience of listening to music and is a recipe for making meaning out of what we listen to with the ultimate goal of knowing life fully and celebrating the soundtracks of our lives. Wendell Berry wrote, “be joyful, since it is humanly possible,”and I think the same can be applied to music. Birdsong and whalesong are beautiful as voices, but only humans take instruments and make music externally as well as vocally, and it is like oxygen to me.

The beauty of the streaming music innovation is that if you listen to any of his suggestions, and indicate what you like, the platforms and algorithms will suggest similar music, so instead of listening to the same thing over and over, you will be widening your listening lens and truly experiencing all life/music has to offer.

Being a book and music nerd, I was chagrined to not see any of my genres like folk and bluegrass represented in the book so took it upon myself to make a few suggestions of music I love that may fit into his categories, and that was so fun. I even created a few categories of my own. Just fun to spend this kind of time with music and words.
In music there’s imagined to be a general split between two orientations: variation and repetition…if all music is ritual- which it all is, in some form- then let’s say that variation celebrates the proliferation of life: the theme that binds the variations together implies an unifying power, maybe even a theistic one. Repetition is a little more about music itself, and thus a little more about humankind alone. Repletion is a way to make you focus on all that is in fact nonrepetitive. The music seems to stay put- when you (or your perceptions) change. It suggests infinity or eternity, basically. But only by distant representation. We couldn’t have actual infinity or eternity in art. We would hate it.
Every piece of music, has its own inner speed, depending on what that person believes the music is meant to express. Slowness can be the speed of taking life in thoroughly, without missing the details…And it can be the speed of summing up, of finding a way to see life in the long view, perhaps all chapters at once, with motion decreasing in order to be understood… it suggests the writer and composer Jonathan Kramer’s notion of “vertical time” in music: “a single present stretched out into enormous duration, a potentially infinite ‘now’ that nonetheless feels like an instant.”
…The rhythm section in slow funk music- particularly the bass parts, running along melodic counterlines, using the width or skinniness of a note as an important factor in the overall sound- is rooted and planned and balanced. It demands to be heard and understood and internalized. It reaches up from below, from the lower frequencies, and takes care to slow you down.
Transmission: there’s a thing some singers do: they go transparent in their voices, seem to become the property of other forces….it’s all in the tone. Tone doesn’t demonstrably exist in composed notes. It exists only in played ones. It’s the most human part of music, the carrier of emotion. A sequence of notes, or a combination of top line and moving harmony, is just an enactment of musical relationships…there exists an old debate, especially in the classical music world, between so called formalists and expressionists (or autonomists and heteronomists. Formalists beleive that music, in and of itself, means nothing, or has nothing to do with the world of emotions; it is the result of the composer bringing his tools and craft to neutral material (tones, chords, rhythm, textures) and creating something formally pleasing to the ear.  The critic Eduard Hanslick said, “Music can, in fact, whisper, rage, and rustle. But love and anger occur only within our hearts… music can mimic the motion of feelings. It can reproduce the motion of a physical process according to the prevailing momentum: fast, slow, strong, weak, rising, falling. It can depict not love but only such motion as can occur in connection with love or any other affect…”
Expressionists argue for the presence of the sublime, as an animating force in great music- originating in feelings, in spirits, in people and history…There is an extreme form of emotion in music that transcends specific moods. I’ll call it a state of transmission. There are stories of Sufi masters, with divine agency, who use their powers of intent to send energy forth to their students. Receiving transmission has been compared to falling into a sea…these (songs of transmission) are noble songs. They seem to contain so much of life that is contradictory and that does not necessarily add up: beauty and terror, low tide and high tide, systole and diastole... To some degree they imitate the way we have a compulsion to stay in our joy and sadness, saying, and then, and then, and then…the great linking works seem to be telling you something about the process of living.

Lost in the light by Bahamas

Indian Ocean by Frazey Ford

Thrash Mexican Budapest by Diego’s Umbrella

Landslide by Antony


Poet by Cassandra Wilson

Slow tide by Ocie Elliot

My invention: atonal catharsis

Ocotillo by Loma

Density/ granite and fog

No church In the wild by Jay-z

banjo and the bottle by the Haunted windchimes

My invention: when time wraps around and then is now
Highway and the moon by Jeffrey Foucault


Love is everything by Jane Siberry


Mykonos by Fleet Foxes


Ocean eyes by Billie Eilish


Peyote healing by Robbie Robertson

Profile Image for Devon.
Author 1 book4 followers
February 29, 2016
This book is really wonderful when Ratliff's bringing his passion for music to one particular song. He's clearly got a huge library of musical knowledge, and in describing the particular virtue of one piece of music, he'll make references to other pieces of music from diverse genres. For example: "...the first movement of Henryk Gorecki's famous Symphony no. 3 does something related to both Lawrence and Faure, also through chorale-like means: it starts and ends with figures rendered in deep bass tones, layering more and more figures that are progressively higher in pitch, building a stack of moving parts. The piece creates an atmosphere, a weather that keeps changing and becomes mottled, a mesmerizing and stupefying pattern, with lonely details poking out in the cycles of each layer, a bit like the accent notes played on guitar in Nick Drake's 'Road.'" That's the kind of enthusiasm that pushes you to go out and take advantage of your instant access to Gorecki's piece, to listen to whatever inspired that passion in Ratliff. There's lots of passages like this in the book, great entryways into music.

My bigger issue with the book is when Ratliff takes a macro view of things, he seems to reach for a grandiosity that just isn't earned. The most bizarre passage comes in a chapter where he's discussing the completionist instinct for fans of the Grateful Dead. Here's the metaphor he uses:

"You don't strike a child, because you understand the child has qualities that will redeem whatever he did that made you mad at him. He will be affected by your hitting him, possibly forever, and his eventual greatness of soul might eclipse yours. He is not a fact; he is a story, and his story is yours, too. To live is to follow that story."

There's nothing else quite this egregious, but Ratcliff is prone to soliloquizing about his chosen topic in ways that are frequently tedious or poorly supported. It's as if there were times where he feels his passion for music is too gleeful, and he needs to add some gravitas to add more appeal to the high-culture market.

It's worth checking this book out, though, because Ratcliff's way of constructing paradigms for listening is a departure from most other writing about music appreciation. There's chapters on repeating notes, slight discrepancies between musicians, and perfect moments in music. Yes, there's a lot to roll your eyes at here, but there's also a lot of great recommendations wrapped in often-great contextualizations.
Profile Image for Keith Carpenter.
16 reviews
June 20, 2017
The publisher sent me a comp. copy of this book hoping that I will use it as a music appreciation text book. Fat chance. While Ratliff writes decently, his understanding of music is greatly limited to how the receives the music, now upon the actual physical properties of the musical elements or the historical contexts in which the music is based. Sentences like "Its tracks are poetic rituals, not like most of what we listen to in this world", while discussing a rumba, drive me crazy: they're unassailable because of their vagueness (or vapidity). Saying a track is a "poetic ritual" is meaningless. As a musician, I take this to mean that perhaps they possess some sort of rhyme scheme. But what kind? Is it a rhythmic rhyme, a rhyme of musical cadences, a rhyming pitch pattern? I am to assume that by calling it a "ritual" that means that is "good" or "effective" or merely cliche (like rituals tend to become). And that's just the first clause of the sentence.

His central thesis is that the easy availability of an enormous variety of music demands a new form of music appreciation. As a musician, teacher, composer and musical thinker, I agree. However, his approach is one which encourages listeners to abandon the daunting process of learning the specifics of musical elements and the responsibilities listeners have in understanding the music on its own terms. His approach to me is the perfect method for listening for those who wish have unassailable opinions because they are predicate solely upon ones' own interpretations.

What I found best about his book was the laundry list of some of the pieces he references, some of which are unknown to me and sound worth searching out. A relatively small reward for a book I believe does serious music listening a disservice.
Profile Image for Seth Fiegerman.
137 reviews26 followers
March 1, 2016
It's been said that social media creates a "filter bubble" for news consumption, which only reasserts our existing beliefs as echoed by the friends and contacts we use choose to follow on Facebook and Twitter. In this book, Ratliff effectively suggests that the recommendations of streaming services create a similar filter bubble for our musical tastes.

In these twenty creative essays, Ratliff attempts to break that bubble by pushing us to think beyond genres like Indie Folk and Punk Pop and focus on concepts that run through a more varied mix of music. Concepts like loudness and virtuosity and repetition.

At their best, the essays provide a history of music and a new way to listen to songs we may already know.

Slowness, he writes, is the ultimate trust fall between artist and audience. The audience must trust that there will be a payoff to the slow progression; the artist must trust the audience won't give up and leave. It also tends to be the hallmark of more mature or aging artists who are slowing down themselves -- but not always. And speed, it's opposite which he also writes about, what is the point there but to dazzle? Is that enough?

Sadness, on the other hand, may not be what you think it is. The blues, he writes, was not intended to be remorseful so much as resilient and mobilizing. But we hear what we want to hear, or what pop culture now tells us to hear.

If nothing else, you are guaranteed to find plenty of new artists and songs to stream thanks to this book.
Profile Image for Jason Das.
Author 9 books10 followers
March 20, 2016
I tried to read it over a couple of weeks and just can't make it happen. I enjoyed reading several promotional interviews, and I'm sympathetic to and interested in the thesis, but as a book I just don't get the point. It's like reading philosophy, which is about the most boring and pointless kind of reading for me. There's probably potential for a great 15-page essay to be extracted from here? Should be a magazine article or a pamphlet, not a fat book.
Profile Image for Dan Mcdowell.
30 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2016
This is the first book in a while that I had to just quit reading. I thought I was really going to dig this. This is garbage.
Profile Image for Brad.
161 reviews17 followers
April 5, 2016
Tremendously smart essays about ways to listen to music. Must read for anyone who thinks a little about the music they listen to.
Profile Image for Antonio Paola.
39 reviews3 followers
June 8, 2016
Fascinating read! This book reads like a bodyscan meditation, focused on the ears.
Profile Image for James.
571 reviews13 followers
April 20, 2016
Generally very sensible advice on how to make great playlists, and the spotify playlist from the book is excellent. "Transmission" is bullshit, but most of the other themes aren't.b
Profile Image for Steve.
4 reviews
June 10, 2016
Thoughts on evaluating your music and suggestions to break out of your music rut.
Profile Image for Nick Davies.
1,498 reviews39 followers
October 31, 2021
I picked this up as a random punt, and was fortunate in a sense to find something as much 'up my street' as this - in theory. The introduction made a very important point regarding how music used to be listened to in a wholly different way (in the age of sheet music, vinyl, tapes and CDs) to now, with so much at the connected person's fingertips. The premise of the book I therefore found very interesting,

The author therefore took twenty themes - some more well-defined than others - and attempted to discuss music and the listening experience in terms of each. There are plenty of examples, new and old, and I think the author probably knew what he was talking about. I admire his attempt to do something a bit different and approach the sheer amount of music that is out there in a new way.

As a book to sit and read, especially in a few sittings over a few days, it didn't work for me however. The prose is a little pretentious and rambling, and for all that there was some sense to it, I wanted more clarity. A little too much art and too little science, perhaps - my personal opinion. It probably would have worked better had I consumed it as a series of weekly columns, given time and inclination to look up more of the examples given. I may dip back in to it again in this manner, but as it was.. it felt like an inferior version of some of the similar books I have read. Neither the personality of Nick Hornby's '31 Songs' for example, nor the approachability as a casual read of something like '1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die'.
Profile Image for KendraLee.
64 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2019
This book is ok. The author focuses on one aspect of music per chapter and includes playlists of the songs he uses as examples. So that's neat. But he loves jazz...and I do not, so that's where he loses me.
Profile Image for Jeroen.
219 reviews35 followers
February 25, 2016
After recently plowing my way through Retromania, Simon Reynolds' curmudgeonly account of the state of modern music, this was a welcome breath of fresh air. I went into Reynolds' book completely convinced of its thesis ("everything has been done", the future of music is mere rehashing, etc.), but it had the strange effect of actually convincing me of the opposite: both that music had always been recombinatorial, and that there is still innovation happening. I tend to take the view Borges took in his infamous short story "Pierre Menard", believing that a pitch-perfect re-enactment of a 1950s song done today is in actual fact a completely new song, at best a knowing nod to the original, for the simple fact that it was done today and not in the 1950s.

Ratliff seems to take up that opposite stance to Reynolds' thesis, and though he is hardly suggesting that in this age of musical plenty "anything goes", I cannot escape the feeling that he is basically suggesting that in this age of musical plenty, anything goes. Ratliff manages to take metal and contemporary pop and jazz and hip-hop and talk about it within the same aesthetic framework. The real connoisseur has of course long since (or at least 25 years now) known that "gospel and rhythm and blues and jazz; all those are just labels." It's true, guys: we know that music is music.

However, emphatically stating that is one thing. Pulling off an aesthetic critique across the playing field is another matter altogether. Ratliff goes beyond genre and rather looks at particular qualities of music: slowness, blueness, improvisation, innovation, virtuosity. It quickly becomes clear that the difference between genres is partly in how they value these: blueness is more precious in country or, yes, blues music than it is in hip-hop or metal. Likewise, virtuosity is more appreciated in progressive rock, metal and fusion than it would be in folk music.

But what Ratliff does best is teasing out the magic of music that goes beyond a dry-eyed analysis of lyrics, that goes beyond another factual paragraph of "the artist was born in Brooklyn to a poor mother". We are so bored of this. Oh, but to tease out the details from the mere timbre of voice, the mere hesitation before a particular note: now, that's something. I cannot but be reminded of Greil Marcus, who could easily write a hundred pages about one single line in a Dylan song. Intriguingly though, Ratliff combines this depth with breadth, and manages to make it work. He manages to zoom in on the crystalline texture of a folk song, and make it seem as if his words could just as easily be transported to the beat of a rap he tunes into next.

What sums it up well is the notion of "vertical time", which Ratliff himself talks about. Vertical time is "a single present stretched out into enormous duration, a potentially infinite 'now' that nonetheless feels like an instant." The belief in vertical time which Ratliff exhibits here is the utter belief in the power of music to suspend time, to extend the present forever into the future. The situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem once dreamed of life as a kind of continuous poetry, "not a succession of moments, but one huge instant, a totality that is lived and without the experience of 'time passing'." Here's to believing in that dream.
Profile Image for Dmitrii.
29 reviews
October 14, 2017
I love the idea of this book: To expand the reader's musical horizons and deepen their understanding by grouping music pieces not by genres or time periods, but by cross-cutting and tantalizingly amorphous qualities and attributes, such as slowness, quietness, intimacy, virtuosity, sadness, etc.

I also love the diversity of styles among the pieces that the author highlights (each chapter ends with a specific list of music tracks, ranging from Duke Ellington to Drake, most of which are nowadays accessible via subscription services like Apple Music, Spotify, or, in my case, Tidal). The book helped me discover new musicians by encouraging exploration with a music player: you'll want to carve out 2-3 hours, put on your best headphones, and read a chapter while clicking around on the computer. It's a wonderful rabbit-hole to descend into.

Unfortunately, with some exceptions, the bulk of the narrative is too brisk with the factual material on one hand (I wish the author, who is clearly a walking encyclopedia of music, would dwell on some of the concrete topics or would dig more into history) and, on the other hand, too heavy on the abstract, the music-theoretical, and the know-it-all attitude. So, sadly, I gave up after several chapters. The frustrations of reading overpowered the joys of discovery. To give an example passage, which I kinda get, with lots of re-reading, but don't get much out of:

"If you understand music as free enterprise, which is how most people in America have understood it since the decline of the piano in the living room—the mid-1970's, pretty much—then the spectrum of quietness, intimacy, and silence in music might seem a form of selfishness or self-sabotage. It is not wanting to be heard, or only wanting to be heard on your own terms. But if you listen another way, the quiet impulse might be a populist idea. It might reach more people. It is an expression of civility. It is not trying to interrupt or drown out anything else. It allows for the rest of life to be heard. And it connects to a much greater pool of history and human expression."

If that kind of writing is music to your ears (ha!), you will love "Every Song Ever". Otherwise, proceed with caution, maybe see if your library has this title.
Profile Image for Bradley Morgan.
Author 1 book10 followers
March 30, 2016
Ratliff explores the current musical landscape and how society consumes and interacts with music. With more music options available to us than ever before and the technological advancements that allow us to access it faster and easier, Ratliff identifies that our listening habits are becoming more restricted and less open to new ideas. Over the span of 20 different, Ratliff examines 20 different concepts designed to help people listen to music better and be more open-minded. Ratliff focuses on musical concepts and ideas such as speed, silence, density, improvisation, repetition, loudness, and other qualities and breaks down each construct to observe and elaborate on their qualities and moving parts. As a result, Ratliff aims to inspire listeners to develop a strategy of openness as opposed to recommending music options similar to algorithms used by streaming services such as Pandora or Spotify.

Ratliff’s book was very smart and very detailed, but not necessarily an easy or accessible read. Ratliff’s analyses are detailed and require a lot of advance knowledge on music theory and history. References to various popular and obscure pieces of music are tossed around to reinforce his point. Ratliff is obviously very educated on the subject, but I doubt that many people who this book targets are familiar with Latin street music. Fortunately, Ratliff includes a playlist at the end of each essay so the reader can explore the tracks. However, if you don’t know the songs already then it makes the reading experience more challenging with the potential for details to be lost.

One thing did strike me as incredibly poignant in this book. Ratliff doesn’t limit himself to genre and tries very hard not to bring genre into the conversation. He introduces his book by suggesting that genre is designed for the purpose of commerce as opposed to pleasure and thus negatively impact’s the listener’s experience. I thought this was very bold and helps him keep true to his mission of encouraging music lovers to be open.
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