As an avid music lover and critic, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve approached music in ways I probably shouldn’t have. I get so caught up in analyzing and criticising records that I sometimes forget to simply have fun and enjoy music just because. This isn’t to say critically analyzing a record is wrong or that we shouldn’t take reviews seriously. I’m not going to stop being a critic and I don’t think I ever will. However, I believe we can become so obsessed with trying to find that record that ticks all the right boxes that we forget music is more than a rating game. Music has the power to connect with us in ways no numeric system can ever show.
When I heard a fellow critic and friend of mine say that the perfect album does not exist it got me thinking. Does it? I soon came to realize that that statement is both true and untrue.
Labelling music as an “objective” artform is usually shunned by both listeners and critics alike. But whether we want to admit it or not there does exist some objective standard we judge art by. No one is going to call The Shaggs’ Philosophy of the World an unironic masterpiece. There’s a reason Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon are praised by thousands to this day. Does that mean everyone throws a 5-star rating at them? No matter how beloved they are there will always be those who don’t see them the same way; so in an objective sense, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. The perfect record does not exist. There is, and I will argue cannot be, a record that appeals to everyone. Objectively, perfection is blurry but unreachable.
However, at the same time, I deeply disagree. See, I discovered a record this past December. At first glance, not much about it stood out. Its cover displayed nothing more than the sunlight skimming across the ocean surface and its sound was everything one would typically expect from a post-rock record. Yet this album resonated with me so deeply that I cannot think of another word to say in response besides perfect. This record is The Dark, Dark Bright by There Will Be Fireworks and I will not change a single thing about it. Not a note, not a lyric, not a second. I don’t believe I have ever heard an entire record that has managed to recapture that spark that made me fall in love with music when I was a kid. The moment that made me say “I love this.” The song that perked my ears and stole my attention. That beautiful second of music that made me immeasurably happy to be alive. If I’d heard it when I was ten I would have been as utterly in love with it as I am now. In my eyes, it is the perfect record.
What inspired this post was the thoughts of my best friend and the vastly different views we hold of each other’s favourite records. In his eyes, The Dark, Dark Bright is average and merely good at best. How is my perfect record nothing more than ok for another?
Last night I listened to my friend’s all-time favourite album to see if I felt the same way. Would I dislike it just as much or would I fall for it like I did with The Dark, Dark Bright? The answer was somewhere in the middle. I liked it, and at times loved it, but it was an album that was content to be held at arm’s length. Eric Stuart Band’s Lipstick and Barbed Wire is a folk/pop album in the vein of The Dirty Guv’nahs and as good as it is I simply could not connect to it on a personal level. It’s fun and often groovy but ultimately not for me.
After hearing that record I truly understood why someone’s perfect album may not be so for another. My friend is a big fan of country music and I’m sure he has a lot of memories connected to the genre. Maybe that’s why the style LaBW goes for resonates with him so deeply. It may have even reignited the same spark The Dark, Dark Bright did for me. Music isn’t merely a one-trick pony. The variety is endless and that is something we should celebrate and cherish.
Can music be bad? It sure can. I think Chris Tomlin’s music is terribly bland and that he has essentially rewritten his first album nine times over. I also think Nickelback’s music is generic bargain bin fodder. Yet my distaste for an artist in no way invalidates another’s love for them. Music should be fun and I think we can get so caught up in thinking objectively that we forget to stop and just enjoy it. I wanted to hate the new Taylor Swift album when it came out because I got so caught up in the hate from others that their thoughts almost became the truth. If you were a music fan you would loathe Reputation, they would tell you. Well, I returned to that record a few nights ago and enjoyed the heck out of it. I bumped my score to a solid 3.5 from the 2.5 I initially gave it and although I still agree with almost every criticism I lumped upon it I had fun listening to it again and that’s something I’m not going to deny.
In the end, does the perfect record exist? If there’s a record that resonates with you in a way only you understand I don’t think there can be anything more perfect than that.