I don’t fully understand music criticism. When I read (good) criticism about a book or a film, I feel like I learn something – either about the book or film itself, or books or films in general, or about politics or culture or the world. Most of the music criticism I’ve read either validates my opinions without helping me learn anything about them, or else it makes me feel stupid. A huge amount of music criticism is underpinned by a dichotomy between what is Good and Okay to Like and what is Dumb and Bad that Only Dumb and Bad People Like. What falls into each category is supposed to be obvious to the reader, because it’s never explained. (Robert Christgau is one of the most acclaimed music critics in America, and he operates on a bizarre and complicated system combining letter grades and emojis.) Declaring something good or bad is the critic’s job, of course, but even when I disagree with a film critic, they’ll still be interesting to read if they’re any good. Roger Ebert was wrong about Midnight Cowboy, but he was wrong in a way that made me think more deeply about the film.
Quentin Tarantino said that there are two ways to love film: people who love the films they like, and people who love films. Maybe that’s part of the problem – I love films, and I love books, but I only love the music I like. I love lots of different kinds of music, but I don’t love music in the generalised, abstracted way I can love films and books. Music feels too big to care about that way, in more than the small chunks I can consume. But there are genres that are small enough to love in that way, small enough to grasp in my hands.