Why I am a terrible reviewer

I like everything. I mean, I don’t love everything, but I get enjoyment out of almost everything I experience, whether it’s a book, comic, album, or movie. Of course, I enjoy some more than others, and I revisit some of them again and again, but I find it really hard to name something that I actively dislike.

This is evident in my ratings of songs in iTunes, my ratings of film and TV on Netflix, and the ratings I assign to things I review at Guerrilla Geek. Now part of that is probably selection bias; I’m likely to watch a film or listen to an album that I have either been recommended or that’s from an artist I know that I like already. This also means I am not experiencing completely new things as much as I tend to stick with what I know which is something that I moan about to friends often, but rarely do anything about. As I’ve grown older the time I am able to put in to seeking out new music or new authors has shrunk quite a bit.



My hope was that the digital revolution of music and written media would once again enable me to browse through lists as I once would browse through records and books at my local stores. This has not been the case, and I’m not sure it ever will be, due to the lack of tactile feedback: There’s something about running ones finger over the spines of books or flicking CD cases that is lost when scrolling through a list on a screen.

The same is true of video games: If I spend a couple of days at a weekend engrossed in a game, as I used to, I enjoy it at the time but feel like I missed out on an opportunity to do something else once I’m back at work. I have therefore started to focus on playing demos of games or Arcade titles (and I’m not the only one); bite-size chunks of video games that give me the enjoyment of playing a game without the commitment that sucks away my evermore precious free time. I had a conversation the other day with someone else of about my age who does a job similar to me, and we bemoaned the hours we put into building and upgrading PCs just to play the latest game. Both of us have forsaken that world for one of simplicity and ease — that of consoles and downloadable titles — and I think this is a common trend.

The time that I spend listening to music and reading books has not changed significantly, however. I think this is because listening to music is something that I can, and will, do while doing other things. Walking the dogs, exercising, traveling to work, even while I’m at work, are all opportunities to listen to music. But rarely new music. New music demands respect from me and a focus of attention that I can’t give when multitasking. I still like to read album notes when exploring an album for the first time, and I will never ever put it into shuffle rotation until I’ve listened all the way through it at least once. I am trying Pandora as a way to find new music, but I get frustrated when there’s a song that I really like and I can’t easily click through to the whole album and listen start-to-finish.

Books, of course, demand attention. The difference there is that reading a book is my ground state. When I have nothing else to do, I will turn to a book first. For a while this wasn’t true: I would open my email, check Twitter, check my news aggregator, check Twitter again… But I’m back on the books again mostly thanks to the convenience of owning a nook with a sizable chunk of my book library installed on it. I have even started to use the nook to find new books. It’s very easy to grab a free sample of a book and download it, and on finding that it’s a good read, to buy it with a single click. It still feels very clinical to me though and I find myself going to my local book store to find new books instead, but just buying them on the nook. And then I feel guilty for not patronizing the local book store. At least I’m finding new things again.

But even when I’m reading something to review it rather than having picked it myself, no matter what it is, I enjoy it. I can tell when something isn’t to my taste, but I have a positive experience reading or listening. When I come to write the review, I will find things to like about it much easier than I find things to dislike. Perhaps I’m just not critical enough to be a good reviewer, or maybe those that are more critical have to try hard to find things to criticize too. I do think that my opinions are skewed by the sheer joy I get from devouring media.

I haven’t decided yet if it’s a problem that I’m not more critical of things and that I seem to enjoy everything. It makes my life a happy place to be even if it makes me an ineffectual reviewer. Just don’t expect many ratings below three stars in my reviews.

Outside Lands

A really quick post between bouts of caring for Eddie with short reviews of bands I saw at Outside Lands last weekend.

Gogol Bordello
Everything I’d hoped that a Gypsy Punk band would be. Thick accents, an accordion, charisma, and tonnes of energy.

My Morning Jacket
I just kept wishing it was Radiohead up there as they do the same thing only much better. Clearly talented, but painfully insincere.

A near perfect incarnation of a late 60s rock band. The covers of Teenage Wasteland and Riders on the Storm were fun, and I’m sure the drummer is a young Keith Moon.

The Devil Makes Three
Not quite Bluegrass and not quite Skiffle. A three-piece of banjo, acoustic guitar and stand-up bass who play the most infectious country grooves with smart lyrics. A perfect start to Sunday morning.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Having read the story of this band, and seeing them get set up, I was fascinated to hear what they sounded like. The stage was full of instruments and I counted at least eight musicians. The sound that many people create is incredible to hear live, and I just wish the music had been compelling enough for me to stay past the first song.

Slightly Stoopid
Drifting between reggae, punk, surf rock and hip-hop, Slightly Stoopid were another great bit of scheduling for Sunday afternoon in the sun. Laid back grooves and a fun time for all.

Social Distortion
Why, oh why, have I not been seeing these guys live every time they play anywhere near me. The quintessential punk rock played with the attitude and swagger that only comes from knowing how good you are and loving every second you’re on stage. Awesome to experience, and one of the nicest mosh pits I’ve every had the pleasure to fight my way through to get to the front.

When shuffle just works

iPod: Morning Dom, how about we start with a little Maiden.

Dom: Ok, but make it something chilled.

iPod: Infinite Dreams?

Dom: Perfect.

iPod: Time to step it up a gear: Sell Out by the Levellers good?

Dom: Great. I need to wake up a bit.

iPod: Let’s not get too perky, I fancy slowing it down with Radiohead and Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was.

Dom: Ooh, good choice for a nice chilled walk.

iPod: And now a little R.E.M. and Find The River?

Dom: Yes!

iPod: Hmm.. The streets are getting a little grungy. Fancy some Clash?

Dom: Rudie Can’t Fail would be great about now.

iPod: Can do!