The grading scale I use runs from 0 to 100. Although I acknowledge that making music is often a difficult and time-consuming process, all artists must invest their energy into the creative process, so I only assess the value of the finished product. In other words, there are no points for effort.
A score of 0 indicates an album with no redeeming qualities, while 100 indicates one with no flaws.
- 100 Unicorn
A mythical beast. Like all art and other human endeavors, music is inherently flawed, and it’s theoretically impossible for a recording to be perfect. Virtually no album is capable of scoring a perfect 100, though there’s always hope.
- 90-99 Outstanding
Any recording that scores in this range is a remarkable piece of music that deserves a listen from all fans of the genre. The few albums that score in the mid to high 90s are as close to perfect as human creations can be.
- 80-89 Great
A recording in this range is one that is highly competent with many exciting and rewarding moments. A handful of mediocre songs or other setbacks may slightly diminish an otherwise solid recording.
- 70-79 Good
Recordings in this range are likable efforts with a handful of very enjoyable songs. They may be marred by poor sound production, too many filler tracks, or too little diversity in their song structures, though they are often worth hearing at least once.
- 60-69 Adequate
A recording in this range is above average, though it lacks the quality needed to stand out from similar creations. It often suffers from murky sound production, dull songwriting, or awkward creative choices, though it still holds some redeeming qualities. In the case of new artists, this score may still reflect high potential for the artist’s future.
- 50-59 Mediocre
Recordings in this range are rarely worth the time and energy needed to seek them out and hear them, even if they have one or two interesting songs. Bargain bin material.
- 30-49 Bad
Any recording that lands in this range should be avoided, even if there are a few hints of quality songwriting. The negative aspects of the recording outweigh the redeeming qualities. Life is too short to bother with bad music. Skip these.
- 10-29 Terrible
Any recording that scores in this range is an ugly and disposable effort with zero highlights or redeeming qualities.
- 0-9 Disastrous
If it can go wrong, it has. Albums that land in the lowest bracket of the grading scale are horrendous efforts that are often painful to experience. These should only be pursued out of morbid curiosity.
Reviewing music is an inherently subjective process, so it’s necessary to have set criteria in order to remain as consistent and accurate as possible. I’ve picked the six criteria that are most important to me when I listen to an album in order to measure a recording’s value. After I write a review, I rate the album by scoring each of these six factors on a scale of 0 to 10 and finding the total percentage out of 60.
The first factor I consider on any album I review is the songwriting. Simply put, are the songs exciting to listen to? Songwriting takes into account things like attractive melodies, surprising instrumental sections, explosive guitar solos, danceable rhythms, or anything else that compels me to “like” a song. The biggest downfall for most recordings, especially synthwave albums, is monotony. If songs rely on the same rhythm and melody for most of their duration, the songwriting score will plummet. This can also be affected by song length. In many cases, the difference between a great song and a subpar song for me is about two minutes. I’ve heard countless songs spoiled by an unnecessary five or six-minute running length.
- Technical Execution
Technical execution usually takes into account the precision of the musicians’ performance on the recording, such as the timing of the drums with the guitars or how well a singer stays in key. However, assessing technical skill can be tricky, especially with aggressive music, as an artist can have a loose playing style that feels energetic and works well for the music. Therefore, the most important question for me when I’m rating technical skill is, “does the performance help or hurt the songwriting?”
- Audio Production
The best songwriting and technical delivery in the world can be negated by lousy production. This factor assesses the various elements in a song and how pleasing they are to hear. Do the bass notes sound distant? Are the guitar riffs drowned out by the vocals? Does the audio become thin and abrasive at high volumes? Factors like these are perhaps the most subjective part of rating an album, and people can argue for days about whether a recording sounds “right.” Ultimately, this score comes down to distractions. An album that has no distracting aspects to its production will receive a high score here. I also tend to be lenient with independent synthwave releases.
- Song Variety
There are plenty of bands that have built a career on writing the same song over and over. I would prefer to hear artists branch out and push themselves to make memorable and unique tracks on an album. However, I don’t think it’s necessary for musicians to reinvent themselves. Experimentation and diversity can hurt a recording just as easily as they can help it. Typically, I look for songs that are distinct from one another but form a cohesive whole.
Consistency reflects the number of quality songs on an album and is based on whether or not I want to hear the songs multiple times. If only five songs are worthwhile on a ten-song recording, then this score is almost automatically going to be a 5. However, it can shift slightly based on the quality of the remaining songs. For example, if the five quality songs are great, this score might shift to a 6 or even 7.
I am a firm believer that memorable art is good art. If I can remember the details of a movie from 15 years ago, I’m usually impressed by how good it is when I rewatch it. On the other hand, if I hear an album 10 times and can’t recall specifics from it a month later, it’s the mark of a mediocre album. The memorability factor assesses how well the songs stick with me once I walk away from the recording. If I find myself humming a melody or if I have a strong desire to hear a particular song, then this rating will be high.
I gave Nightstop’s album Dancing Killer a 93 / 100. Here’s the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 10
Audio Production: 9
Song Variety: 10
Total Score: 56 / 60
Final Rating: 93%
I gave Satan’s Hallow’s self-titled album a 75 / 100. Here’s the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 8
Audio Production: 8
Song Variety: 7
Total Score: 45 / 60
I gave Kalax’s self-titled album a 53 / 100. Here’s the breakdown of the scores for that album.
Technical Execution: 9
Audio Production: 9
Song Variety: 2
Total Score: 23 / 60