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Best source of music reviews... for parents?

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if I'm cynical it's because I don't think the notion of protecting our kids from worldly/unwholesome influences really works.

How does this jive with your earlier comment that "'Age appropriate' art is something that parents should certainly be concerned about as they raise they kids"? Why are you so adamant that critics cannot/should not offer any guidance to parents in this respect?

When I was fourteen years old I saw the movie Woodstock. I watched a bunch of great bands play music, but more importantly I watched a bunch of nude hippie chicks on acid dancing around. And I thought, "Hey, that's cool, I think I'd like to join that scene for a couple decades." Nude hippie chicks on acid can be a powerful stimulus, and I went off the deep end. But my point here is that my parents could have shielded me from those images, and I would have found them anyway. Because at a certain point in my life I was looking for them, parents be damned. So if my parents had perhaps been more diligent, and had read a review of the movie from a Christian worldview, they could have sheltered me from such images until I was on my own. At which point I would have watched the movie when I was eighteen, not fourteen, and life would have proceeded much as it did.

Maybe. That said, in general I tend to think a 14-year-old is at a different place formatively than an 18-year-old, and my responsibility as a parent of a 14-year-old is different from my responsibility as a parent of an 18-year-old.

Because those kids will grow up, and their parents will be able to exert less and less control in their lives, and all too quickly it will be up to those kids to make wise choices. And I'm not convinced that withholding potentially harmful material from a kid at 8 or 12 will translate into making wise choices at 18 or 21.

I totally agree with the reasoning of your first sentence. Precisely because a child's freedom and autonomy grows with age, a parent's responsibilities include equipping their children to deal with the implications of that growing freedom. This means, in part, that we need to equip children to be able to deal with things tomorrow that they can't deal with today, and that means allowing them to experience things today that they weren't ready for yesterday. The rule is not "The longer you keep them safe, the better." That said, anyone who thinks that it doesn't matter whether a kid sees his first splatter film at eight or eighteen is just plain kooky, and we'll have to agree to disagree.

Let me tell you a countervailing story to the nude hippie chicks. I know someone who grew up in a house where the musical fabric of the household included sentimental 70s songs about illicit love. At the time, like nearly all children everywhere, he assumed that was normal. Later, older and able to look back critically at an upbringing that was in many ways flawed, he concluded that the choice of genre and his parents' subsequent divorce were not unrelated phenomena (not that the music caused the divorce; obviously the relationship is more complicated than that). The point is, at 20 (or whatever) he had critical faculties and perspective that he lacked at 10, and was better able to make such judgments.

You could of course reply that exposure to the music at 10 didn't prevent him from later making that critical judgment at 20. I guess that's because the music wasn't the only influence in his life. But unless we say that the music we listen to, especially as children, doesn't shape our inner worlds at all, I expect my friend would feel that his upbringing would have been more wholesome without that sort of music around.

If I could start all over again and expose my kids only to cultural elements that would be most beneficial to them in their adult lives, ideally in their Christian adult lives, I would go out of my way to look for books, films, and music that emphasized grace.

Fantastic! Wouldn't it be great if there were knowledgable critics willing to help guide you to make those choices?

This is perhaps a knee-jerk reaction, but when I think about Christian review sites, I think about reviewers who point out sin in the film, book, or album under scrutiny. And that is precisely what cannot be avoided, and not watching certain movies or listening to certain albums won't help solve the problem at all.

Thank you for clarifying. At this point, I have to say it does sound to me like a knee-jerk reaction. Certainly I hope and expect that the style of faith-informed reviewing I and others here try to practice bears little resemblance to what you are reacting too.

You say "not watching certain movies or listening to certain albums won't help solve the problem at all." I'm not sure it can't be part of a healthy solution, but let's grant the point for the sake of argument. Couldn't we at least agree that it is helpful to have some idea what we are up against, what sort of moral and spiritual content, positive or negative, to expect from given movies or songs, what to look for and what to critique, which works tend in positive directions and which tend in negative ones? Isn't critical analysis here -- otherwise known as "learning how to disagree and why" -- an important skill? And can't insightful, nuanced criticism be a helpful guide here? That's all I've been trying to say.

Edited by SDG

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Thank you for clarifying. At this point, I have to say it does sound to me like a knee-jerk reaction. Certainly I hope and expect that the style of faith-informed reviewing I and others here try to practice bears little resemblance to what you are reacting too.

You say "not watching certain movies or listening to certain albums won't help solve the problem at all." I'm not sure it can't be part of a healthy solution, but let's grant the point for the sake of argument. Couldn't we at least agree that it is helpful to have some idea what we are up against, what sort of moral and spiritual content, positive or negative, to expect from given movies or songs, what to look for and what to critique, which works tend in positive directions and which tend in negative ones? Isn't critical analysis here -- otherwise known as "learning how to disagree and why" -- an important skill? And can't insightful, nuanced criticism be a helpful guide here? That's all I've been trying to say.

Yes, and yes. But I think it matters how it's done. I read your reviews, Steven (as well as Jeffrey's, Peter's, and those of many other people on A&F), and I certainly believe that what you (all) are doing is insightful and helpful. I would point to your reviews as a fine example of how to do it right.

But ... there is a part of me that still balks at the idea. As an example, I just finished a review of the new Hold Steady album Stay Positive for Christianity Today. I don't precisely know Craig Finn's (the songwriter's) theological/philosophical beliefs, but I would venture to say that he is not a Christian. He's almost certainly a lapsed Catholic, and Christian/Catholic imagery permeates his work, but he also writes about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, pretty much in that order. He's the Jack Kerouac of rock 'n roll, and like Kerouac there is a Christ-haunted quality about his tales of debauchery and dissipation. But they are tales of debauchery and dissipation, and I tried to explain both the "Christ-haunted" and the "debauchery and dissipation" sides of the music in my review. For what it's worth, I am both extremely grateful and excited that CT is willing to cover this type of music.

After I had finished the review an editor wondered whether some sort of disclaimer was in order, something along the lines of "This album contains strong language and graphic themes, and is suitable for mature audiences." Part of me understands this. Yes, that kind of warning is in order, I suppose. It's certainly true that the album does contain strong language and graphic themes. But part of me thinks, "Umm, that's what I said in the review. Can't the review stand on its own as a potential warning to those who might be offended?"

I don't think it has to be this way, but when I think about the prospect of a source of secular music reviews from a Christian perspective, I think of disclaimers, warnings, checklists, cuss indices, etc. -- essentially the Baehr approach. My guess is that's what most parents might be looking for. And I don't want to write those kinds of reviews. Nor do you, I'm sure, and you don't. And that gives me hope that maybe something similar can be done for music as well. As we've discussed earlier in this thread, we write every word we write as Christians. Shouldn't that be sufficient in terms of providing the grid through which we see the world, and interpret art? I would like to think so. But already I'm seeing evidence that such an approach isn't sufficient for many Christians. I also recently reviewed the album Amrit Vani by the Christian band Aradhna in CT. They're a bunch of missionary kids from India and Pakistan, they sing in Hindi, employ sitars and tablas liberally, and most definitely sing about Jesus. It's marvelous music. But several people took me to task for encouraging theological syncretism, New Age beliefs, etc., because, after all, "Hindi" sounds a lot like "Hindu." Big sigh. I can't wait until they get their hands on that Hold Steady review. These are the kinds of things that make me want to run -- shrieking the other way, at that -- from the notion of writing "Christian" reviews.

I'm a Christian. I write music reviews. And I would like to think that simply by virtue of those facts parents might, if they tried, be able to pick up on some clues about whether the album/song in question might be appropriate for their kids. Then again, many days I simply despair of that notion.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I'm a Christian. I write music reviews. And I would like to think that simply by virtue of those facts parents might, if they tried, be able to pick up on some clues about whether the album/song in question might be appropriate for their kids. Then again, many days I simply despair of that notion.

Could it be that part of the reason many parents seem to get caught up in the "accounting" is because whenever they go looking for a review of a movie or an album or whatever from a Christian perspective, all they find are Beahr type reviews? And thus get taught (or reinforced) the idea that those are the things they should be most concerned about? I'd encourage you not to focus on the people who complained that the Aradhna album seemed inappropriate. Focus on the ones who just learned (or got reinforced) the idea that an album like that can be good and true and beautiful, whether they took the time to right letters to the editor or not.

You're called to do whatever you're called to do, but wouldn't it be great if there were people like you writing reviews of albums that would help parents decide if they wanted to introduce their children to it yet or not, instead of just the Baehrs of the world? I've got a daughter who's only 9 months old right now, but I imagine when she hits 8 or 11 or 14 she's going to start wanting albums that I've never even heard of. At that point, I don't want my only options to be 1) don't let her listen to anything secular at all (because what is that teaching her), 2) let her listen to anything she wants without discretion, or 3) listen to everything in its entirety first myself (because God knows I don't want to sit through hours of whatever music 11 year old girls like). I doubt I'll be primarily interested in counting cuss words, but I have a feeling there will be albums that I don't feel she's ready to process yet at 11 that she will be ready to process at 15.

My point is (to use a bad pun) I think you might be throwing out the baby with the bath water. Because most of the examples of "parent oriented" reviews that you've seen have gotten it wrong, or have been focused to an unhealthy extent on keeping kids sheltered, you seem unwilling to consider that there could be a way to do it right. That's a shame in my opinion, because regardless of how much you don't like it, there are always going to be parents (I'm sure I'll be one of them, however "lax" my parenting might look to other parents in this regard) who go looking for guidance to help them make informed decisions when their kid asks if they can buy some new album. And I'd rather find something from someone like you, who can help me think beyond whether or not there's a cuss word in there somewhere, than someone like Baehr.

Edited by popechild

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I don't have kids. I do have 10 nieces and nephews. I thought about this thread all weekend. One of my sisters was in town visiting and asked me to help her put together a summer vacation play list, of age appropriate music for my 8 year old nephew. My sister wanted help sorting out some choices that would be fun, entertaining and not provide a new lexicon of swear words and vices.

Somehow my nephew has become obsessed, with Bon Jovi and Green Day and ABBA. These groups present different problems. Abba is a no brainer, pure pop easy to listen to and not really any worry. He will have a full load of pop hooks and English language songs that might not make sense.

Bon Jovi is kid friendly but not lyrically or sonically challenging. They are very professional and have as their central purpose entertaining the widest cross section of people. Green Day is more challenging sonically, at least in a louder, faster and more angst filled way. How can a review help me to know if either of these is appropriate. The reviewer can tell me it is loud or soft, course, refined. They can't tell me as Andy brings up, whether the world view behind the writing is appropriate for my nephew. What if I believe that certain styles of drumming summon evil spirits. What if I believe that free market economics are satanic?

My nephew also has a fondness for Country. He loves the song Long Black Veil, it is a great song. He knows the Johnny Cash version. I wanted him to have the Don Walser version because yodeling is awesome. The discussion with my sister then became, should he have the Nick Cave version. We decided, no, because Nick Cave is scary. we did have a discussion that we might be encouraging him to become a lying adulterer but we are hoping that the emphasis will be on the yodeling and not the philanderous nature of the lyric.

Green Day uses language that my 8 year old nephew shouldn't repeat. All the adults in his life understand that those words will enter or perhaps already have entered his vocabulary but we would all like to discourage their use.

There are Green Day songs that made the list and some that didn't. We chose some Ramones but not others. The Ramones made for interesting conversation. When their first album came out it was subversive. A pure dose of sonic anarchy. The adults in my life viewed it as dangerous. Blitzkrieg Bop, we decided, would be great sing along fare. 53rd & 3rd and Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue stayed off the list.

Parents, Aunts, Uncles, adults, we all have our own versions of what is appropriate lyrical and musical content. I will be very disappointed if my nieces and nephews don't come to acknowledge the genius that is Bruce Cockburn. I won't start them off with Call It Democracy. They will probably come to terms with Bob Dylan but now most of the kids in my life can't stand his singing.

There are so many variables involved in what is appropriate. Kids are going to listen to what music is in the air around them. Some adults listen to music, some don't. I get my info from a wide variety of sources. The responsibility is ours, as adults. It is easier to find music, film culture if it is something I am engaged in on a regular basis.

I can't imagine tying to make sense or filter what all is available without being somewhat engaged. I read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice. I check the music reviews in my favorite newspapers. There are enough internet radio outlets that it is possible to type in an artists name or song title and listen. Regardless of who the reviewer is, and what format the reviews come in, the only way I know to discern if things are appropriate is to listen and decide.

Edited by mumbleypeg

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Andy,

Thanks for the vote of confidence. It means a lot.

As to "how it is done." In my book, the content advisory is certainly not an essential apparatus. In my experience writing about film, sometimes the content advisory is redundant, since the review already deals with the necessary issues. Other times it is inadequate, since the issues are too complicated to sum up in a sentence or two, and can only be dealt with in the review. Much of the time, though, the content advisory enables me to flag potentially problematic types of content that wouldn't otherwise be mentioned in the review.

However, I suspect the content advisory may be more helpful in film writing than it would be in music writing, where the imagery and tone of the lyrics would tend to be a key factor critically and the key factor morally and spiritually. In music writing, I suspect a content advisory would tend to become a shortcut for readers who don't want to bother reading and absorbing the review. That bugs me.

Regarding Amrit Vani, I was encouraged to see that the critical appeared to be in a decided minority; the critical haves seemed to well outweigh the critical have-nots.

I'm a Christian. I write music reviews. And I would like to think that simply by virtue of those facts parents might, if they tried, be able to pick up on some clues about whether the album/song in question might be appropriate for their kids. Then again, many days I simply despair of that notion.

Very often I think it may be the case. Sometimes it might be that a slightly different focus is more helpful for some readers and less for others. I see it as a continuum, not a black-and-white dichotomy. There is room for different approaches.

In some ways this discussion reminds me of an ill-fated discussion about Christian film criticism in which a lot of people, myself included, made mistakes and wound up in a debilitating board meltdown. One thing I took away from that thread was a clearer appreciation for the extent to which different writers may be properly and legitimately called to different emphases and approaches.

This doesn't mean there are no unhelpful or counterproductive approaches -- there are, and criticizing the bad ones may potentially be a constructive contribution in itself. At the same time, helpful and productive approaches don't all look exactly alike. Thus I shouldn't insist that everyone do the same thing I'm doing, while other people need not denigrate my approach because it's not what they do. Of course, it remains true that there are unhelpful approaches, and if someone feels that another approach is unhelpful, then that's how they feel. But I don't want to be too quick to put someone else in that box of advocating or pursuing an unhelpful approach.

I began doing what I do to try to fill what I perceived as a need as well as to do something I wanted to do. Initially, I had only a rough idea of the need I wanted to fill, the thing I wanted to do, and perhaps at first I didn't fill the need and do the thing as well as I hope I later came to do. The task shapes the practitioner, and vice versa. Also, the reader shapes the writer, and vice versa. I began with the idea that there were people who wanted to read what I had to say, but I also had an idea of what I wanted to say and figured that people would read it if it was what they wanted to read. With time, though, my ideas about what I have to say and about what people want and need to hear have changed, and I suspect that some readers who initially wanted what I had to say at first have come to want what I have to say now.

I still consider providing guidance to parents to be a significant part of what I do, though I think it's become more integrated into a larger endeavor than it was when I started out. For me, though, it's a need I try to keep an eye on and bear in mind as I write, rather than something I trust or expect to take care of itself -- and please don't read any implied critique into that. Like I said, not everyone needs to do the same thing.

I can't imagine tying to make sense or filter what all is available without being somewhat engaged. I read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice. I check the music reviews in my favorite newspapers. There are enough internet radio outlets that it is possible to type in an artists name or song title and listen. Regardless of who the reviewer is and in what ever format the reviews come in the only way I know to discern if things are appropriate is to listen and decide.

Without in any way gainsaying the need of being "somewhat engaged," surely if you read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice you must find them helpful? And surely if you read certain sources rather than others, you must find some approaches more helpful than others?

Edited by SDG

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I think "Plugged In", a publication put out by Focus on the Family is a reliable source if parents want to read about how listening to Radiohead will make their children suicidally depressed. I always find it entertaining.

I applied for the assistant editor position for this publication after I got my BA a few years ago. I didn't make the cut, since I lived out of state. Now I'm endlessly thankful for this

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I still consider providing guidance to parents to be a significant part of what I do, though I think it's become more integrated into a larger endeavor than it was when I started out. For me, though, it's a need I try to keep an eye on and bear in mind as I write, rather than something I trust or expect to take care of itself -- and please don't read any implied critique into that. Like I said, not everyone needs to do the same thing.

Thanks for your comments, Steven. I understand and appreciate your approach, and I'm glad you do what you do. I think there's a variable in the music world that you may not encounter as much in the world of film, and I've realized that that has influenced my comments in this thread.

There are a lot more albums released each week/month/year than films. Some 8,000 or so new albums will be released in 2008. What that means is that I have a lot more latitude to pick and choose what I want to review. If I don't like an album -- for musical reasons, for questionable/distasteful content reasons -- I can usually choose to ignore it. Furthermore, since the publications I write for aren't really focused on the Top 40/American Idol/MTV world, I can bypass hugely influential swaths of the music world simply because I don't like them or have no interest in them. It's the film equivalent of avoiding the multiplexes and only going to the art houses.

As I've thought about this topic, I've realized that I would struggle much more as a Christian if I had to review the most popular music instead of, for lack of a better term, stuff I like. And I've realized that I would have a much harder time not interjecting some sort of moral criticism of songs whose sole purpose seems to be to celebrate hedonism. I don't know if there's a higher percentage of popular albums/songs focused on hedonism than unpopular or relatively unknown albums or songs. It seems to be a fairly universal topic across the board. But there are a lot more of those unpopular or relatively unknown artists, and I can focus on the ones I like, which usually means I can focus on the ones who have some redeeming qualities, or, at the very least, the ones who present the moral issues in a more nuanced way.

If I rethink this discussion in terms of radio, MTV and the like (which are, I must sadly admit, still what the kids are listening to and watching), I'm honestly much more positively predisposed to the idea of trying to provide some form of parental guidance. But I would want that guidance to be very much secondary to the notion of reviewing the music as music. And I think, based on your previous comments, that you would agree with that. My first and foremost responsibility is to comment on the quality of what I hear. Some people whose moral and spiritual beliefs I don't agree with have made great albums. Some people whose moral and spiritual beliefs I do agree with have made lousy albums. There's nothing startling there, I know. But I'm still surprised by the number of Christian reviewers who get that wrong.

I can't imagine tying to make sense or filter what all is available without being somewhat engaged. I read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice. I check the music reviews in my favorite newspapers. There are enough internet radio outlets that it is possible to type in an artists name or song title and listen. Regardless of who the reviewer is and in what ever format the reviews come in the only way I know to discern if things are appropriate is to listen and decide.
Without in any way gainsaying the need of being "somewhat engaged," surely if you read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice you must find them helpful? And surely if you read certain sources rather than others, you must find some approaches more helpful than others?

I'm not mumbleypeg, and I won't presume to speak for him. But my own response to your point, Steven, is that the choices here are musical ones, not moral ones. I'm not sure that Paste, Mojo, or The Village Voice are focused on music that might be more morally uplifting than, say, Rolling Stone or Spin. They just cover different types of music.

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I can't imagine tying to make sense or filter what all is available without being somewhat engaged. I read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice. I check the music reviews in my favorite newspapers. There are enough internet radio outlets that it is possible to type in an artists name or song title and listen. Regardless of who the reviewer is and in what ever format the reviews come in the only way I know to discern if things are appropriate is to listen and decide.

Without in any way gainsaying the need of being "somewhat engaged," surely if you read Paste, Mojo, the Village Voice you must find them helpful? And surely if you read certain sources rather than others, you must find some approaches more helpful than others?

Managing the onslaught of information is hard. When any given piece of information(musical or otherwise), starts appearing on the "radar" of multiple sources, I view it as a good indicator that it is worth noticing.

There are writers or editorial boards that have been consistent in their approach and that I have found helpful. I read Mojo and Paste both, I enjoy them. I read these because they tend to point me towards new and interesting. They are also magazines I subscribe to. Many of the magazines I subscribe to have space dedicated to music.

I understand that I am more engaged in and with popular music than some (less than others). I listen to a lot of music, it is a budget item staple;

coffee

fresh vegetables

music

books

socks

underwear

In general I am not interested in the top 40. If my favorite writers start mentioning some new weird Americana or a turntablist that is doing something of note, the chances are very good I am going to investigate.

A case in point being Son Lux. I have been seeing his name mentioned in print. Then Andy mentions him, I know Andy to be a fan of folkier, and more traditional rock music (he is writing an ode to Springsteen after all) but Andy is pretty enthusiastic about this Son Lux. I went to Hypem and started looking for the music. It was intriguing so I bought it.

I can imagine Plant & Krause being reviewed in lots of venues. For all I know it is next to the register at the coffee shop. I think it is masterful work. They sing great together. Through the Morning Through the Night, is a stunning bit of writing by Gene Clark about coming face to face with murderous impulses. My comments about being somewhat engage is perhaps me hoping that somehow parents are able to engage their kids enough to talk about why Long Black Veil or Through the Morning Through the Night or Hold Steady's Chill Out Tent is worth listening to and admiring. I would also hope that they are engaged enough to skip a track or two when the kids are in the car.

Andy is correct. I am not a person that looks to writers to provide moral insight or warn me away from trouble. I have lived through that. I am looking for insightful comments related to creative content. I accept the responsibility for deciding if the work is something that I want to spend time with. I am also aware that some of it is inappropriate for the kids in my life.

Edited by mumbleypeg

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I'm not mumbleypeg, and I won't presume to speak for him. But my own response to your point, Steven, is that the choices here are musical ones, not moral ones. I'm not sure that Paste, Mojo, or The Village Voice are focused on music that might be more morally uplifting than, say, Rolling Stone or Spin. They just cover different types of music.

And again, I think a key factor in reading those publications, is that I would not expect to read any of them to ascertain information regarding how edifying a specific album is for a family. Each of the above-mentioned publications are for adult consumption, and as such, I would not expect them to be rating moral content. As to Spin, I DEFINITELY wouldn't be looking there for moral content (though I usually enjoy it myself).

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I think "Plugged In", a publication put out by Focus on the Family is a reliable source if parents want to read about how listening to Radiohead will make their children suicidally depressed. I always find it entertaining.

I applied for the assistant editor position for this publication after I got my BA a few years ago. I didn't make the cut, since I lived out of state. Now I'm endlessly thankful for this

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I think "Plugged In", a publication put out by Focus on the Family is a reliable source if parents want to read about how listening to Radiohead will make their children suicidally depressed. I always find it entertaining.

I applied for the assistant editor position for this publication after I got my BA a few years ago. I didn't make the cut, since I lived out of state. Now I'm endlessly thankful for this

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I love it!! "Hey kid's don't say those bad words ..........Let's just give them the finger!!!!"

"To the 5 Boroughs deserves the Bronx cheer."

James Dobson and focus on the family were required curriculum at my High School. It is some how awe inspiring that they have remained firmly consistent and delightfully contradictory for more than 30 years.

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