I have just finished a week or two of immersion mode. This refers to the time when I need to focus my listening on a batch of four or five CDs in order to write reviews.
My first experience of immersion mode came around 1989. This was when, after a bit of pushing on my part, one of the editors of my high school newspaper called me on a Sunday and asked me to have two reviews done by Tuesday. I bought a couple of tapes and spent much of the next day and a half listening to them. The paper only printed one of the reviews and left out my name, but other than that it was a good start.
Another memorable review experience from that era came a couple years later. One of my teachers mentioned that he had decided to buy Achtung Baby because I gave it five stars. Actually, another editor decided to run a five-star rating with my review because he liked the CD a lot. I would have given it around three and a half stars. But I didnt tell the teacher this.
I reacquainted myself with reviewing and immersion mode around the early 00s when I started writing for this website. In some lucky cases, the job gets me a disc for free that I would have bought, or introduces me to something great that I might not have found. For instance, Umphrey McGees One Fat Sucka from 2001 is still in my box of discs that I like just enough to keep (or that are too obscure to sell), while their Anchor Drops from 2004 made it to my primary shelves along with stuff Ive bought.
I have thought about the job a bit more since then. My bandmate Ethan and I have discussed the John Coltrane rule, which is that its not right to comment on something you havent heard at least five times. I try to achieve this, although logistics get in the way sometimes. I believe Coltrane also mentioned that it was worth concentrating solely on the bass line in one of those listens. That is an exercise I havent tried yet.
Now and then the job makes me feel uneasy. For instance, once I read an interview with a musician who was obviously responding to criticisms I had made in a fair-to-middling review of his disc in another publication. Having been in bands with a few CDs myself, I know the frustration of seeing music fall into the hands of someone who doesnt get it. And I would like to run a disclaimer with each review that no one should base their decision to buy a disc or not solely on what I had to say about it.
It can also be a chore. This is especially true when someone fills up a CD with 70+ minutes of dreary music. (Such as, err, a certain bearded freak-folker I got an assignment to review last year.)
Still, I am amused to think of one time a couple years ago when I wondered if it was worth continuing. One CD in that batch was the type that succeeded just well enough and had goals that were just modest enough that it was hard to come up with a lot to say about it. But another, Feathers, ended up being one of those obscure, uncommercial, unique experiences that I was glad to share. So I continue trying to wrap my head around new sets of music a dozen times a year or so.
Now I am done with immersion mode. So, for a few weeks, I will go back to listening to the music I choose, until the cycle starts up again.