As a professional listener, I try to maintain a strong awareness about what I bring to the process. Maintaining clarity is much more difficult when that birthday feeling is involved. Releases like Channel ORANGE or Swing Lo Magellan — there’s just no way that I can hear them in isolation. Instead of fooling myself, I try to keep a few questions in mind, designed to expose myself to my own prejudices. Call it an expectations checklist. I offer it below, illustrated with examples from this month’s fine music. Maybe you’ll find it useful, too, the next time that birthday feeling comes along.

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