Friday, November 9, 2007


I know it's been awhile since anythings been posted, but I know I've had a lot of work as of late, and I think something big has been going on at Michaels campus. Hopefully he can fill us in eventually. I'll be posting some mp3s of my shows eventually. In the meantime, enjoy this article I wrote for Eleven, the music magazine here on campus at WashU. The magazine itself isn't that great, not that my article is, but it really seems like a way for the founder to stroke his own ego. But hopefully it will get better, I can see it happening. So heres the article:

Something frightening is happening to music today - the album is dying. Yes, the album, the novel of music, just isn’t what it used to be. You used to have people sitting down and listening to things like “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Now all people listen to is “Crank That” or “Gimme More” or whatever the latest single is. Now some people may think of “Crank That” as great music, but listening to it instead of a good album is like reading a single chapter of a novel instead of the whole thing. Most artists still release albums, but these “albums” are best described by John Darnielle in his cover of “The Sign”: “They wrote a song, and then they wrote nine other songs to surround that one song.” And not many people listen, and I mean like sit down and make an effort to listen, to the decent albums that are out there.

So what’s caused the decline of the general population listening to albums? This is something that has a lot to do with the format that music is delivered now. With vinyl, if you wanted to skip songs, you had to get up, lift the needle, find the track you wanted (maybe even flipping the record), and then cueing the record at the start of the song. That’s a lot more work then just simply listening to a 3-4 minute song. The vinyl format as a whole is more conducive to actively listening to music. On vinyl an album is more then just the music, it’s an experience. You have this cover, 4 times the size of a CD jewel case, with art on it. There can be inserts and colored or even etched vinyl. It’s a more manageable time commitment; Vinyl only holds up to about an hour, with each side only being about 20-30 minutes. Albums were shorter, because they had to be. With vinyl you have to pay attention when you listen, if you don’t you end up having the needle stuck in the center groove of the record.

CDs are a completely different story. A CD (mind you not a DVD-CD or dual-sided CD) can hold 80 minutes of music. That’s a whole 33% more. And a lot of times artists feel compelled to fill as much as they can. This usually means songs that wouldn’t have found a spot on a vinyl album easily make their way onto a CD album. This usually translates to an overall not-so-good quality song quality, and who wants that? Not really that many people, and that’s where a few “album killers” come into play. The first is the skip button. Don’t feel like listen to a song, or get sick of it half way through? Press the skip button and poof; you’re at the next track. But even here, a CD only holds so many songs, and who wants to switch CDs every other song? So people will listen to more, if not all of an album.

It’s things like the iPod and iTunes music store, which have truly done albums in. Now before I continue, this is not to say that these aren’t great wonderful amazing tools, they just changed the way people listen to music. With an ipod, you can have hundreds of albums, thousands of songs, all at you fingertips and ready to be played. So the laziness factor is gone. You can skip around to different songs, albums, artists, and genres, all you want. You can even put that extensive library of music on shuffle. I can’t stand shuffle; it’s just a bunch of (almost) random songs from your library. It has no idea how to find songs that go together; it’s missing a human quality to it. Still, a lot of people just though on shuffle and don’t even care about albums. Even Panda Bear of Animal Collective uses shuffle (that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing). There’s even an ipod that all it does is shuffle. What the "bleep" is up with that? But the biggest nail in the coffin for the album has to be the ITunes store. With the iTunes store, you don’t even have to buy a full album to get the song you want anymore. You can buy only the single, and never even think of the rest of the album ever again. And unless the album that you want to buy has eleven or more songs, you don’t even get a discount for buying the album.

So some one might be thinking, but I don’t really like all of the songs on any single album. This could be for two reasons, one the albums you listen to suck, and two you haven’t spent enough time listening to the albums. A good album has its highs and its lows. You’re not going to have an album with each track being as amazing as all of the others. But you will find albums with songs amazing compared to other albums. And sure you may not like one song on an album as much as the rest, but you wouldn’t skip a chapter in a book, so you shouldn’t skip a song on an album. The whole point of the album is that it’s the way the artist wanted you to hear it. So you should keep it that way.

If you’ve made it this far, you probably will fit one of these categories: You already listen to albums and want to see if you agree with me, you don’t listen to albums but now you kind of start, or you don’t listen to albums, don’t want to, and you only read this far to see how pretentious I am about music. No matter why you’re still reading I’ve decided to help out. I’ve made a list of some good full albums to start you off with. Some amazingly good albums: Neutral Milk Hotel “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”, My Bloody Valentine “Loveless”, Manu Chao “Proxima Estacion: Esperanza”, Radiohead “OK Computer”, Neil Young “On The Beach, The Mountain Goats “All Hail West Texas” and “Tallahassee”, The Long Winters “Putting The Days to Bed”, The Hold Steady “Boys And Girls In America”, and Jeff Buckley “Grace”.

The moral of the story here is that you should dedicate more then just three or so minutes to an album, artist, and music in general. Music is meant to be an experience. So make it one, find an album and listen to it with friends, it’s what’s known as a listening party. If you’re really adventurous try to get a copy of The Flaming Lips “Zaireeka” going. No matter what, just sit down and get immersed in an album; it’s truly a beautiful thing to experience. Oh and try to actually pay for the album.


Michael W said...

very nice job. i have to agree with you. i would throw into that list of complete albums:
Band of Horses: Everything All of the Time
Feist: The Reminder
Radiohead: In Rainbows
The Arcade Fire: Funeral
Okkervil River: The Stage Names

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Things have a way of turning, but I don't think that, outside a committed core, the album will make a comeback.

It's worth noting, too, that the album was a new development in pop music in the '60's. Early rock-n-roll revolved around the single. And there is a lot of stuff in the first wave of punk/new wave by artists who never made it beyond singles and EPs.

Femme Fatale said...

I like how you call the album "the novel of music." I concur!! Sadly, like novels themselves, it seems the album is a dying art. That said, I still think many musicians aren't going to give up on it, those who are truly passionate anyway...

michael w... I agree with many of your choices, although my only major criticism of In Rainbows is that it still seems to me like a collection of songs rather than one definitive statement (like, say, Kid A).