I come not to praise the album, but to bury it

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Ok, not really. The album has been and probably will be a viable and vibrant means of artful expression for the foreseeable future. But like the vinyl medium, I think it’s halcyon days are over. All because of this little bastard:

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Damn you!

An album is, at least, a loose collection of related songs. Typically the recordings contained within are from one band or artist, from a similar time period, and contain sonic cues to relate the songs to one another. In short, they sound like they belong together. But now if you were to open up your music player of choice, I’d put even money on you having some kind of playlist or aggregate view that contains works from multiple artists, times, genres, and so forth. And you probably (gasp!) mix these together to organize them into ad hoc compilations that suit some purpose or setting.

As a music consumer, being able to make playlists is an endlessly fun and fruitful way to explore connections between my life and music. I find new ways to connect and relate to artists and music when I have free reign to build playlists. Was Friendly Rich‘s “Mr. Skin’s Hymn” meant to be put in conversation with Scott Walker’s “30th Century Man?” I don’t know, but now that I’ve put them on a playlist together, I quite enjoy it.

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Please don’t confuse the Scott Walker’s “30th Century Man” with this Scott Walker, a 17th century man

I’m sure you have your own similar experiences with making playlists. Even the simple act of putting music of a similar tempo together for the purpose of a workout playlist is destructive to the concept of the album. So why, then, this disconnect between the way people listen to music and the way music is released?

Putting on my musician hat, something I’ve grappled with a long time is “should I record an album?” Aside from my legions of adoring fans demanding such a release, why should I? My music listening habits inform my music creation habits. I don’t have the material for an album per se because my collection of recordings is more like a playlist. There is some kind of implicit thread through them all but an album implies a genre, a mood, a production sense… something. And I don’t have it.

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Pictured: the wild throngs of fans

I don’t think it’s a matter of discipline, either. This is a pointed effort: I want each song to exist in what I think is its best and truest form. I want to celebrate diverse inspirations. I want my music to reflect the way I listen to music. That means sacrificing the obvious sonic cues that these recordings belong together. And I know I’m not alone. In fact, composers have been playing with this idea for a long time. The likes Stockhausen and Cage challenged us to question what sounds belong together in music. Moving up a level, what songs belong together on an album?

There’s something coming over the horizon – a new way to think about a collection of recordings that belong together – and it isn’t an album as we know it. It’ll be some new way to approach the underlying logic of how and why songs belong together, and what it means for them to exist in one release. I’m excited to find out what it is.

Peter Gabriel knows what’s up

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I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but Peter Gabriel’s music is on Spotify US now. I was pleasantly surprised to find this because he’d been making noise for recently about specifically not using Spotify. And I suppose I understand the arguments, but I disagree with him and David Byrne, as much as that hurts to type. Though I guess Spotify is a topic for another day, or even another blog. Just don’t believe that viral infographic from a few years back. Turns out it’s total crap and you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

Anyway.

I was so happy to see Peter Gabriel’s music on Spotify that I promptly pulled up my favorite album of his – Peter Gabriel 3: Melt. Brilliant album in a lot of ways, with lots of quirks. Definitely well received. The most notable one, at least in audio production circles, is that there are absolutely no cymbals, rides, or high-hats of any type on the album. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t register as wrong if you don’t know it’s missing, but it leaves you feeling odd.

So the above song in particular really struck me in a new way. It’s part of what I love about music: a song I know in and out gives me a new experience because I’m different now. I knew the lyrics before, but now they mean something new. “And Through The Wire” is now a song about media psychology to me. It’s about communicating through media, and how that alters the impact and processing of the messages. Give the lyrics a read while listening and I think you’ll see what I’m going on about. We do, in fact, get so strange across the border of media.

Am I reading into it a bit? Sure.