Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Pick 'n' Mix

Today being my day of birth and hence a day off, I've spent much of it schizophrenically hopping from tune to tune to soundtrack odd jobs around the flat. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that it got me thinking about the effects of the digital 'revolution' and the knock ons to our listening habits.

The big scoop, of course, is that we're all listening to single tracks now. Everyone can consume the artist in Chinese buffet style portions, meaning we can try a little bit of lots rather than, errr, a lot bit of little. Which is an ineloquent way of saying that the hit is king. Make a show stopping single and you're on your way baby, people will lap it up as they don't have to pay through the nose for the the lesser songs. Is this a good thing?

On the one hand, we might find that bands can get away with less 'fillers', which is inarguably positive. Sure, you could buy a single previously and not pick up the album, but what if there are two or three hits on that release? The few singles mount up to just shy of album price, hence the fan will pay a couple more quid to get the whole shebang......then find the true reason that the other three were singles. Cynical but certainly not uncommon, especially in the world of throwaway pop bands. Now that the listener can preview and select only the tracks that they think are worthwhile, perhaps the emphasis will be for bands to create to a consistently higher standard, eventually creating enough for a full quality album that flows well throughout. It could mean that we see more mini-albums and EP's, smaller projects that showcase the best work of a band and cut out the fat.

That would be interesting and not entirely a downside for me as a listener, but the negative as I see it is a trend towards only singles. The lost art of making an album. As much as the traditional requirement for 10 -15 songs may push artists towards filler territory, it's also the form that allows bands like Neurosis, Tool, Mastodon, Deftones, The Mars Volta - to name
too infinitesimally small a number - to create masterpieces over 50 - 60 minutes. Can anyone fathom how Ænima could be distilled into only 10 minutes? How would they cram spoken word German detailing a recipe for deviled eggs down into a hit single?? Fair cop, bad example. Point is, album length is required for some bands to be at their creative peak. It would be dispiriting to see artists increasingly pushed towards making that instant track at the expense of musical adventure.

Perversely, I've found that getting all my tunes into one program has made me more likely to listen all the way through an album. The play count visualises the balance of how one listens to the album, which made me realise that I was listening to a lot of bands in a front loaded fashion. In some case this is perfectly justifiable, as the second half is shite due to aforementioned filler. Often, though, I was simply demonstrating the Gen-X led tendency of ADD listening, thereby missing out on some killer album endings. So I'm currently tending to choose the shuffle option if I'm feeling indecisive, but enjoying a full album more often when I have the time and attention to do so. The latter I find is the more audiophile, engrossing way to take in music, where the real passion and love for a band is formed. This is also the reason I hope the album as a work of art and musical expression continues to thrive.

This does come full circle by reminding myself that I went entirely against the above today and flitted from album to album like a musical magpie, attracted to the next shiny tune that flashed into my peripherals. To ensure this ends with some musical end product, I'll get some of the tunes that I covered together and post them up shortly. Jumping from Meshuggah to Midlake is surely not a sensible option, though.....?

Meshuggah - Combustion
Jr. Juggernaut - Believe In Something
Motion City Soundtrack - When You're Around
Yeasayer - 2080 (Live on Jools Holland Later...)
Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene (stream)
Midlake - Head Home
Jane's Addiction - tbc
Nickel Creek - tbc
Handsome - tbc

Now playing: Grails - Soft Temple
via FoxyTunes

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