Friday, 13 March 2009

Because of the Times

Although the album still means pretty much everything to me and the way I listen to music, it's undeniably something that's fading from the new modes of consumption. With a la carte downloads and the increasing importance of that killer track on a blog or MySpace page, listeners are tending to give new bands only the briefest of opportunities to impress before moving on to the next mp3. With the liberation of supply that resulted from Napster and ever-increasing bandwidth capabilities accessible by home users, the power of the individual song has returned.

In essence, this isn't entirely a new phenomenon. The single has been the marketing tool of choice for record companies to prep their artists fans for a new release over the last few decades. Radio was perhaps the blogosphere of the past, with music fans scouring the airwaves for a tune that caught their ear. The big difference now is the sheer volume of listeners that this individual track can persuade, with the entire net surfing world a potential new fan.

I intend at some point to really have a good look at how the album can expect to fare as a format for new music releases in the digital realm. As with much in recent music history, it is technology that defined the album format - its length, art and audio quality - and with such a massive shift resulting from digital, it's only logical that this will again be the case. The question is whether the album will survive, adapt to some hybrid form, or simply become a thing of the past. But, as I said, that's for another time and this is only really a preamble to the main post...........unexpected for this frequently sharp, succinct blog, I know.

So what I really wanted to do was start a theme whereby I adapt to the times and write about an attention grabbing, individual track in more detail, yet retain something of the bitter old cynic and not accept the album as a bygone. What came to mind was
'Century Eyes' by Shearwater.

This is a track that sits amongst a thoroughly enjoyable collection of plaintive, quietly emotional songs that reveal themselves slowly but surely with every listen. It resides in the middle of a generally slow burning album but is in itself a completely immediate, take charge track. Immediately before and after it, 'Lost Boys' and 'I Was a Cloud' weave gently in and out with a tender introduction, distant vocals, and delicate instrumentation. 'Century Eyes' simply allows a few seconds of fuzz and rhythm warm up, then powers in with defiant, accusing singing, a confident riff, and a powerful march of drums. It hangs around for a mere 2:18 but leaves a lasting impression, powerfully accentuating the gentle, understated approach of the rest of album 'Rook'. Without this song, I do wonder if it would have taken me many more listens to fully appreciate how intricate the album as a whole is.

My hope, then, is that this isn't an isolated occassion but something that I can highlight on more albums in various guises. None come to mind immediately, but my mind operating as it does then I'm sure some will occur to me at the most inopportune moment........on the loo, entering the subway, food shopping, essentially any time that I can't make a proper note of it. In the meantime, suggestions are welcome. It's heartening to think that the 'single' (such as it is) can interact with the whole collection of songs in a meaningful way that accentuates both. Hopefully there are many more examples of this to come.

Shearwater Official

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MP3: Shearwater - Century Eyes

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