The Album Experience

I’ve previously expressed my love for albums, but I’ll reiterate that, whether or not an album was precisely constructed with a strong sense of cohesion in mind, I find a lot of value in the full album format.  I say this especially in the age of digital music where you can easily cherry-pick the songs that you want to listen to and ignore “duds” forever.  That mentality isn’t based on some neo-luddite bemoaning of all the ways technology expands our lives, but rather the fact that it’s often brought me to write songs off far too quickly.

Inherently, in an era where music is abundant and access to it is essentially unlimited—particularly if you use a streaming service like Spotify—it’s nigh impossible not to do that.  How else do you balance the thousands of songs you might own, in a variety of genres and artistic styles?  And if you’re faced with an overwhelming volume of music, it makes the most sense to filter out the songs you don’t like as much; it’s why music-management programs have ratings systems.

When I’m listening to music on shuffle, that’s exactly how I feel; you’ll typically find me listening to my regularly managed playlist of songs I’m currently into, a playlist of hand-picked songs specifically catered to a mood, or my highest-rated songs.   Once upon a time, back when I first developed a digital music library, I would listen to all of my approximately 500 songs on shuffle, but now that my song count is verging on 13,000, it just isn’t manageable to do that.  If I’m going to be sifting through a large selection of music to find what I’m currently in the mood for, I’m not also going to want to be skipping past mediocre songs or transition tracks that don’t quite work without the context of an album.

The difference comes in for me when I’m listening to an album by itself.  On first or second listen, it doesn’t make much of a difference, but if an album at large is good enough that I want to listen to it in full, eventually that changes.  Just two weeks ago, I wrote about how revisiting Delain’s April Rain caused me to see “Virtue And Vice” in a different light, but the examples go far beyond that.  Halsey’s “Don’t Play” was my least favorite track from her newest album the first time I heard it, but over the past two months of listening to hopeless fountain kingdom, I’ve fallen in love with it.  Furthermore, with tracks like “Walls Could Talk” and “Alone,” even if my subjective opinion is about the same, the familiarity I now have with them has expanded my enjoyment.

Perhaps I’m making an obvious statement; whether or not somebody likes a song enough to listen to it on their own time, if it’s popular enough, most people can appreciate it to some degree because of its omnipresence in media.  But my point isn’t just that listening to music a lot makes you like it more; it’s that listening to music specifically within the scope of a single album can foster that in an extremely enjoyable way.

It’s why, of late, I’ve tried more and more to make sure that I go back to full albums in themselves, to listen to them multiple times straight through or on shuffle, even if not as actively as I do the first time through.  It’s one reason that I love reviewing albums for this blog; I can’t give the album one listen, pick out my favorites, and only listen to those if I want to write a proper, all-encompassing review, and in the process, I always find myself with a greater appreciation for albums than I did before I reviewed them.

Naturally, there’s a balance to be managed between listening to songs that you simply don’t enjoy and giving a second chance to music that just has to grow on you, but the way I look at it, you have nothing to lose by loving more music.  Even if, at the end of the day, I’ll still do most of my listening through shuffled playlists, there’s a special quality to the album format that will always keep me coming back to that, and if it’s something you’ve left behind of late, I’d highly recommend giving it another shot and seeing how it affects your music experiences.

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