As some of you may or may not know, last year I put forth a little project for myself; listen to a different album everyday for 365 days. A project that, while on the surface, might’ve seemed like a marginal challenge (those who know me, know I listen to at least 5 times that per day), was actually no different than taking on meditation, working out or tackling a regimented diet. It was an endeavor that — as with those others — required both an unwavering commitment and a certain amount of time in order to glean from it the desired results.
I wanted to try listening to albums again — not as I had for the last several years, as background music while I did other things or on my iPod while I was in transit somewhere, but as I had when I was younger; where I’d sit down, break out the art and lyrics and completely submerge myself in the experience.
Listening the other way is fine; I’m one of those people whose home — aside for a few specific moments — is always filled with music. But ultimately, that type of listening is like only reading the pages of a novel that pertain to the plot. You’ll get the gist of what’s going on, but you’ll lose the nuance and color that bring it to life.
What I discovered during the course of this project were two things: one, my affection for the L.P., as a compiled and time specific piece of art, is as strong as ever. When I revisited some old favorites I found — along with the nostalgic feelings they invoked — they had vital new stories to tell. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and The Clash’s Sandinista are just a few that come to mind.
But the project’s real joy came from the discovery of new material. In a time where the “age of the album” seems to be coming to an end (one of the unfortunate byproducts of the digital music revolution), I’ve listened to some of the best L.P.s of my life. It’s encouraging to see many artists (both new and established) — despite industry trends — still taking the time to conceptualize, craft and present ideas though a collection of songs.
Which brings me to the second thing I discovered while doing this project; an album a day, while rich from a sheer numbers perspective, made anything beyond a single listen rather difficult. My commitment to any one album while it was playing was unwavering, but I believe to truly absorb it’s potential you need to spend at least a week with it. Once the lyrics are memorized, and you’re singing along with it at the top of your lungs, something happens and everything seems to fall into place.
In the end, this experiment was an uber cool one. And while I won’t be doing it again this year — at least not formally anyway — I’ll continue with something in line with what I just said above — a spotlight album of the week. Whether my consumption of music this year will slow down will have to be seen, but whether it does or it doesn’t, rest assured that in the wake of the music flowing fast and furious from my iTunes, I’ll continue to write about what’s grabbing my attention and what I think you should check out.
So until next time, happy listening. And for those of you who played along with a similar project or checked out anything I mentioned here, good on ya, I hope you dug it as much as I did.
Clem Snide: Hungry Bird While the turn to darker soundscapes and themes on Hungry Bird might be surprising to fans of Clem Snide’s previous albums, the direction is actually quite fitting given where singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay’s fine 2008 solo record, Lose Big, left off. Less a sequel and more of a companion piece (the two albums share the brooding “Me No”), Hungry Bird feels like the completion of an idea (especially when punctuated with the lovely “With All My Heart”). Not a perfect album by any stretch, but the tracks “Born A Man” and “Hum” or some of the finest Barzelay has written.
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion A friend of mine said upon hearing this record, “this is the first Beach Boys’ album I’ve ever liked”. And I understand where he’s coming from. It’s impossible to listen to Merriweather Post Pavilion and not hear the best ideas and elements of that seminal group. But it also must be said, this sounds nothing like a Beach Boys’ record. Animal Collective has indeed decided to explore a more pop aesthetic on Merriweather, focusing on Panda Bear’s melodic vocal harmonies and sensibilities, while foregoing instinctual forays into discordance and horror. But the term “pop” as it applies to Animal Collective is a relative one. Densely layered and transcendent, this is nothing short of a masterwork and likely to be remembered for years. Will there be a better record in 2009? Perhaps. But it’s hard to imagine what.
Special bonus alert; Bon Iver’s new EP Blood Bank is also available for $0.99. Worth picking up at any price.