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June 30th, 2000

Death of the Album

Quick: name a major label album from the past five years that you listened to all the way through and interpreted as a whole.

Unless you’re a musichead, it’s kind of tough, isn’t it? We’re living in a world of singles – 3 minute cuts – and albums might be paying a larger sacrifice. It seems to coincide with the return of the pop phenomenon (I somehow doubt Oops I Did It Again stands as a whole like, say, The Wall does), and the advent of MP3s. Unless you’re on a fast connection, chances are good that you’re just downloading a bunch of singles and not the whole album. And let’s not leave out MTV: a video has to be fast and doesn’t even have to pick up on the single’s lyrics.

The idea of the album as a whole seems to be going away, and that’s a sad thing. I can remember the first time lots of albums made sense to me as one cohesive piece, and it’s a great experience. Breaking off songs from the album afterwards seems kind of strange. While it seems that artists concentrate on songs, things such as album flow and song placement are very very important. Establishing a mood or theme is also important, and while a single can give you a sampling of that concept, it can’t entirely convey it.

We live in a singles world, folks. -pm

Posted in Television, Movies, and Music

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Friday June 30, 2000 -- 1:59:35PM
I bet Terry will have something to say about this one. ;)

FROM: Robert
DATE: Friday June 30, 2000 -- 3:19:58PM
True fans will remain loyal to music's true forms. The rest will get the shit that they deserve.

Here's a question for my fellow DC area residents: Why in the hell is WHFS playing the new Eminem single? Is this another "cash-in" scheme or do they really consider it "alternative"?

FROM: dave
DATE: Friday June 30, 2000 -- 5:50:01PM
I swear, WHFS is not nearly as good as I remember it. It seems to have the same playlist as nearly every other "modern rock" station I know.

Incidentally, for a good example of a "whole album," try Trip by Cause and's not my usual taste but I always come back to it every few weeks.

FROM: Tony
DATE: Saturday July 1, 2000 -- 8:20:09AM
I listened to The Crystal Method album all the way through , and interpeted it as a whole, It has permanet spot in my changer. I listened to Hootie and The Blowfish, album all the way through , and intereped it as a whole, It has permanet place in the circular file.
Thought Id like to mention that

FROM: Old Fezziwig
DATE: Sunday July 2, 2000 -- 12:56:41AM
That Hootie & the Blowfish album is one that I actually will listen to front to back...
-Old Fezz

FROM: Matt
DATE: Sunday July 2, 2000 -- 3:33:30PM
I have a rule when listening to music! You must listen to an entire album all the way through without interruptions. This rule usually holds true with all the Vinyl that I own. I own lots of 12"s but the lp is for the true listening experience

FROM: Milo
DATE: Monday July 3, 2000 -- 8:02:39PM
I usually listen to the first thirty sec. of each track when I buy a new CD.
If the music shows some promise I'll listen to the entire track. Then I'll go back and listen to the entire CD.
Unfortunately, most CD's only have one or two interesting tracks. BT, an artist from Maryland, has consistently proven to be both entertaining and interesting throughout his CD's. I highly recommend listening to his CD "ESCM" I find myself listening to it often and have never tired of it.
Artists like him, who have a commitment to quality and not quantity, deserve our loyalty and support.

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Tuesday July 4, 2000 -- 11:23:06PM
I've bought about 800 CD's in the past five years, almost all of which are extremely good, and most of which are absolutely rivetting. Buying albums based on songs from radio play makes up a small (less than 5%) of my purchasing decisions. Virtually without exception I listen to a CD all the way through, and always judge the music by the album, not the songs. I think that albums are of ever-increasing quality. 1999 was the best year for music yet, and I fully expect 2000 to beat it out by year's end. Of my top 12 albums of ALL TIME, a whopping 11 of them are from 1996 or later. A list of awesome _albums_ from the past five years, would read as my CD collection, with the few duff ones, as well as older ones, pulled out.

I do not even think that the concept album is dead. Recently, there's been Melancholy & the Infinite Sadness, OK Computer, A book of Human Language, and I'm sure zillions of others that I'm not aware of. Even top 40 artists who have albums chocked full of hits are conscious of the album, and have introductions, conclusions, and various interludes throughout.

I think the album today is absolutely thriving. However, I do believe that with introduction of online delivery, that albums are at serious risk of dying. Even some of the systems which people propose are song-based (e.g. a micropayment system on a per-song basis). Coupled with the extremely slow download time for long pieces (and broadband won't be universal for at LEAST five more years), there is a serious risk of online delivery killing music. This, coupled with the lack of a quality filtration system, make me very wary about the possibilities of online delivery. One of my conscious life goals, which I made a long time ago, is to never get old about music, never long for past music, and never complain about music which kids listen to. So far, at age 24, I'm fully on track, but if there's one thing which will throw me off, it's online delivery. As online delivery becomes the norm (and legal!) I will attempt to embrace it, and follow my favorite artists and genres, and the new things which emerge on the media, but I'm not yet completely optimistic...

FROM: Aaron
DATE: Wednesday July 5, 2000 -- 5:40:23PM

Here are a few off the top of my head.

"A Book of Human Language" -- Aceyalone

Along with Ryan, this is one of my all-time favorites. I couldn't imagine listening to it any other way than completely.

"The Dreamer" -- Shortee

Hmm, it seems like a lot of DJ albums are "concept" albums. The theme of dreaming is woven throughout, using excerpts and samples from scientific sleep/dream labs and a performance of Grimm's fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" .

"Man or Myth" -- DJ Faust

This one is hard to listen to track-by-track -- it is all a single track.

"Nia" -- Blackalicious

I really like the arrangement of the songs. They not only mix up the moods, but also the subject matter.

Everything from The Roots

Just about everything by these guys is great. It sounds like they make albums, not just collections of singles.

"Black on Both Sides" -- Mos Def

Another great album that covers many musical styles, from straight-up NY hip-hop to soul, to punk, to r&b. The arrangement of the songs is excellent.

"Handsome Boy Modeling School -So...How's Your Girl"

Another "concept" album, albeit a hilariously odd one.

"Live at the Future Primitive Sound Session"

It would be ridiculous to listen to this any other way.

I distinguish between albums that are intentionally "concept" albums (like "The Wall") and albums that are just great to listen to as a whole. I doubt we'll see as many concept albums like we had in the 70s when 33 1/3 LP format players became widespread. But, it seems there are "concept" albums out there.

Otherwise, I prefer to listen to albums from start to finish. Some compilations I have are better from start to finish rather than a la carte. One of my flatmates was commenting on the great arrangement of tracks on a drum n bass complation I have titled "Lost in Space".

FROM: Matt
DATE: Wednesday July 5, 2000 -- 10:02:03PM
Aaron I too have been listening to "A Book of Human Language" alot lately and it has instantly become one of my favorite albums. I should have bought it when it came out, but I guess all good things come to those who wait.

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 12:35:54AM
I bought Book of Human Language a couple of weeks after it was released, and it's one of my 2-3 most disappointing hip hop CD's of 1998 (I only buy 20 hip hop CD's per year so that's not too bad actually). It sounds complteley pretentious to me.

Here's some favorite albums of the last two years:

Julie Miller - Broken Things

Damnations TX - Half Mad Moon

John Prine - In Spite of Ourselves

Slipknot - s/t

Carrie Newcomer - My True Name

Natalie MacMaster - In My Hands

Mos Def & Talib Kwali - Blackstar

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Pierre Boulez - Mahler #6

Juno Reactor - Bible of Dreams

Kate Campbell - Visions of Plenty

Sleater Kinney - The Hot Rock

Alison Krauss - So Long So Wrong

Blue Highway - Midnight Storm

Riccardo Chailly - Mahler #5

Chris Hillman - Like a Hurrican

Linda Dunn - s/t




FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 4:23:09PM
Terry -- Are you listening to that UNLV album? ;)

FROM: Matt
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 8:46:28PM
Haha Terry like UNLV. Hey You want me to burn you a copy of H-Towns "knockin Boots" while I'm at it?

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 10:10:13PM
Huh? What's UNLV?

FROM: Robert
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 10:17:59PM
The legendary black metal band Mayhem's new album "Grand Declaration of War" really does some interesting stuff to further this concept of an album:

-The last track is played backwards in the space before track 1, which kinda works like bookends
-A "theme" riff that appears in almost every song
-Non-traditional song structures (none of that verse/chorus/verse shit) and some narration in place of the usual screamed black metal vocals
-The middle track is blank, almost as if to seperate the album into two sides like an LP
-General complexity: the lyrics seem to declare war on religion (standard for the genre) but the whole of the album does more to declare on genre-mates who are all about flash over music

I have been quite impressed, especially once I realized that it WASN'T just an inconsistent mess.

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Thursday July 6, 2000 -- 10:48:50PM
Other interesting concept albums ...

Billy Jenkins Actual Reality consisting of two cassette tapes of jazz to be played simultaneously, creating a new piece of music every time it is played.

Marillion's Brave whose side B was double tracked to give the album two different endings depending on where the needle landed in the LP.

Dr. Nerve's Beta 14 OK, a CD which consists of lots of very short tracks, for the user to program (or play randomly) to form a new composition.

And lots of others ...

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 2:31:39 pm

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