Wednesday, 30 March 2011

April Albums: An Introduction

Anyone who has been reading our various musings on this here blog over the last 15 months or so (and there have been some of you. It's not just us making up the pageviews. Honest) you'll have noticed that an area that fascinates me is the way we listen to and ingest music (or 'consume' to use the vulgar terminology so popular amongst the marketing-obsessed industry these days). You'll already know that if you've seen some of my earlier pieces which have explored tangible music formats – one about how I'd be sad if physical formats disappeared altogether, another on the sociological side to physical record collections (excitement of opening it for the first time, ogling other people's collections etc).

Naturally this extends to the format of the album as a whole. For so, so long it's been given the last rites by pretty much everyone involved within the industry. The downloading culture seems to have wiped out the concept of the album as a body of work to the more casual music listener. Consider how much thought has gone into choosing which songs are going onto an album and in which order, so as to present a coherent body of work documenting that artist's influences or experiences at that time. Now try and tell me that cherrypicking tracks from it to put on your hard-drive or MP3 player in no way devalues, disturbs or compromises the processes listed above. Exactly.

Now, let me try qualify a couple of things here. Firstly, I'm not saying we should all sit through unlistenable shit that crops in albums for the sake of preserving tracklistings every time. All I'm saying is that it's all too easy to reduce an album into a personal greatest hits compilation. In doing so it also becomes so easy to distance yourself from the original body of work as a whole to the point that you never give an album a proper chance. It's all about some misplaced notion that immediacy is key.

I don't say any of this as an outsider looking in. I'm guilty of this myself. My first ever post on here described how, when I once again invested in a device for playing physical formats, I sat down for two days and listened to records to rediscover my love for the album. Sadly, I appear to have regressed. Somewhere over the 15 months since writing it my life has once again gone onto shuffle. Aside from a week working night shifts where I wanted to explore how some of my favourite albums sounded at night the random function has been king. Time for another dose of remedial action.

A weekend drink (or several......) with the Pull Yourself Together produced the jocular remark that with so many albums coming to my house this week (courtesy of a small but welcome profit share from work) I could conceivably listen to an album a day throughout April and still have some left over. A quick bite to eat at PYT HQ saw Hefner's We Love The City providing the soundtrack, and at that moment I couldn't remember the last time I'd sat down and listened to an album all the way through. Two days later, while writing up a feature on Darren Hayman and his January Songs (where he wrote and recorded a song a day) I finally had my inspiration.

So yes, this is indeed inspired in equal parts by the people behind a fanzine named after a Hefner song, a Hefner album, and another dose of Hayman for good measure. Bordering on Darren overload if you ask me. Where he had January Songs, I'm doing April Albums.

The original idea of listening to one a day seemed frankly laughable. My aim is to now listen to at least 100 for the month. Sounds easy doesn't it? Pick 100 albums, press play, 3-4 a day and you're done. Except which 100 do you choose? There are so many ways of doing this I've already started to have choice paralysis. The arrival of most of my new albums (and possibly all by the end of the week) hasn't helped. It's thrown a whole new dimension into the mix of 'how many albums out of the 100 do I put on for the first time?'. One thing is certain though, as easy it would be to merely make it a month-long karaoke session it isn't something that I want to do. I want to be able to say that I've gained something new from every album I've put on, and picking ones you've heard 100s of times before just won't cut it. I'm sure there'll be moments when I'm tired or want something familiar that the odd personal favourite will creep in, but I'm aiming to keep that in the minority. I also want to try and throw in some albums that I haven't heard in 4 years or so, and see how they compare with the things I'm into now. Hell, I'm willing to sit through things I still own that I played twice and thought were bloody awful, just to see if my opinions have stayed consistent.

I'm really looking forward to it, I have to say. I'm already looking at albums and thinking 'am I going to put that on now or am I going to wait and have it included in my 100?'. Not even the fact my house is being totally reglazed at somepoint in proceedings (I think it's around week 3, and will last a week) is stopping me. I'm already thinking of ways to go and listen to albums aside from sitting in the house in order to keep the momentum going. This of course might backfire spectacularly and leave me not wanting to hear an album in its entirety for ever and a day. But we won't know until I get there.

This started as a personal adventure through my own record collection, but over the past couple of days the thought has creeped in that it would be nice if others did it too. Set your own rules. How many you intend to listen to. Whether you do new ones, or old ones. Whether you do albums you own, or trawl Spotify for new ones. It'd be lovely to go look through the #aprilalbums hashtag on Twitter and see not only that people are joining in, but what they're listening to.

I'll be live tweeting my listening experiences on Entirely up to you if you follow of course, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't. But if you do join in, remember to hashtag. I'm hoping to do weekly updates/progress reports on here documenting my experiences/slow descent into madness. So until then, BAI.

Actually, not quite. This is clearly the season for listening experiences, for is currently listening to EVERY Mercury prize nominated album ever (providing it's on Spotify). He's currently up to 1995, the poor sod. Go keep him company for god's sake.

1 comment:

  1. Good idea, though 100 may be too much, no? You want to enjoy immersing yourself in an album, not just listening to it to get onto the next one, which may happen.

    Tried doing something similar with reading, though not 100 obviously, and found myself drifting away and not really enjoying the books.

    I think the notion of listening to an album from start-to-finish is a fading art though you've got to give yourself time to think about it, soak it up and revel in it's brilliance/atrociousness.

    Looking forward to hearing about it though...