Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Art of the Album (A Blogger's Act of Reparation)

Can you smell the irony? I, a music blogger, am about to tell you why it is so important to experience an LP as a whole. Why sequence and over-arching theme matter in an album. This post is about the equivalent of a serial killer's plea for a stronger neighborhood watch. The hypocrisy stings the nostrils.

As a sharer of music, I am aware of the responsibility I have to not only expose an artist's work, but also promote the support of an artist - both financially and creatively. Blogs have helped open up the world to heaps of unknown bands; however, they have also played a small part in hurting music sales* and fracturing the art of the album.

Downloading three songs off an album, loving them, but never pursuing the true piece of art, is an unfair transaction. It's like going to a nice dinner, taking a bite of the appetizer, main course and dessert, complimenting the chef and leaving without paying. I get it though. Despite all good intentions, sometimes buying that new album just never happens. CDs are generally over-priced, and itunes is, in my humble opinion, a huge pain in the ass (coupled with fascist undertones).

So where does that leave us? I think a good plan of attack would be to get your first taste of an album from RC (of course :) ), check out the band on tour and buy the LP/EP/T-shirt at the venue (no tax or middle man). Also most small bands now sell their albums independently or directly from their label's website, which is another great way of axing the middle man's deep pockets.

This covers the financial side, but I want to mostly go over the creative elements of how a great album is assembled, and why it is essential to the listener. What makes a great album? Huge conceptual philosophizing isn't necessarily the right path; however, a calculated mood, flowing through an LP is a great way of drawing in the listener from the beginning. The same way a great mixtape begs to be played linearly, a great album holds a captivating sequence. There are so many different takes on "the art of the album," and keeping those creative channels open is vital. To give you idea of the albums that Rewriteable cherishes, I have made a little list below. Since the subject of great albums is quite overwhelming, I've decided to keep my selections somewhat recent (last couple of decades).

So I'm giving you one song off of each album, and I know we are getting back to that whole irony thing, but this is truly meant as just a taster. I trust most of you have these albums already. If this is the case, I'd love for you to try listening to these cds again, and let me know your thoughts. For those that do not own these LPs, I beg you to purchase them asap.

Part One (of two):

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over the Sea
It doesn't get much better than Jeff Mangum's weaving tale about a two-headed boy's first love, the tragedy of Anne Frank, and the lush landscape of America. His lyrics have a physical quality that draw the listener into the deep recesses of his mind. Sometimes deeper than we necessarily want to explore. The honesty that he displays on this record is unparalleled. We can only hope this wasn't his swan song.

[mp3] Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland 1945

Radiohead - Kid A
I can still remember the first time I heard this record. Sitting in Spencer's messy room, the first measure of "Everything in its Right Place" floated by, and we both just froze. It was brand new. Sounds we had never thought to play through speakers. We knew it was special, but it took a few weeks to really grasp the magnitude of it. With Kid A, Radiohead redefined themselves, as well as the music world.

[mp3] Radiohead - Kid A (mp3 up soon)

Nirvana - In Utero
In Utero is one of the most under appreciated albums of the 90's, and I want to set the record straight. It might not have had the singles that continues to keep Nevermind dominant, but as an album it is far more mature - both musically and thematically. This album had a deeply conscious design that proves Kurt's true genius. The over arcing themes of fertility, sex and love seem somehow over looked by the general fan. It's a gorgeous and haunting LP that will always be my favorite Nirvana disc. It's in my car cd player right now.

[mp3] Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea

Liars - Drums Not Dead
Drums Not Dead is the most challenging LP on the list; however, it is also the most important to experience as a whole. Each song feels incomplete when not placed in the proper sequence. It's a long droning journey that both exhausts and exhilarates. While They Were Wrong So We Drowned has much more of a concept feel, this disc delivers the goods more than Drowned.

[mp3] Liars - Drum and the Uncomfortable Can

A big thank you to Jane for making this post happen (and for baking us great cookies).

Part 2 on Friday.

*I know blogs aren't trying to hurt music sales, and I think in a lot of ways we have helped the sale of albums. However, it is a fact that people search every blog to get free music, and never follow up by supporting the artist.


Blogger jspaceman said...

Very well said! And a great bunch of tunes- Liars will be very near the top of my best of 2006 list...

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Evan G said...

You are right on Nick, people need to appreciate albums as they ARE INTENDED to be heard.

don't forget the classics

Dark side of the moon
any beatles album post Revolver
Tool - undertow and lateralus

6:46 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bruederlin said...

Aside from denying the musicians payment for the lovely music they make, there are several other reasons why not buying the cd/lp is just wrong:
- if you download one or two songs from the album (legally or not), you deny yourself the chance to fall in love slowly with the other songs
- you miss out on all the great liner notes, which are full of wisdom and sass and beauty
- you lose out on the opportunity to buy more desperately needed semi-disposable Swedish cd storage units.

I listen to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea at least once a week. It will never ever get old.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Sarah J. said...

well hello boys. it's 4.30 a.m. and a good time to check out what you two have been up to. great reads, great music (imagine a really genuine smile of praise). nick- (i'm only assuming that you are BWH999 because "the king" has jonathan written ALL over it) your post on "the art of the album" prompts an over-excited response...
the good life's "novena on a nocturne" is one of my favorite "albums" EVER in terms of holding a "captivating sequence." It communicates in 9 songs (novena meaning "a form of worship consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days") concepts that can only be understood through music and artistic lyricism. nocturne is an instrumental (usually piano) composition of "a dreamy or pensive character."
anyway, check it out (if you haven't)- the symbolism and allegory tim kasher uses is something really special.
p.s. i still don't know what's up with chickens and their eggs.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Will said...

Where to start. First off, I agree that bloggers are not trying to steer fans away from buying albums. But as a blogger, I find it hard to fully experience an album, given that so much of being a music blogger is being up on everything. There are some artists - like Justin Timberlake - where I am solely about the singles. But only listening to a couple songs off a Radiohead record - that's just criminal. In our digital age, I think it's hard to just slow down and experience an album over a week or two week period - because we'll miss the next big thing in the process.

I would like to see artists create both cohesive albums, as well as music for the mp3 blog era. I was actually wondering last night if there would be a backlash to the whole instant gratification thing of the internet. Maybe it's that people will really start embracing albums again. Great post, btw.

8:43 AM  
Blogger BWH999 said...

Thank you for checking out the site Sarah. I love the Good Life and have novena on a nocturne, but it's just somewhere in the pile. I hate when cds slip through the cracks. I will definitely find it now though. Sounds great. Come hang out with us!

Will, Thom Yorke kind of talked about creating music for the era when he mentioned just releasing a lot of singles instead of a new Radiohead full length. Of course not really "singles" singles (aka radio singles), but just mini albums that can get out to the public more often.

Don't worry Evan, part two will have a Tool album.

Neutral Milk will go down in history - for sure.

Thanks for all the thoughts guys/gals :)

9:47 AM  
Blogger Will said...

That's right ... I remember Thom Yorke mentioning that. And there's an interesting interview with Beck in Wired, regarding the "end of the album."

10:06 AM  
Blogger Will said...

Oh yeah, and Novena on a Nocturn - love it. Though it has been ages since I listened to it.

10:07 AM  

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