Think of the last novel you were really engaged with; a work of fiction with which you had a brief love affair and couldn’t put down until it was finished. The author takes you on a rollercoaster of emotion as you ride the tides of the plot and observe the literary meaning behind all of it.
This is what listening to a really good album is like for me. Unlike books, albums take a much smaller amount of time to experience. Also unlike books, I have to listen to an album many times before I grasp everything the artist is trying to convey.
When vinyl ruled the world, sitting around a room listening to albums for hours on end was not uncommon—there is no shuffle on a turntable and television wasn’t all that interesting at that point. Some of the greatest albums ever written were produced during this time, particularly during the 1960s and 70s: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” The Beatles’ “White Album” and Led Zeppelin’s first self-titled, to name a few from my personal collection in no particular order.
Actively listening to entire albums is a dying art in our current world of Internet radio and playlists (which are an entirely different but potentially beautiful animal). A well-crafted album will be a literary experience with all the songs arranged in such a way as to present an idea. Each song has a purpose like a plot point in a story. Artists’ use of transitions and themes throughout albums creates an experience that gives each song its purpose. By only listening to the songs on the album that are considered “hits,” one is missing out on half the experience of an individual song.
For example, Circa Survive’s “Juturna” (one of my all-time favorites) uses ambient synth faded in at the very beginning of “Holding Someone’s Hair Back,” the first track of the album. The same synth is encountered again at the very end of the album, trailing the bonus track.
Which brings up another point… the bonus track. Often placed at the end of the very last listed track after a few minutes of silence, the only way to experience these hidden pieces of work is to let the disc play. One cannot simply hit the skip button to choose it.
Also on “Juturna,” is a wonderful transition between the songs “Wish Resign” and “The Glorious Nosebleed,” which gives each of the songs a new level of depth. Nowhere else can one experience the built-in transitions. This is a very popular way of tying ideas together in an album. The entirety of Between the Buried and Me’s “Colors” album flows straight from song to song as if they were movements in a symphony rather than individual tracks.
“Juturna” also contains a bunch of references to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which are completely missed when the songs are only addressed individually. While not all albums are concept albums, most of them have a general theme, and it’s fun to figure them out. Another great example is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea,” which contains numerous references to Anne Frank.
So many albums have great secrets and life-changing moments like “Juturna.” By living life constantly on shuffle one completely misses out on the true power of an album. It’s like skipping chapters of a book or only watching the best parts of a movie.
Megan Osborne can be contacted at [email protected]