Written by Ben Casey. Media by Bekah Dothager.
How many times have you sat down and listened to an entire album straight through? It’s a tough thing to do these days, considering we now have music streaming services, mix CDs, radio, playlists, and endless other products that offer us specific songs we want at a moment’s notice. We’ve all become bouncing kids in shops on Free Candy Day.
There’s also the issue of distractions. Who has time to listen to a full album when there’s homework to do? Why would I listen to a full album when I can just hear the songs I like and then watch The Walking Dead? There are so many forms of entertainment presented to us today that lengthening activities we already enjoy seems laborious rather than relaxing.
So why even listen to albums in the first place? What makes an album different from a mix CD or a Pandora radio station?
Well, one reason is the concept album. Concept albums have a story that goes with the album, tying all the songs together. These clearly benefit from listening through all at once in order to get the full story and not on shuffle or divided into a playlist. Popular concept albums include Childish Gambino’s “Because The Internet“, Green Day’s “American Idiot“, The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds“, and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper.”
But what about albums that don’t have a single intertwining story? To get another opinion on this, I asked Greenville student and musician Trey Brockman for his opinion.
Ben: “So, do you listen to individual songs or albums mostly?”
Trey: “I usually listen to albums and what I’ll do a lot of the time is listen to like the same album for about two weeks on repeat.”
Ben: “Oh, what album are you listening to right now?”
Trey: “Forget and Not Slow Down” by Relient K. I’ve got the CD in my car so I listen to that all the way through a lot.”
Ben: “Oh man, that’s a great one. So what do you think are some advantages to listening to albums as opposed to individual songs?”
Trey: “For me, albums are like a work of art. Each song is a little piece of it but to get the whole picture, you need like the whole thing in front of you.”
Trey makes a great point. Albums are not only a compilation of songs the artist wrote. They are a collection of sounds hovering around a few thematic themes, whether these themes be heartbreak or found love, depression or joy, indecision or determination. They go together.
A song on its own and a song within an album are completely different. The context is changed to something closer to how the artist intended it to be listened to in an album. Listening to only the song and not hearing the album is like looking at one piece of a puzzle without knowing the whole picture. And while you may like that piece better than the other pieces, or even better than the whole picture, in order to properly understand the art you’re listening to, its full context is necessary.
Another reason albums are good to listen to is that anyone can make a good song. With enough trial and error, eventually a song that is catchy, memorable, or emotional sounding will come out of almost anyone, regardless of musical talent. But it takes a lot of talent to be able to put together a group of songs into a cohesive unit while keeping it different enough that it doesn’t feel boring or monotonous.
A few of my favorite albums right now include “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, “Maggot Brain” by Funkedelic, “Awake” by Tycho, “Home Like No Place is There” by Hotelier, and “The End is Not The End” by House of Heroes.
Give one or two of them a listen and see if you like them!