I’ve always been an album person. I love a long-player that holds together seamlessly from the start of track one to the end of the last*. Very rarely do I allow myself to buy a greatest hits – if I posthumously get into a band that’s been around for a while then I what I usually want isn’t an anthological whirl through their career that someone else has put together. Take for instance the treatment a lot of great bands from the 90’s have gotten over the last five years or so. At this point I’m sure a lot of us ‘music people’ have seen those ugly-ass “20th Century Masters” packages. I wouldn’t try to get into a new band this way because I know what these types of packages look like to me in regards to bands I like. Sorry, I don’t want some douche from the label that dropped The Reverend Horton Heat putting together what they feel is the best representation of their work.
But the word single wasn’t always a dirty word…
In the beginning of the popular music industry as we know it today the business was a singles industry – albums weren’t a viable idea yet, it took people like The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention to do miraculous things with the format before it infected others and became the standard. Before that you had houses like Motown and Stax and they tended to use a common pool of musicians and turn out singles for their premiere artists. And really, that is, in some ways, what we have gone back to in the current, post-Napster, adapted-to-iTunes music industry. That’s fine, I’m not complaining per se, but I still like my albums. But now, I’ve also found some singles that I like.
With the advent of iTunes and the iPod, not inherently bad things by any means, the ‘album’ has become all but extinct in the popular realms as more and more people shop for music via thirty-second clips and the ability to download a song at a time for $.99 (or more recently $1.29 in some cases). Attention spans grow shorter** as the iPod has revolutionized the old 80’s idea of the ‘personal stereo system’ and a younger generation grows up doing everything from schoolwork to dinner with the parents to hanging out with friends while an endless chorus pumps on through a tiny ear bud, soundtracking their entire lives and in some cases reducing music to what may be more akin to a ‘personal wallpaper system’. And the industry knows this too. I always find it interesting that just about the time the i-revolution really took over popular music experienced a bit of a throwback to the same ‘House musician’ sound and technique from it’s modern birth – Amy Winehouse put out an album, that while I really like it, sounds as though most of the vocal melodies were extracted from old Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and she hired the fabulous Daptone band to play the music on the album. And that of course set off the parade of similar artists in her wake and brought awesome original artists who were already doing this type of thing, like Sharon Jones and the Daptones, into an elevated position. Singles began to get their ‘punch’ back.
And now here I am coming around with my foot in my mouth because lately I’ve been OBESESSED with two singles and haven’t really followed up with the bands yet – Foster the People don’t have an album out yet – it drops May 24th and is called Torches, but they have a 3-song E.P> that I have totally ignored except for the single, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. There is a certain sublime elevation that occurs in my brain stem when I hear this song – the chorus’ use reverberation exactly the way it should be used to thrust a refrain into a listener’s heart, driving them into a warm, fuzzy happy place. And of course, the beat…
Then there’s Fader and their song ‘Temper Trap’. Again, elation is a word that would fit my interpretation of this song. The chorus climbs, climbs way high and takes the listener with it, endearing itself to them with slightly generic yet not untrue sentiments that get the brain working the way a good, thinking-man’s pop song should. I’ve been putting off learning more about the band itself and that’s a point of contention here. I love the song so much I’m just not ready for anything else from them yet. That sounds weird, I know, especially given my album tendencies and near-critique of single-buying lifestyle. However, that is indeed the case at the moment and I believe I am secretly afraid that this could be something like The Bravery, where I really liked the song ‘Breathe’ and then hated the album. We’ll see.
Not really a fan of the videos, but then I rarely like videos, especially when they feature the band ‘playing’. Tool – Now there’s a band that ‘gets’ how to make a good video. Anyway, regardless of my opinion it’s still an easy way to turn folks on to stuff these days and no one says you have to watch, so maybe plug in headphones, close them eyes and enjoy the music. And if you like it, buy it.
* Not necessarily ‘concept’ albums but a piece with the flow and cohesion that comes from forethought, pacing, and usually at least some common themes. Think Alice in Chains Dirt (RIP Mike Starr by the way’) Radiohead’s Kid A (actually pretty much any Radiohead album) or The Pixies Doolittle. An ‘album’ to me is something where you can’t really just jump in and hear one song – one song needs to have the relation of its fellow tracks around it. You wouldn’t jump right to the scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken if you were in the mood to watch True Romance – same thing. And actually the film analogy hangs true if we look at something like The Way of The Gun, a film I feel has possibly the best opening of all time and then what comes after pretty much… yeah. Fizzles out?
** Though incredulously major motion pictures grow longer. That’s awesome for me, but I don’t quite see how it all jives.