New Year, New Music: In Defense of the Album


Though the New Year is a goal-oriented time for most, I tend to take this to the extreme. I often write resolutions that are pages long, some possessing corresponding action plans. While I thrive in a state of complex reinvention, I plan to streamline my to-do list in the upcoming year (call it a pre-resolution, if you will). So instead of a piece that discusses my burning desire to “finally get into shoegaze” and “successfully obtain Arcade Fire concert tickets”, here is my only music resolution of 2016:  

“Shuffle less, listen more.”


Although I merely echo the sentiment of Edward Droste’s 2014 tweet, a priority of mine in the upcoming year is to cultivate an awareness of how I listen to music. This concept has stuck with me for quite some time; two years later, a 140-character thought fragment still enables me to think critically about music consumption. The Grizzly Bear frontman exposes my insecurities as a music savant: is there integrity in listening to a randomly shuffled playlist and actively ignoring a large quantity of music?


A devotion to listening more, and better, shaped the early stages of my musical development. I raided my local library’s CD section for selections from bands like The Black Keys and Florence + the Machine – whose discographies I still know pretty much by heart. I’d come home with thirty discs, spend the six hours it took to add them to my iTunes library, and just listen.


It was by this process that in the ninth grade, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my time listening to popular radio – artists like Ingrid Michaelson and The Civil Wars were more my speed. The process by which I consumed music almost immediately refined my taste; I developed a depth of understanding the artists I loved, rather than just knowledge of their most current singles.


I can effortlessly cite the albums that catalyzed this process (KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope and Imogen Heap’s Speak for Yourself), yet when prompted to talk about more recent releases, I struggle to articulate their titles, much less an opinion on them. This lack of ability concerns me – I am still as enthusiastic about music as I was five years ago, but I’ve gotten so lost in the shuffle (literally) of playlists, singles, and trying to keep up with new artists that I’ve neglected to keep curating my own taste.

The movement from tangible to digital music lends itself to a good playlist. Everything is instant; playlists are an effortless way to create and collaborate. Faced with an overwhelming quantity of discographies, it’s easy to be enticed by a quick shuffle of a playlist. Curating a great mix is a skill set I do not possess, perhaps because I find more value in searching out albums with not only individual tracks that resonate, but also a greater holistic form.


I finally listened to Sound and Color, the most recent Alabama Shakes release, last week. Their sound is a welcome addition to my library, and one that I might have found much earlier had I not been so intent on cutting down my music consumption in favor of a few playlists.


Ultimately, this resolution comes from an observation of a personal preference to the album, even in the age of the playlist. It is a simple sentiment that encourages being more mindful about music consumption, and seeking out new artists – rather than just new songs – to enhance my music collection. I can only hope that this endeavor results in a New Year full of excellent musical discoveries.


Image via flickr.