Thursday, February 03, 2005

mp3 - Low

In Napster's heyday, and after its demise, when mp3s started to be sold online, music prophets declared that the death of the album is nigh. Others have refuted the doomsaying.

Hold on just a sec...I'm listening to WXYC, and they're playing Lou Reed's Take a Walk On the Wild Side, which is unremarkable, except that I can hear the noises that you only get from a needletip on vinyl. Ahhhh, it is so good, you have no idea.

But that's a dead topic about the death of another format, so back to my point.

I agree with the skeptics. The album wont die; there are too many people who care about it. I usually hate categorizing people, but I think you can generally fit music buyers into two groups: those who buy albums for a song, and those who are compelled to hear more. The first group pops a disc in, hits a button until that one track is up, listens to maybe one more track, and ejects. The latter group gives a good album the proper listen that it deserves. Each song is broken up into its components in the listener's head, then put back together one by one: the lyrics, the voice, drums, bass line, you get the idea. The listener can then see how the tracks fit together on the album to make a cohesive whole or a disjunctive mess. The second group is thus rewarded by achieving a greater understanding of the music and musician, which allows for greater enjoyment of the music.

The first group will download the single mp3 to avoid buying the album. The second group will buy the pre-released mp3 albums because they either can't wait for the official release date, or they can't find it at their usually reliable local record store and can't wait for it to arrive in the mail. This second group will keep the album alive.

I'm posting this track from Low's 2005 album, The Great Destroyer, because it's not a single. It's one of those songs that digs into you the more you let your album play. The song sounds like a lullaby, sung slowly in steady voices, and with the best ironic use of a heartbeat rhythm since Pink Floyd's Brain Dead/Eclipse (yes I did!!), but the irony of the these three lines leaves you with the cold feeling of being watched by a menacing God:

So what, pray tell
Will save you now?
Here comes that cold sunrise

It's more downbeat than most of the other tracks, but consistent with the album's ominous tone. What say I, you ask? You'll just have to listen to the CD yourself. The whole thing, more than once.

Low - Cue the Strings (mp3)


SugarDuck said...

Entertainment Weekly also did a story about the Death of the Album a few weeks ago. It seems to me that everyone is forgetting all the one-hit wonders and pre-fab pop acts of the past. In the past musical acts put out their share of singles surrounded by album filler too! And didn't stores used to sell record singles? As I recall they were smaller and had two songs, that's where the term B-side came from, right? How is that different from buying a single off I-tunes?

Canowine said...

Damn. You old.

Good point about the singles.

But the singles and EP buyers fall into the same categories. You have the ones who buy the singles to get the song and avoid the album, and then you have the others who buy the single or EP for the B sides.

You know what, there's another group that I left out, and that's the completists. Completism has less to do with music than a psychological compulsion, though. Bands like Pearl Jam know that they're out there and are happy to take advantage of them.

SugarDuck said...

Completists! Oh my god that is perfect! I knew this guy who would buy every live version, every bootleg, every foreign CD, basically multiple versions of everything ever recorded from his favorite bands. Then he would listen to them once or never. He must have wasted hundreds of dollars over the years. I thought he was nuts.

My point about the singles is that even before Napster and iTunes some people were only interested in the singles. I don't buy this "death of the albm" thing, I think people are romanticizing the past.

I think music goes in cycles, sometimes there's an awesome new kind of music and we get lots of good albums, other times silly pop music is dominant. Right now we are in a down cycle and that's why there aren't many good albums. But Britney Spears' and the boy bands' sales have been down, so I'm hopeful that an upswing is on the way.

Canowine said...

We're well into an upswing, really. There were a lot of good albums last year, but the only play those bands got was on late night talk shows and internet broadcasts. Blame it on the demise of another medium: FM radio.

Here in the DC Metro area, anyway.

Arethusa said...

I haven't listened to FM radio in years unless it was to get that cool classical stationed positioned waaaaaaaay at the end of the dial. And not even that anymore what with one or two good ones online.

I have heard about Low. Both them and Ida were recommened to me because of my love affair with Hem.