The MP3 era seems strange to me. Maybe because i started off with cassettes, then moved to CDs, and now finally to MP3, but i just haven't got the hang of listening to MP3s yet. Here is what happens – someone sends me a download of a promo release, or i buy a CD and i rip it to my laptop, and then i upload the MP3 files to my Zune. I have every intention of listening to the "albums", and writing on them.
Instead what happens is i put the Zune on random mode, and pretty much leave it there. Every once in a while, i make a concerted effort to actually listen to something with structure, instead of letting Microsoft sort through the 80 GB of music i have given it to play with.
I feel like the random method causes me to listen to a wider variety of music but to fewer actual albums. Instead of absorbing every note of someone's latest release, i just catch a song here or there. And listen to the same tune more than once? That almost never happens. With an 80 GB music player, tracks are repeated only once every few months! I think my problem is that with the previous forms of listening, music was a lot more linear. A cassette, or a CD, marked off a certain length of time. 80 GB of MP3s is approximately 2 months worth of around the clock musical play. I guess what confuses me is that linearity in playback is no longer enforced, but we still have to purchase songs in small, linear bundles (i.e., albums).
I wonder about this in the sense of how it will affect the future of music. I have long held that there are certain tunes that take some time to reveal their charms to you. Some music takes a while to unfold, or makes perfect sense in one context, but not others, and you have to wait until the context comes along. For example, i bought a cassette of Psychocandy when it came out, based on the rave reviews i had read and great word of mouth. I put the cassette in my player, pressed Paly, and shortly thought that I had been cheated out of $9.99! However, i was stuck with the physical object, and years later i heard other things that made Psychocandy maker sense, i went back and listened to it with a new sense of perspective. Additionally, i am continually amazed by some of my favorite records. Songs i once dismissed as filler have become favorites, while songs i adored at first have become boring due to overplay.
Albums are, now, just a sales convenience. I talk to people in online discussion groups and ask about this, and many people will say "i only buy songs from iTunes not whole albums", or they buy a whole "album" but only copy to their MP3 player the songs they liked most on initial listen. So what happens to the "deep tracks"? What happens to records like Psychocandy that you just don't get at first? Do these online people later go back and give the initially rejected tracks a chance?
This is something i think about.
This brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to Afterhours in the Afterlife, the latest release from Seattle based dreampop act Voyager One.
Here is what happened with this record. I picked it up at the end of last summer and gave it a few spins on my "old fashioned" stereo. I liked it, so i ripped the CD, copied the files to my Zune, and filed the physical artifact away on the shelf. And then i completely forgot about it.
Then, inexplicably, in the past few weeks every time i hear something really cool in the random flow of songs from the Zune, it turns out to be from this album. So i went and found the CD again, and have given it a concerted listen.
And you know what? This is a damned fine album and i am wondering why i haven't been listening to it more frequently. In fact, this is a record of "deep tracks", an entire album of them. On the surface, they are pleasant enough, but if you really focus on them, really live with them for a while, they grow more and more interesting.
Consider I Remember Everything. At first this appears to simply be a pop tune built out of a funky bass riff and layers of guitar. It reminds me a lot of what local band Jupiter Watts are doing these days, and also slightly of what Slow Jets were doing. However, it is very catchy -- the kind of song that worms its way into your head and you find yourself humming it hours later. Plus there are layers upon layers of guitarwork here. It is an intricate song.
Or consider Ocean Grey, a fuzzed out rock tune of epic proportions. It just keeps building, adding on layers and layers of distortion, all backed by a nice drum beat. Bed of Sound is similar, but is driven by a prominent organ riff.
And then there is The Kids Take Control, wherein Voyager One explore the electronic side of what they do. There are rhythmic beeps and bloops in the background, and a nice synth melody. The drum is an echoed machine-like hit, dub made by robots.
Voyager One make dense music. There is a lot going on in each track, with many layers of guitar and rhythm and voice all swirling around each other. I think it is this denseness that makes the songs so compelling, and keeps me coming back for repeated listens.
And, surprisingly enough, there are only two people who make this dense music. Voyager One is a duo, consisting of Peter Marchese and Jeramy Koepping. Each must play a dozen instruments as well as trading vocal duties.
This album is full of massive spaces, and taken as a whole it presents an interesting journey. This is all something that i did not get just hearing a track or two in the random flow of sound from my Zune. I appreciate the songs better when i appreciate them in the context of the album. Now, the standout tracks were notable even in the steady flow of Zunic output, but placed in their intended listening position in the flow of the album, they really shine. I think that if i had not made the effort to listen to the album, i might have had a vague appreciation for some of the tunes. Instead i have a big appreciation for what Voyager One are doing.
So i still haven't figured out how to listen to MP3s. The lack of linearity disturbs me, as does the lack of repetition. However, when i figure it out i will let you know.