Discovering the underestimated importance of the concept of an album in music.

June 2nd, 2014, 12am

I’ve only recently realized how important the concept of an album is. There is always a reason why musicians choose to release a collection of songs, and to order the songs in a certain way, rather than release tracks one at a time and in isolation of each other. I’ve come to believe that the best musical artists today, regardless of genre, are those who take the order and cohesion of their albums seriously.

Prior to this past week, the concept of listening to every single track on an album, in order, was so foreign to me. I would just pick a couple of singles I liked from a given album, and listen to just those tracks over and over, neglecting all of the other tracks and, therefore, neglecting the fundamental, multifaceted stories that the album was trying to tell. The story - that is what is so important. People often think nowadays that the story of a band or musician can be encapsulated in one single, but that could not be further from the truth. That one single is just a puzzle piece in a multi-part masterwork that really spans a much wider emotional trajectory, and I think people would definitely gain a much greater appreciation of their favorite artists by exploring their albums as a whole.

Example: Coldplay’s X & Y. I think I stumbled upon the album a couple of years ago, decided that I liked the singles “Speed of Sound,” “Swallowed in the Sea,” and “Twisted Logic,” and listened to only those three tracks on repeat, without caring about the rest of the album. Now, fast-forward a couple of years later, when, just last week, I listened to X & Y in full for the very first time. It was such a powerful experience; I gained a totally different understanding of those three singles mentioned above, since they were now presented to me in relation to the rest of the tracks on the album. I was also amazed by how meticulously Coldplay ordered the tracks on X & Y - any change in the order would have made the story less coherent. There is a reason why “Square One” is the opening track - it works so so well as a foundation, as an invitation to an adventure (“You’re in control, is there anywhere you wanna go?”) - and the relatively lighthearted “Till Kingdom Come” is so so effective as an unexpected close to the album, suggesting a sort of faded optimism after the dense subject matter of the previous tracks.

I was telling my friend about this the other day, and he made the really good point that an album is like a symphony, in that listeners really will not understand the composer’s intentions unless they take into account every movement, and in the right order.

Anyhow, inspired by this experience, I’ve dedicated pretty much all of my musical exploration over the past few days to listening to albums from start to finish, without pause (except those ridiculous Spotify ads). This means a lot of time spent doing nothing else but sitting on a couch, staring into space, headphones in my ears, letting myself be carried away by the journeys each album has to offer. But hey, that’s what summer is for - uncanny emotional experiences.

So far, the other albums I’ve listened to in entirety are Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends; Arctic Monkeys’ AM, Humbug, and Favourite Worst Nightmare; Beck’s Morning Phase; and Mutemath’s Odd Soul. Anyone else have recommendations for great albums that are great as whole albums?

Sanna, Christine and Ragini said thanks.

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Cherie Hu

A musician-student-thinker searching for meaning in a meaningless world.

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