Posted by: Adam Roper | April 21, 2009

Reflections on the Album: 1

With the introduction of ITUNES and MYSPACE to the music industry things have changed big-time. Rather than having to walk down to a record store to listen to the next big artist anyone can just sit at their computer and go crazy. Because of this obscure artists from Scotland, Sweden, Iceland and the world over can be listened to worldwide with little effort. This has allowed decent independent artists to create the music they want to create, freeing them from the tight creative control they would get if they were signed by a major label.

How we approach the idea of an Album has been greatly effected by this. Some listeners have forgotten and disregarded the idea of an Album in complete favor of hit-singles, or songs everyone else is listening to. Others have continued to embrace albums, tracking what albums are coming out, and creating a loyal favor for artists who consistently release great music.

The idea of a music project being an Album encompasses every aspect of the project- which songs are recorded, how they are recorded, where they are recorded, who they are recorded with, who drew the album art, how the album art relates to the album, how the songs relate to the album as a whole. A record is more than just a bunch of songs put on a CD and sold to whoever wants it. There is a lot of work that goes into the creative process… there should be at least.

Albums like Radiohead‘s OK Computer set the standard for the holistic recording. OK Computer was recorded in a historic mansion in England- parts of which was recorded in a staircase and a ballroom! The way the album was recorded relates directly to the main ideas present in the recording- The sound of OK Computer, and the artwork that accompanies the album, has to be studied and explored, and in that exploration the key message of the recording comes to life. Needless to say, this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole.

The modern example of OK Computer’s innovative approach is Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. For this recording Arcade Fire bought a church in Quebec and used it to record. Neon Bible is heavily influenced by archaic music traditions- a reliance on organs, a men’s choir, a full orchestra and the echoing resonance of a high arched ceiling. Similar to OK Computer, the sound of the recording alludes to Neon Bible’s central premise- an examination of church culture using church-influenced sound. Arcade Fire’s new DVD Mirror Noir– amazing, by the way- shows how most of the album was put together.

For a little while the Album was on the decline, because the focus went to single tracks that could be downloaded or bought on ITUNES, but now this has given the Album a greater recognition. Not only has this allowed relatively unknown bands to get a wider recognition much easier, it has renewed a standard for artistic creativity. With more of a focus on digital recordings there is more emphasis on the music itself, so you can enjoy and be captivated by an album without having to immediately acquire a hard copy.

Although something of value is lost when you are not holding an album in your hands- seeing as how most of our music collections these days are digital- there is the bright side: Having a digital collection of music reduces all the waste, packaging, and shipping associated with released CDs. And if you must own your favorite artist’s new CD there is option of buying directly from the artist online, reducing the distance the album is shipped (depending on where the artist lives). As well the artist has the option to print CD artwork on recycled paper. Finally, there is always the option of supporting local musicians, then finding a way to buy the CD directly from their hands. This also gives you the option to hang out with them and talk about their music.

If you ever have any more questions about music ask this guy. He knows a lot more than I do about music. Plus his new album comes out next week! Or check out Pitchfork Media’s album reviews (a link can be found to the right).

Next time: Albums I like. Stay tuned…

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