I used to make music mixes for every occasion of my life. For birthdays, for anniversaries, and for Christmas. There was no occasion too small that it didn’t call for a music cd or at least a playlist. A few years, I even attempted a list of best songs of the year which could be sorted in an Excel spreadsheet. I was ambitious about my mixes because I believed that the held the key to chronicling time and making sense of the world around me.
Now, it seems almost tragic to think that I am no longer making those mixes and my world is spinning out of control because of the lack of coherence and preservation that music provided to me. For the past few years, I have approached music in a more utilitarian way. It is in the background so that I don’t have to listen to other people in my office. It is in the car so that I can think more about what I am engaged in. It is on at home so that my children can dance.
I used to make music so that I could put order to the world, and now I don’t because the order has been dictated to me. My daily life is no longer unpredictable. I don’t wake up thinking about whether or not I will go out that night. We have these things planned weeks and months in advance. I don’t require a series of songs to give me a sense of what my existence is like because at any given moment, my life is a lot like the previous moment. While there is most definitely a progression from one thing to another, the haphazard stylings from many different genres that are put together on a mix would hardly be applicable to what I’m going through.
Which is why I am so keen on the album. The album of familiar or newly unearthed songs that I can listen to over and over again is something that much more fits my current lifestyle. I like to see the progression of a single narrative and know exactly where it goes to and from. The single can get me excited, but it never sustains me like a truly masterful album. I don’t want to put things on shuffle. I want to know what is coming next and to see it coming and feel good about it.
Making a mix feels good when you want to introduce someone to a band or when you feel as though there is something at stake. You are trying to make a statement or figure out who you are. You are trying to decipher the relationship to whom you are giving the mix. This makes sense when all of your life is up in the air. But, as things come together and make decisions that set you on a longer path, the long playing nature of an album sweetly cradles you. You don’t have to worry about the jarring transitions or the awkward filler tracks. You are content with the albums you grew up with and the new standards that you spend months with in your car. It isn’t that you are unwilling to change or to mix things up, it is just that you want the friendship of an album and not the acquaintance of a song. You are ready for commitment to a set of artists, instead of jumping from one genre to the next at a moments notice.
So, the album is the new mix, and it is a shame in the era of iTunes that this form of music is dying or giving up on itself. While the digital media revolution of the past 20 years may eventually get rid of the 10 song CD, it may push us out further into never having to listen to an album for 2-3 good songs. We expect more out of the music we consume. We expect every song to be good. And that is why the albums of today are so comfortable. I won’t tolerate a set of music that is only good enough to be put onto a mix. I won’t let those few moments I have for truly solitary music listening to be soiled by either the schizophrenia of the mix or the unevenness of a bad album.
I want only the good stuff, but I want the good stuff to have a story, an arch. I want it to match who I am right now without having to work all of that out in a playlist creator. I want the artists to be like me and I think that is slowly starting to happen. We are all trying to make our way in life, and it requires an honesty of vision and the relentless pursuit of iteration.
I will be better tomorrow than I am today, and I want music that shows that same level of maturity.
(Any albums you care to share with me on this journey?)
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- The Problem with Playlists (blogcritics.org)