I had a little conversation with someone on Twitter today. About how the differences between my tracks maybe create a disjointed feel to my albums/eps. It got me thinking: does similarity in sound or mood make for a good album? It is, of course, a rhetorical question, as everybody has different ideas about what an album should be. Some think an album should have some kind of narrative, some think an album should convey one prevailing ‘mood’ or atmosphere, some think an album should be based on a concept and some think it should just be a collection of tracks.
That’s been one of the issues regarding digital downloads, where you can download the entire album, or just individual tracks. Musicians and listeners have highlighted the fact that to separate a track from an album’s running order is to listen to the track out of context. But with the prominence of compilations (they’ve always been around, mind), playlists, virtual ‘mixtapes’ and streaming services, the ‘album’ as we knew it in the days of vinyl is of less importance to the general listening public.
Then again, we live in an age of self-empowerment when it comes to how we get our entertainment. So, is it a bad thing that albums are split and de-contextualised? We’re just tailoring our listening to our own preferences.
Which leads me onto my pet theme…….the eclectic nature of listening habits and, as a result, musicians’ creative endeavours. And I’m afraid I’m going to use myself as one of my examples, it’s what I know best. A good album, as far as I’m concerened, creates an audio world of its own. It moves you in different ways, it contains many moods, it jars you, it sometimes challenges you, it evokes memories of people, places, times, other music or movies. It also, at times, is contradictory.
This is the nature of eclecticism. An area where genres collide, a place where music is influenced by wildly varying sources. That’s the area I operate in. That’s why I find that my favourite albums contain tracks which may be similar sonically, but they offer contradictory moods. A perfect example being Aphex Twin’s “Drukqs” album, a double CD of drum n bass, dark electro and contemplative avant-ambience. Or virtually any of John Zorn’s early output (with the exception of ‘Spy vs Spy’ perhaps). Or ‘Ultravisitor’ by Squarepusher. Or, more recently, and more mainstream, Radiohead’s last three albums and the albums of Elbow.
So, when I record an album, I purposely try to juxtapose tracks which offset or, in some cases, upset each other. It’s all in the running order and, that, is the crux. That’s what makes an album. It’s not always about continuity, it’s about disruption. It doesn’t have to be drastic…it may just be a sad song next to a happy song; or a deep tone next to a harsh bright tone. But the preceding track determines how you listen to the next track. That’s the point of an album, to me.
Having only reached a conclusion which I already knew and which is entirely personal, I’d be interested to hear your views on the subject either as a listener or a musician.