Please listen to albums
This goes out to all my homies who don't listen to albums and just have a giga-playlist of “liked” songs that they've been developing since middle school. I love my liked songs, but I think sometimes I want more. Here’s what I love about album listening:
(1) Albums are great because they fix a serious recurring problem in music listening! You totally love a song. You wish the song was longer, or maybe that you knew more songs like it. You settle for listening to it on repeat. Albums fix this in ways that you don't expect, and in ways that I actually love! First off, albums often solve this problem by providing you with a catalog of songs that sound as similar as anything could. But you’ve probably done this — where you love a song so you go to the album, but it sucks in comparison and totally doesn't grab you at all. This is probably a lot of what separates a good album from a sucky one (And this might have been what’s tainted your opinion of album listening).
Unfortunately, not every album is a banger. But you'll find that once you start listening to albums, you’ll actually be way more inclined to like songs that you didn't like before. I think album listening breeds an appreciation of songs that you would otherwise totally miss out on enjoying. It's like mere-exposure in psychology, probably. But just because you're maybe tricking yourself into liking more songs doesn't ruin the fact that now you have more music to enjoy, yay! Also, a more subtle reason to start listening to whole albums is that it provides you with a better understanding of what you really enjoy listening to. If you can't stand listening to a whole album of something — even more so if you can and you love it — you'll have a way better idea of where to look for music next!
(2) This is cheesy but it's true: Albums can be like a portal to when their music was being recorded. This is true of course of singles, but it feels even more true with albums. I acknowledge that this is a played-out example, but go try listening to "What’s Going On" by Marvin Gaye. More literally than that — a lot of albums were recorded in a single session back-to-back, not just live albums. One that a lot of people really love and often point to is "The Trinity Session" by Cowboy Junkies. In this case, you can imagine how listening to the album mirrors the experience of being with the artists and all the emotions they were channeling in creating their music. I love this! A lot of the time I want to listen to music, it's because I want to indulge in the emotions that I’m feeling. Also, this is a comparison that I will totally play out in a moment, but just like any long-form art, it gives you a more whole sense of the artist's vision.
(3) Would you watch one episode of a bunch of different TV series? No, that’s totally nuts. Maybe a better comparison is asking how much fulfillment you get from watching the best part of a movie as clips on YouTube or TikTok. It’s probably not that much, and it’s probably really temporary compared to the fulfillment you get from watching the entire thing in one sitting. But that’s what you're doing with music right now! Listening to an album is like binge-watching a series, or watching a movie. Often, albums are even structured in a similar way. Great albums have a definite climax, introduction, conclusion, etc. As you listen to more albums, you might (like me) really come to appreciate this flow. But also you may grow to appreciate absorbing the entire story that the artist is trying to tell! On this same note, you may gain an even greater appreciation for the artist themselves, as not only were they able to complete an entire project that you enjoyed throughout, but also you know a lot more about their experience and personality.
(4) This fourth point is most salient to me in going to Carnegie Mellon. Albums can have a really powerful effect on your psychology. With constant deadlines and constant midterms and pressure in EVERY direction, we often turn to these media as support. I recently realized that a lot of what I turned to when I was feeling like this — like I got put in an air fryer — was just making me feel more scattered and sad and unproductive. I think it’s from the volume of these scattered-in-tone tiny things that I was consuming. Scrolling TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube — these are all really good at stopping me from thinking about anything I don't want to, and that works great. But they all make my mind go way too fast, and actually, I’m not trying to stop thinking totally, but I’d rather think about pleasant things and not deadlines! Like reading a book (which is actually too much effort), listening to a whole album can have the opposite effect of social media. If you do feel like this right now, "White Ladder" by David Grey is surgical at destressing me personally. Rather than your attention being pulled in many directions, it's carried along that aforementioned flow of emotion and tone. I really appreciate the stabilizing effect this can have on how I feel and what I think about.
(5) You can hitch whatever’s going on in your life to the experience of listening to an album. If you recently made the grim realization that another semester has passed and you're another semester closer to having to deal with your college debt and a job etc. etc. etc., you might be looking to crystalize some of the things that are going on as memories. Albums are super good for this! My next point is also super cheesy but true. No one here is in a movie, but everyone deserves some tonally consistent background music.
Please check out some albums, because it’s honestly so much fun. For the longest time, I also curated a huge, fun, eclectic list of singles (and I still do), but I’m so glad I ditched it for being disappointed with every release of this year. If you do get into album listening, I highly recommended the website RYM for exploring new genres and international releases you might not have heard of!