This surprised me, because I had been flattering myself with the thought that I’d gone totally digital, that the old music industry constructs — the album format, physical discs, liner notes — were things I no longer had any use for. Before I lost it, having an iPod was the ultimate testament to that new mode of music consumption.
But it turns out that I’m more old fashioned than I had thought. I realized that I really do prefer buying music in albums, and having the physical disc stored away on a shelf while I listen to the MP3s on my computer. There’s something about the album format that still entices me, some kind of implicit suggestion that the artist has fleshed out a private little world with a life span of roughly forty-five minutes, and that, with repeated listens, some of that world’s secrets can be revealed to me.
You Can Never Go Back
Even with brand new albums from brand new artists, there’s an element of nostalgia at work here. The act of acquainting myself with and learning a new album accounts for some of the most intimate relationships I ever developed with music — or any art, for that matter. It’s a process that I used to throw myself into avidly as a teenager, when I had the luxury of lots and lots of undirected time. It’s a clichж to say, but the albums with which I went through that process became good friends. When someone puts on, say, “Psychocandy,” it’s like a trusted confidante just found my number in the phone book and rang me up.
That’s the kind of intimacy that is perhaps the album format’s greatest reward. It’s something that I think I miss quite a bit, and it’s likely the reason for my subconscious reversion to albums. Given the way that I structure my time and obligations today, it’s extremely difficult to achieve that kind of understanding of a new album, but I’m not a complete nostalgiast — I know it’s possible to find that kind of rapport with the music being made today. That’s why I keep playing this crap over and over and over. But, between answering emails, talking on my mobile phone and designing, this heavy rotation is a poor substitute for the hours that I used to spend in my room, headphones wrapped around my head, with my grimy little fingers paging through the liner notes of some recent release from the so-called indie underground.