A few years ago I wrote about how iPods were a terrible thing for music. I thought that they would spell death for the album and that the only thing people would buy would be those 99 cent singles in the iTunes store.
Not only that. but everyone would be walking around with those white head phones in like zombies, never interacting with one another again.
In some ways I think I was right. The art of the album has declined dramatically and a lot people like to tune the world out by putting their headphones in any time the leave the house.
Ambitious efforts like The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute, Tommy by the Who or the Flaming Lips album, Zaireeka, that sold as a quad-disc package which was actually one album that had to be played at the same time on four different sound systems, seem all to rare now.
However, the iPod and the digital music age has done a lot to bring back one art, if only in a small way, the vinyl LP.
The increase in vinyl records has jumped dramatically over the past decade, but in no way counters the plummeting sales of CDs. Even still the revival of this medium reveals a person’s desire to hold something in there hand which represents the songs they are listening to; something more than a square of metal and electronics that can house their entire record collection.
The album art of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon speaks volumes compared to the little thumbnail image on an iPod or computer screen. Yes, you can download the album and still get the same quality listening experience, but the ritual of taking a record from its sleeve, checking the grooves and starting the record player are a meditative process that prepare you to listen to that record.
More so, the fact that you cannot simply change from track to track may seem primitive and annoying, but I feel that it’s the artist’s and music’s way of saying, ‘sit back, relax and enjoy this record’. Where as and iPod feels like it’s yelling ‘What’s next?!’ before you even get through the first minute of the song.
Listening to a single or a record on an iPod tends towards instant gratification, when you finish you just turn it off or switch to the next song without even finishing the current track.
However, the physicality and care that goes into listening to an LP is such a personal and contemplative experience. You chose that LP by sifting through all the others in the store, brought it home and after each listen, safely store it for its next use
Maybe this is the first, ‘Kids today!’ rant of my life, but I think that it’s less a comment on youth and the new generation of music and more on the decline of patience in society. The act of listening to music has blended, or faded, into our work lives, studies and work out routines, and as a result no just listens to music.
Try it today. Sit in a comfy chair and appreciate a record. You’ll discover something new, even in your favourite record.