I’m going to start a new writing project here, and I hope you will enjoy it. Here’s the idea: I’ll choose an artist, listen to their entire discography to date in order of release, and write a little something about each release. Simple.
I have a few reasons for taking this approach. The most boring is that I need a project to force-start me writing more regularly about music again (aside from that one band). The more pretentious reason stems from thoughts kicking around in my head for a while about how I, and other listeners, process music in an age where we have near-instant access to everything that has ever been released. I am firmly in the camp that believes streaming music services such as Spotify or Rhapsody and virtual record stores such as iTunes or Amazon are a decidedly good thing. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would someday be able to stream, download, or steal any album I could think of, I would have asked if that technology was compatible with flying cars. I think people who have nostalgia for the good old days where you had to hunt through a dozen record stores to find a Flipper album because Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing one of their shirts are cuckoo crazy — it’s the music fan’s version of walking uphill both ways to school.
But I do recognize that this unfettered access to the flood of recorded music history has changed my listening habits. My participation in Nick Southall’s Music Diary Project underscored that I have become a fickle consumer of music, flitting from stream to internet radio station to iTunes playlist to blog to YouTube jukebox on the smallest of whims. What I rarely do any more is listen to an entire album, from start to finish. And while I know albums are a dying breed and all, this makes me kind of sad, not because I think there is any objective superiority of one format over the other, but because I like listening to albums. I like the narrative sweep, intentional or unintentional, of a collection of songs, and the more textured snapshot they provide of that particular stage in an artist’s evolution.
So in order to fight back against this listening promiscuity, I’m going to set aside part of my day to carve an organized path through the endless stacks of the online music library. Sometimes I’ll choose a favorite artist who I want to revisit in this new context or explore more deeply, sometimes I’ll choose somebody that I’m largely unfamiliar with and use this method to survey their work. I can also think of a few other variations on this model: listening to every release from a particular label in order, or a bunch of different performances over time of a particular symphony, or some other good idea I haven’t thought of yet.
Obviously, this idea owes a lot to other sequential/structured listening projects, including Popular, Bowiesongs, Every Great Song Ever, Jesse Jarnow’s #deadfreaksunite twitter project, [edit: forgot One Week One Band!], and of course, my own crazy Phish thing, which proved to myself that I can keep this sort of thing up in at least intermittent fashion.
So this week, I’ll start with my first artist, and I figured a good place to begin would be with my favorite solo artist of all time. To manufacture some suspense, I won’t reveal who that is just yet, though anyone who has discussed music with me probably knows who it is. Appreciation aside, he happens to have a very long and complex discography that will put this project and my commitment to the test, and allow me to figure out some of the ground rules along the way. I hope you’ll join me, or at least not be too terribly annoyed by the occasional intrusion into your tumblr feed.
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