The Lost Art of Listening, Part 1: Ubiquity & Scarcity

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A few weeks ago, my seventeen-year-old daughter Skye told me she wanted to take a walk and listen to a complete album, top-to-bottom. She said she was tired of listening to singles, and, though she spins full records all the time, wanted to experience an artist’s work in an intentional way. To my great pleasure, she asked what she should listen to.

I stood up in the garden where I was weeding and told her the first album that popped into my head: Josh Ritter’s So Runs the World Away. (I wrote about what a revelation that record was to me here in the Rabbit Room a few years back.) She came back about an hour later and we talked about the songs—most of which she had heard, though they had most likely been cherry-picked in a playlist or played in the background at our house. It’s a different thing altogether to sit and listen to a full record, each song a part of a larger opus.

Now, if a member of Generation Z is telling me she’s growing weary of singles, something must be up. I’ve been thinking that for years, but I can be sort of a curmudgeon when it comes to music. Granted, Skye is a singer/songwriter, a musician, and has grown up in a musical home—but the fact that she arrived at that conclusion on her own makes me wonder if she’s not alone.

Spotify has not only changed the way we listen to music, it’s changed our relationship to it. My feelings toward Spotify are complicated, because I railed against it when it first arrived. (For our purposes, I’m referring to Spotify, Apple Music, and any other similar streaming platform.) Friends in Sweden, where it started, told me in so many words, “You can fight it all you want, but this is the future of music.” Well, I fought it all I wanted, and it was still the future of music. My record label also saw it before I did, and pushed me to release my albums there for years before I finally conceded defeat. I’ve made my peace with it, honest.

(And now for a small rant: I still maintain that if there were two tiny tweaks to the platform, things would be so much better. First, there should be a paywall after, say, the third listen of a song. If you’ve listened to a song thrice, I’d say it’s time you paid a dollar to the people who made it. The best argument for Spotify is that it’s a great way to discover music. I totally agree. But after three listens, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve discovered it, right? Easy. Now support the folks who made it.

Second, why not treat new music like new movies? Nobody expects brand-new movies to be free on Netflix on the opening weekend (quarantine anomalies notwithstanding). If you want to see the new Star Wars, then you go pay the ten bucks and watch it in the theater. If you don’t want to do that, you can wait a few months and watch it at home. This is how movies are funded. If you want the new Coldplay record when it comes out, just buy it—or wait a few months and then listen on Spotify. I realize it’s too late for this tweak, because the philosophy of the model is entrenched. The bird has flown. But my first point is doable. And I also realize it’ll never happen.

As a side note, a third grievance is the death of liner notes. Why on earth don’t Spotify and iTunes have a “credits” link on every album so people can see who played what, who produced it, where it was recorded, who got thanked, etc.? It would be so easy, and it would draw attention to the many, many people who help make the music we love.

Here ends the rant.)

Ubiquity makes us giants, and puts the world at our fingertips; scarcity makes us small enough to see that the little things are vast.

Andrew Peterson

My hunch is that the combination of 1) the quick and easy thrill of being able to listen to anything you want whenever you want and 2) the glut of new music at our fingertips, has sucked some of the enjoyment out of the listening experience. This is really about scarcity versus ubiquity. False dichotomies are a pet peeve of mine, so I’m not saying that old is always better or that new is always better (though I’ll admit I tend to err on the side of the former). But I am suggesting that the above combination of on-demand music coupled with millions of options is causing us to drift away from something really wonderful and enriching, and to drift toward something that’s wearing us out (evidenced in Skye’s desire to sink into an album for a change).

When I was a kid, we didn’t have much money. That meant it was a big deal if I saved the ten bucks to buy a tape at Turtle’s Music in Gainesville. When I got home I would smell the cassette, unfold the booklet, and read the tiny liner notes while I listened. I would treat the tape like it was a rare jewel. I had to think twice before I lent it to someone, and I always made sure I got it back when they were finished. The cassette was a treasure. When I rode in my buddy Joe’s 280 ZX I would drool all over the tapes in his Case Logic case and beg him to lend me the newest Tom Petty album. He had to think about it hard, because if he did, it meant he couldn’t listen to it in the meantime. He would miss it, pine for it, until I gave it back.

Not only was the artifact itself a treasure, it wasn’t easy to skip songs—which meant you discovered buried treasures within the treasure. You had to suffer through songs you didn’t like in order to get to the ones you did, giving the B-sides time to grow on you, with the happy result that they became favorites. Nowadays, if I don’t like a song it’s really easy to remove it from a playlist and never give it another shot, and I’m certain that by doing so I’m missing out on some great music.

This came up recently in a Rabbit Room meeting. I was talking to Chris Thiessen, who reviews a lot of albums, and asked him how he knows an album well enough to review it if it just came out. To my great relief, he said he tries to listen to a record from front to back at least five times before he writes about it. That’s a good discipline, especially if it’s a bad record. I honestly don’t know how reviewers do it. But I’d argue that even five academic listens in one weekend is nothing to what it’s like to live with a record for a few months because it’s the only thing in your car. A few examples are in order.

  1. Counting Crows. Their first record is a masterpiece. A game-changer. One of the great albums of all time, in my not-so-humble opinion. The second album, Recovering the Satellites is grittier, rockier, and takes some time. I honestly didn’t like it at first. But I kept listening, because I was a fan. After a few months it grew on me more and more, and now I’d argue that it was the perfect follow up to that perfect first record.
  2. Rich Mullins. A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. Honestly wasn’t sure about it at first. I liked a few songs, but didn’t get it. Then one day, after a few months, I realized it was magnificent. His last album, Brother’s Keeper is another example. A lot of people don’t like it, but I think it’s wonderful, and it’s because I let it steep.
  3. Bob Dylan. Blood on the Tracks. A classic, recommended to me by Randall Goodgame. It was my first real listen to Dylan, and it took about eleven listens.
  4. Alison Krauss and Union Station. So Long, So Wrong. Truly a masterpiece of an album. But in the late-nineties I didn’t think I liked country or bluegrass. Boy, was I wrong. And it took driving around America with Gabe Scott for a few years to realize it.

My point is this: if I made a list of my very favorite albums of all time, I’m pretty sure most of them cost me some time and effort before they really clicked. The key was the scarcity. The fact that the CD or tape lived in my car and I didn’t have the world at my fingertips meant that I gave the songs time to unfold themselves to me, to surprise me, to shift the tectonic plates of my taste and understanding enough that the next time I looked out the window I could tell the landscape had subtly broadened. The time spent with the music was the key that unlocked it—and the music, in turn, was the key that unlocked something in me. None of that would have happened if I had bumped up against a difficult song and merely skipped it or removed it from the playlist. Back then, the interface made it a little more difficult to banish a song into outer darkness. But now, the path of least resistance is to make a knee-jerk decision about a song and never revisit it, or to mean to go back and listen again but forget because eighty-five new albums came out today.

So rather than peddling a false dichotomy, I suggest meeting somewhere in the middle. If you’re a fogey like me, it’s good to remember that old is not necessarily better. I absolutely love the fact that my kids love music. They’re always discovering new stuff. Folks, I’m here to tell you that there’s some wonderful music being made today, by people half your age. Some of the stuff my kids like is tough for me at first, but by paying attention and giving it time I not only honor my progeny and get to know them better, I get to put my money where my mouth is and do the work of learning to like something new. (PSA: if your kids are playing an album loud enough for you to hear, chances are they want you to like it. They might be telling you something about their hearts.)

On the other hand, it’s good to submit to some self-imposed limits. Rather than Pandora, or a playlist, try what Skye did and commit to one record, front to back. Put it on repeat. Don’t let yourself skip anything. Sink in. Take my word for it: the artist worked hard deciding what order the songs should be in, and dreams of listeners experiencing it as a whole. My best argument for scarcity is this: for years our family vacations have been marked by one or two albums on repeat. When we went out west, it was Riders in the Sky. A few summers ago it was the second Colony House album. Another it was Coldplay’s Viva la Vida. By choosing our “vacation album,” we’re imprinting those songs with that memory of that place. A record can be a cloud storage drive for a memory. It’s just floating out there, and when the right music plays it downloads like a bolt of lightning. To this day, when Riders in the Sky’s Silver Jubilee record comes on I’m in Yellowstone National Park and a herd of memories stampedes through my mind.

There’s a lot to be said for ubiquity. I sure am glad I can find a song I want to hear in a few clicks. Indeed, Paul Simon, these are the days of miracle and wonder. But scarcity can be like fertilizer for your soul. Slowing down enough to savor one thing for a long time can teach you to enjoy everything a little more. Ubiquity makes us giants, and puts the world at our fingertips; scarcity makes us small enough to see that the little things are vast.

Click here to read Part 2: Miracles & Wonders by Chris Thiessen.

Image taken from Szu Kiong Ting’s Casette Tape Art Exhibition

Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.


30 Comments

  1. gllen

    Aye. Well said Andrew!
    Some personal favorite ALBUMS to check out some time.
    Bruce Cockburn – “The Charity of Night,” “Nothing But a Burning Light.”
    Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs,” “Everything Now.”
    Louise Hoffsten – “Kara Du.” (hard to find, but, oh! goodness…)
    Joe Sealy – “Africville.”
    Tara Jane O’Neal & Daniel Littleton – “Music For a Meteor Shower.”
    Sigur Ros – “Valtari.”
    U2 – “The Unforgettable Fire.”
    (you already know the last two I’m sure!).

  2. Adam Huntley

    @adamhuntley

    As one who hasn’t subscribed to a streaming service (for the all fogey reasons you mentioned) I still marvel at all that’s at your fingertips when I use my parent’s amazon echo. I’m happy to see this wise middle way. Thanks, brother.

  3. Karl Sutton

    This is tied into every other aspects of our short attention span, books, movies even seem like too much commitment for today. I remember every CD (over 800 of them) that I bought, I sat and listened to them top to bottom on my then Polk Audio 5b’s. Some favorites were Graceland, La Scala (Keith Jarrett), Walking In Memphis, most of David Wilcox early stuff, but Spotify has totally changed that. I really agree with your rants, I liked iTunes & thought it was a fair deal for the consumer – not sure how it worked out for the artist, but there was something even with that digital medium of “ownership” & having a collection of songs & albums that you invested in. My daughter recently got into vinyl and it’s been interesting to see how she interacts with music on that format, definitely takes effort & intentionality to experience the music. Thanks for the article!

  4. Mark Anderson

    @markanderson

    Andrew, you’re old. That’s one of the best things about you of course… because, like you, I well recall a good set of headphones, a stereo with a volume knob that turned to 11 and a collection of 8 tracks. Yes, 8 tracks. My head is full of much-loved songs that (for me at least) still feature a number of tracks where the volume drops entirely, there’s a massive clunk as the player switches tracks and then the volume comes back up to full level. Artists must have *loved* that.
    But there is simply nothing – nothing – to compare with turning off the rest of the world, lying back in the darkness with a full LP ahead of you and letting it play out. Eyes closed and awash in sound, only sound – glorious sound. (You should re-release all your stuff on 8 track soon just for me.). I have Spotify but you’re absolutely right – there is no respect for the artist’s work as a complete package and “concept album” is – sadly – long in the rearview mirror. That’s a major loss for the culture and something we don’t even have the sense to fully regret.
    You’re also probably old enough to remember the joy of stopping in at the local record store and hoping – week after painful week – that there would be something new from your favourite band or artist. Months of waiting for a “special order” to get re-pressed and shipped or hunting for the impossible-to-find bootlegs of live shows… the liner notes! Glorious! The disappointment when you open the record sleeve only to find no lyric sheet – grrrrr. All of that has been lost to the speed and breadth of the internet. I love finding new artists in seconds, I love having immediate access to your new stuff or Andy G’s or Shive’s (hey Ben – how about another album???). But, for me at least, (and I know I’m a dying breed), I’m *always* going to buy the physical product even while I use and enjoy Spotify. When there’s promos of something good, I buy multiples – because gifting a link is really an empty gesture.
    This generation and generations to come have lost something very precious in the name of convenience. Sad.

  5. J Michelson

    WOW. Great article Andrew! Myself being a member of this generation where we want everything at our fingertips immediately, I frequently find myself trying to stop from just skipping a song because it doesn’t fit with me at the moment, or from going along with music in the background not even thinking about what is playing. I definitely think that especially right now it’s crazy important to be intentional about what music we consume, and how we do it.

  6. Nathan Bubna

    Liner notes are still one of the reasons i prefer to buy CDs. I don’t listen to albums on CD often. I’ll get the free download with it or rip it myself and use that day to day, but i want the art, i want the credits, i want to read the artist’s own comments. And i want to keep that experience of holding something physical in my hand. Physical existence alone makes it feel more valuable. If i can’t or don’t get the CD for reason, the first thing i do is burn a copy, just in case.

    And yes, listen to whole albums. I rarely buy singles, and never on impulse. I only buy them to craft a yearly “collection” album of radio hits and classics to curate for my kids. And when i do, it is an “artistic” process, taking hours to create an album where the order matters, where i care about the album experience, how they flow and fit and contrast and open and close.

    I see songs and albums as analogous to tv episodes and seasons. A great episode (song) might be well worth experiencing wholly on its own, but set in the context of a whole season (album), you will understand and appreciate it much more deeply.

  7. R.J. Anderson

    @rjanderson

    I’ve thought about this a lot as well, for the very same reasons you’ve mentioned. Sometimes it takes several listens for a truly rich, multilayered, extraordinary work of music to penetrate your mind and become a lifelong favorite, especially if that album is a marked departure from earlier work by the same artist and doesn’t match up to your initial expectations. Would I still be listening to Talk Talk’s “Spirit of Eden” and “Laughing Stock” albums, or David Sylvian’s “Gone to Earth”, if I hadn’t spent hard-earned money on them as a teenager and felt obligated to give them a fair chance? Probably not, because they’re challenging albums. But in 30+ years I’ve never grown tired of hearing them, which is a lot more than I can say for most of the more immediately catchy songs I’ve found on streaming music sites, listened to once or twice and then forgotten.

  8. Jason Mitchell

    Amen! Some of my favorite songs are the ones I didn’t like until I’d listened to them many times. I’ve learned that if I enjoy the work of a musician but dislike one of their songs it’s often because I haven’t heard it enough. I’ve also learned that there are songs (and books!) I didn’t appreciate until I’d lived enough to be ready for them. There are some benefits to getting older.

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    As a teen and in my twenties in California I would buy four records (LPs) from the mail order company County Sales in Virginia that cost me $40-something bucks with shipping, and they took two or three weeks to arrive. I listened to some of those records so many times the grooves were dug out – I still have them all. Scarcity – Joni MItchell sang of “the crazy you get from too much choice.”
    I agree on the “buy” link after the third listen, and having a month or two wait after the record comes out before it hits streaming. It’s whacked in the head to give away something for free that costs thousands upon thousands of dollars to make, and takes thousands of hours of work on technique, songs, the record itself, and life experience.
    In the current situation of no gigging, it might have been handy for musicians and labels to hang on to their intellectual property rights by not selling out for .0035¢ per play, which would take 3371 plays to make one hour of the average US worker’s minimum wage ($11.80 an hour).
    A “buy” link and no streaming on initial release are not likely to happen. But then again, anything that shakes up any completely unjust system is unlikely – until it happens. One rock can start an avalanche.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Bonnie Raitt’s Fundamental record was one I didn’t like on first listen. I decided to listen to it while walking every day. Three days later it was one of my favorite recordings, and still is.

  11. gllen

    I forgot one. ALBUM.
    Kelly Joe Phelps – “Brother Sinner & the Whale.”
    A must for any guitar-finger-picker lover…
    Ooohh. Yeah.

  12. extrarice

    This. That’s all that really needs to be said, but I’ll add a bit more.
    I am just old enough to remember what life was like before the Internet was accessible by the general public. I am happy to see in this age of instantaneous everything that there is a growing desire to slow down and truly digest something rather than simply consuming and quickly moving on to the next, new thing — a desire to find things of meaning and depth, things that need time to grow.

  13. Matthew Shedd

    @matthewshedd

    I grew up at the junction between CD and digital music. So I remember fondly the experience of listening to full albums while laying on my bed or driving as a family. Growing up, that meant Garth Brooks, REO Speedwagon, and Styx. But then I got lost in the digital music craze, and for years my music was bland and ordinary. I have had a slow rediscovery of the album over the past two years. At Christmas I got my first record player to cultivate a collection of great albums.

    I will say, I have enjoyed continuing to use Spotify to overview artists that I feel are important (I spent the past month listening to the entire studio discography of the Beach Boys and Beatles). This has helped me decide what albums are worthy of purchase and which ones can be an occasional treat online.
    Final thought: I would love to have someone else curate a list of albums for me to dive into one at time. To have someone with more wisdom amd musical knowledge say, “listen to this” seems like a great blessing!

  14. Chris Barrett

    I’ve begun to feel this about many things. We eat fruit around the calendar year with lowered expectations rather than focus on the seasonal because it’s available. It loses its “specialness”. That analogy can be applied in so many areas. Listening, learning to appreciate, reading liner notes to better understand the vision of the artist and the army of people who helped make the music happen and waiting in joyful anticipation – all have been replaced by “ubiquity” as you call it. And you are right about memories, AP. I had Yes’s Fragile and Close to the Edge on constant play in the background as I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Those songs evoke so many memories of reading those books. At the time, the Hildebrandt brothers did the LOTR calendars and were the only pictorial representation I had seen. Those paired with the music were magical in making the stories come alive (not that the books weren’t enough).

  15. Sean Tompkins

    While it’s harder to listen to albums in full nowadays, it’s definitely still doable. I’d argue that when we were young, the “whole album” crowd was still a minority of the music listening audience. Most people just consumed top40 radio (or the top40 of their genre of choice). I do desperately miss liner notes… I purchase most of my music online now just for the convenience of NOT having to carry around a collection and try to remember where I’ve left that one CD I love, and liner notes are much harder to get access to.
    You mention letting those less-liked songs get into your head and heart – I think that this particular point mirrors so many things in life. It’s easy to surround ourselves with “comfort” items – people who agree with me, the style of music I like, the preacher who says what I already believe, the Yes Men who think all my ideas are great, even the food that makes me happy. Our consumer culture works to make it easier and easier to get us straight from our dollars to our comfort, because that will be what motivates us to pursue more comfort – but at the end of the day comfort isn’t exactly what we need. We need to explore, to hear the thoughts and hearts of those who see the world differently, to understand why people might disagree with us, to see the world through the eyes of someone with a different life experience than we have. Sometimes when I hear a song that either doesn’t click, or actually repels me that’s a good signal I need to wrestle with it some to understand what I don’t understand, or to think through what is it that I can’t get past.
    God, please open our ears, our eyes, our hearts to all that you have blessed us with, not just what we feel makes us comfortable!!

  16. Dan Galbraith

    @dan-galbraith

    Liner notes! Yes, I am still grieving that loss, and I can’t understand why record companies and the likes of BMI/ASCAP don’t demand them, given the ease of execution. I spent years as a young person perusing every album cover, cassette sleeve, and CD insert learning who these incredible writers and musicians were on my favorite albums. Plus, having the lyrics in print is like a book of poetry, especially if the art was well-done!

  17. Lila Diller

    I really appreciated this insightful look into how we think about music now. I will think more about this.

    I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I still remember my Mom’s 8-tracks and old records. My husband’s boss just blessed us with a record player for a Christmas bonus, and I’ll admit, after the first week, I was tired of having to get up and flip the record after only 4 or 5 songs. Cassettes were my thing growing up. I still have some of my favorites and a wording cassette player, but again, I don’t take the time to get up and turn the cassette over usually. I did feel like I came to know the artist in a deeper way. Some of those artists are still my favorites today, like Steven Curtis Chapman. However, I don’t have any of their newer albums. I tried to keep up with SCC, but I just couldn’t get into the singles enough to make me want to spend the money to buy the CDs. My husband bought me one of his newer ones, and I only listened a time or two. I’ve never picked it up again.

    However, my husband is not as musically inclined or passionate as I am. But he has become a raving fan of TobyMac. We have almost all of his CDS, and that is all my husband listens to in the car anymore. We have a 5-disc changer, and they are all filled with a TobyMac album. When one album is finished, it automatically goes to the next one. When we only had one CD at a time in our previous car, we skipped songs we didn’t like all the time. But now that we have the 5-disc changer, we don’t skip as often. Our sons, mainly our youngest, (9.5) will still ask to skip his least favorite. I personally feel like I know TobyMac on a deeper level since I heard him singing to his wife, singing with his son, and listened to the recurring themes in each album.

  18. Nicole Eckerson

    @nicoleeckerson

    I miss liner notes so much. I have often wished that Spotify would provide them. There is a challenge going around on Instagram right now (quarantine has given rise to so many…) wherein you must choose your top four albums of all time. I really put some thought into my selections. The ones I chose were all albums that I had listened to multiple times from start to finish, a fully wrapped gift from the artist that I unwrapped as they had ordered. Back when I used to buy CDs, I always listened to album all the way through at least once to pay my dues to the work the artist had done in writing, recording, and ordering the songs just so. Thanks for these thoughts.

    In case you’re wondering, the four albums were Hamilton (The Original Cast Recording), Billy Joel’s The Stranger, Mumford and Son’s Sigh No More, and Bastille’s All This Bad Blood. There was a multi-week period in my life when I listened to All This Bad Blood (all 25 songs) at least three times a day. I would finish the last song and then immediately start listening to the first song again. I don’t know why but that album spoke to me on a visceral level in ways that I can’t even verbalize. Honorable mentions for the list are Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell (the album that defined mine and my husband’s four-month dating period), Wakey Wakey’s Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said The Last Time I Saw You…, Regina Spektor’s What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, Regina Spektor’s Far, and MewithoutYou’s Brother, Sister. So so good.

  19. Ramey Bachali

    Thank you, AP! Your final comments about music influencing memory were particularly meaningful. In fact, my childhood is marked by much of your music! From Ohio to South Carolina and back every summer, and even now between Colorado and Ohio, you are on repeat. To prove your point, I actually prefer your older albums (Far Country & Clear to Venus in particular) because I’ve listened to them SO MANY TIMES. They have so much meaning attached to them. My relationships with my dad, my sister, and now my husband are all sealed with various songs you wrote.

    Last spring, I was student teaching and had about a 15-minute commute (the first commute of my illustrious 22 years). I had just bought a CD of The Gray Havens’ new album She Waits and I did NOT like it. I wanted to support a band I love, but honestly I was disappointed… UNTIL I listened to that album for 15 minutes every morning and 15 minutes every afternoon for 12 weeks. It’s now my favorite Gray Havens work and one of my top albums of all time. I must admit, I do have Spotify Premium, but thank you for the reminder of life-changing music and the power of listening.

    I’m going to go for a walk now and listen to Skye’s album straight through!

  20. Andrew Word

    I too miss unwrapping a fresh jewel case and exploring the liner booklet, but there are some positives to the new reality.

    An example – I have little money to spend on production or promotion, but someone across the world can find one of my songs and then possibly become a dedicated listener. A few listeners have done this already. Before the internet, they would have never heard about my music, and it sure wouldn’t have been in their local record store. It’s true that I’m not making a living from streaming, but there are a lot of small artists reaching more listeners than they could have before.

  21. Mark Geil

    @markgeil

    Back in February, I was in Target early, just after it opened, buying a release-day Blu-ray. I was surprised to see little groups of teenage girls—maybe three of them—making their way to that electronics area at the back of the store. The clerk there was ready. He handed each one a white box about the size of, say, Springsteen’s Live box set. And each one, as soon as they touched it, did that little wiggle and squeal of anticipation that only teenage girls can do. I had no idea what the big deal was, so I peeked. There was a big “7” on the front, and I realized this was the new album from BTS. I was so happy to see an actual release day with a physical copy of music that warranted an early trip to the store and a wiggle and squeal. Maybe those days are not lost.

  22. DCHammers

    @dchammers

    Yes, the vacation music. Totally with you on how music can imprint a particular geography for life. It was 30 years ago, but an early listen to Phil Keaggy’s “Wind & The Wheat” while driving solo thru the desert of SW Oregon as the sun came up would be one memory forever branded to my brain. Now, Alison Krause, that’s another matter. I went from from completely unfamiliar to a sold-out fan in about 30 seconds of hearing her twangy cover of Todd Rundgren one afternoon wandering a Barnes & Noble.

  23. Geni

    I crave stories, so my favorite way to listen to music is in a whole album at a time. As you can probably imagine, the day I discovered the existence of concept albums might as well have been Christmas. I’m well within Gen Z (let’s just say I would be hard pressed to find an artist half my age!), and unabashedly a fan of Spotify and Apple Music as a means of discovering new music. I’ve found obscure artists through there that I absolutely love. Oddly enough, I never like an artist the first time I hear them. My preferred niche of music is actually rather tiny so I usually do commit to listening to albums straight through until I like them. Scarcity still exists. Lyrics are everything to me. If there’s truth and beauty in them, I’ll almost always end up liking a song and deconstructing it line by line. Genius lyrics encourages just that. Intentionality and scarcity (albeit in a different form) is far from deadl Perhaps some of your old experiences do linger on 🙂

    I recommend Through the Deep Dark Valley and Dear Wormwood by the Oh Hellos. If you’re fond of banjos, indie bands and neck beards, they’re a good fit. Through the Deep Dark Valley is probably the best fit for first-time listeners. Half of it is occupied by the story of a prodigal and God’s redemption and the final song (a reprise of the first song) concludes with a wordless version of Come Thou Fount (a thematically appropriate fit for an album about wandering). Dear Wormwood is more of a true concept album based off of the Screwtape Letters and exploring the idea of a person being able to write directly to their demon. It’s a heady, wonderful album about leaving a destructive relationship with sin, the fear of and triumph over death and the second coming of Christ. Both albums are rowdy and beautiful and breathtaking. As I’ve said before, I geek out over lyrics and the Oh Hellos invest as much effort into their lyrics as the music itself. Dear Wormwood mixes literary, theatrical and Biblical metaphors in a really interesting way and their newer EPs (though I don’t adore them quite so much) are particularly lyrically excellent.

    If you do prefer listening to a song or two crudely ripped from the wider context of its album (*gasp*) then I’d recommend the Lament of Eustace Scrubb (when the lyrics fall away, it captures the feeling of being redeemed), Where is Your Rider (a ferociously cry of glad victory over death) and the Valley (and its reprise, both about the story of humanity), all by the Oh Hellos. The titular song for Dear Wormwood is also very good. It’s difficult to limit my recommendations to just a full song.

    I could just as wholeheartedly recommend the Gray Havens, but they need no introduction in these parts!

  24. Jesse Hayden

    @jesse-hayden

    Thanks for this, AP! I definitely resonate with the experience of growing to love albums over time. Several of my all-time favorite records were CDs that I picked up at thrift stores and kept coming back to. August & Everything After has been one of those slow-burning albums for me. I wasn’t sure what to make of it initially, but it’s grown on me with repeat listens, and I think I need to keep at it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why it’s one of the great albums sometime.

  25. Mark Sitton

    @marksitton

    This reminds me of the road tape my dad would put on for our trips from Oklahoma down to East Texas. That road tape was typically New Grass Revival and to this day I still think about riding in the back of that old Suburban with the back seat taken out and my sister and I just laying down, resting, and listening. Another one was Southern Pacific, which my dad and I still belt out when we listen to it together. I often think of the chronology of my life through music; for instance, I too had a Counting Crows stage.
    These days I still tend to buy full albums on iTunes, even though there are one or two heavily looped, popular songs on there. As you say, there is a strong effort in song order and arrangement, one which I respect, and come to expect! On that 9th or 10th listen, your soul knows the next song’s beat and the expectation is great. My wife and I have what we call ‘Vinyl Tuesday’ ever week, where we let the kids open up an old chestnut hope chest and pick an album to put on the record player. We then commence to dance to Side A, and if we’re really rolling, flip that thing over and hit the B Side. We also look at the album cover and inside pictures and notes. My kids are 3 and 6, so they just want to dance like crazy people and they get energy out before bed, but I hope I’m instilling in them the art, the value of listening.

  26. Kara

    @karajanechase

    While the landscape of listening may change, the soul of the listener may not. It can adapt, if willing.
    “Cause I know the thirsty listen and down to the waters come” -Rich

  27. Lduff

    @lduff

    This resonated with me today! After the kids went to bed, I started to work on writing some music and realized my well was dry. I was saddened by how long it had been since I sat down and listened to an entire album. I came across Son of Laughter in my archives and listened through all of his songs. It was so life-giving to pause and fill my mind with the product of someone’s thoughtful and beautiful creativity. I told myself that I had to take time out each week to do this because my soul needed it. There are songs from my childhood that if played today, it would take me to the backseat of my parent’s van on the way to Oklahoma. The exact feelings and thoughts I had at 16 are bottled up along with By the Tree’s “Invade My Soul” or Third Day’s Come together album. Music and vivid memories are intertwined as closely as memories are tied to smell.

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