When was the last time you sat down and listened to a full album, from beginning to end? In this playlist era brought to us by the likes of Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and TIDAL, it's easy even for the serious music lover to go days, weeks, even months without taking the time to take in a complete album.
Playlists are awesome--a great way to feed/inspire a particular mood or, in the case of artist-inspired radio, to be exposed to new artists that are similar to ones you already love. But there's an art to album listening. The ability to truly sit with an album, to give it your full and undivided attention (do we really give anything our full and undivided attention these days?) and absorb it exactly the way the artist intended you to hear it. Art is a discipline, and as with any discipline it requires practice.
With this in mind, we thought it would be fun to check in with our own team of reviewers and find out the last album that each of them listened to, start to finish. As it turns out, all of them had listened to a full-length album fairly recently, which is a good sign and perhaps not all that surprising, given that they all review audio components as a job. We asked each of them to go beyond just naming the album and to paint a picture of the experience in some way. Here's what they had to say.
Jerry Del Colliano
"The last complete album I listened to was Thievery Corporation's Treasures from the Temple. This Washington D.C. deejay duo features a couple of ultra-groovy song stylists who repackage and nicely produce soulful tracks with a loungy sound that plays well to varied audiences. Reggae, soul, hip-hop, and other genres blend into a sonic trip that I think has global appeal. I sadly missed the release of this album, but a golf buddy of mine from Sidney, Australia, told me about it.
I bought the silver disc (a rarity) and ripped it in AIFF form, adding it to the large music collection stored on my hard drive. Then I sat down and listened to the whole thing--and found some great new demo tracks in the process. I was able to use the track "Letter to the Editor" in my review of the surprisingly good Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II wireless headphones. Maybe I'm more hip than I thought. Eh, probably not."
"Tool's Ænima has, for the past two decades, been the album I turn to when things get a little dark (and this past week has been a dark one). Ænima is not just one of the best prog-metal albums of all time; it's also one of my handful of perfect albums. By that I don't necessarily mean that every song on it is perfect--just that it works as a cohesive whole, from beginning to end, and every song on the album is stronger because of the ones surrounding it ... kinda like The Black Crowes's Amorica or Paul Simon's Graceland.
The other album I've been spinning nearly nonstop is Andrew Bird's Echolocations: River. This is a follow-up to 2015's Echolocations: Canyon, and as with that piece it involves semi-improvisational musical conversations between Bird (via his violin) and nature. In this case, a river. Duh. It's a wonderful little journey. If Ænima is my way of clawing a path violently through darkness and pain, Echolocations: River is my way of embracing peace and tranquility. It absolutely must be listened to from beginning to end."
"I woke up this morning thinking about one of my favorite songs, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Coleman Hawkins's album Good Old Broadway, recorded in 1962, has one of my all-time favorite versions of that song. In addition to the legendary Hawkins on tenor saxophone, the song features a great solo by another great jazz player, Tommy Flanagan, on piano. The last time I played this album was about six months ago. I intensely listened to the whole album because it just sounded so beautiful to me on a beautiful spring morning."
"I recently listened to Baby Driver: Music from the Motion Picture. This Emmy-nominated soundtrack features tracks from several decades across multiple musical genres. The diverse lineup of artists includes Simon and Garfunkel, John Spencer Blues Explosion, The Modern Lovers, Dave Brubeck, The Beach Boys, and the possibly lesser known (depending on how old you are and your musical preferences) Carla Thomas, The Damned, Kid Koala, and Brenda Holloway. Somehow all that diversity works together when listening to the whole album.
The remastering is excellent. The short and snappy "Bongolia" by The Incredible Bongo Band (who else?) is sandwiched between Beck's "Debra" and Detriot Emerald's "Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms." The last track is "Chase Me" featuring Run the Jewels and Big Boi. This is an album that I can listen to over and over--a song collection that no curated "channel" from Pandora or Spotify would ever put together ... and that's just the thing that makes this soundtrack so awesome!"
"Once a week I go through the new tracks in TIDAL. Usually I come up with at least a half-dozen new tracks that I add to my "Tracks" favorites list. Then, if there's a track that really grabs me, I'll look for an album by that artist.
The latest album that I listened to for the first time, all the way through, was Four Finger Banjo from Greg Liszt. The title alludes to the fact that, unlike most Scruggs-style banjo players, Greg uses four fingers rather than three. Liszt is also the banjo instructor at Berklee School of Music in Boston. On this album Liszt was joined by Rushad Eggleston on Cello, Josh Pinkham on mandolin, and Ethan Jodziewics on double bass.
If you like acoustic jazz with strong rhythmic underpinnings, you will find yourself "letting it track" just as I did. Their version of Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Stomp," pushed by Rushad Eggleston's driving bass, absolutely rules."
"I've been a sucker for quirky and clever lyrics ever since John Entwistle smashed someone's head against the wall back in 1971, around the same time he sang about his wife on Who's Next. Over the years, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, and Dire Straits have been among my favorite performers.
More recently, some of my favorite lyrics have been sung by Toby Keith, UB40, and Pink. The last album I listened to in its entirety was Pink's Beautiful Trauma. Although she's credited with collaborating on most of her songs, I have no idea how much Pink actually has to do with the lyrics. But her delivery always makes me feel like she wrote the song. Listen to "Bad Influence" from Funhouse, for example, and tell me she's not singing about herself ... at least vicariously.
Most of the cuts on Beautiful Trauma, including the title track, fit that description and satisfy my appetite for clever, quirky lyrics. Seriously, who else could sing "Revenge," "Barbies," or "What About Us" and make you feel like you just had a phone conversation with her?"
"I confess, I am a playlist junkie and have been since my teens, when playlists were called mix tapes. Back then, though, I was also good at focused album listening. That's becoming less and less the case, sadly. So I recently made a conscious choice to grab some CDs to put in my car, the one place where I really can't be distracted by other activities (beyond, you know, driving).
The CDs I chose were Prince's Purple Rain, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Peter Gabriel's Security, and U2's two most recent albums, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (both of which are definitely designed with a flow, to tell their respective stories of, well, innocence and experience). The CD that stayed in the player the longest was Purple Rain. It's been a long time since I heard the complete album start to finish, and I had forgotten just how utterly perfect it is. Hearing it made me feel simultaneously joyful and sad at what we've lost."
What was the last full-length album you listened to? How long ago was it? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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