24 March 2011


Steven Hyden wrote a great piece for the A.V. Club a few weeks ago that I find myself constantly referencing. How long does it take you to like an album, to "get" an album?

Personally, it all depends.
When I first heard Adele's new release 21, I was barely through the third song before I had fallen hard. I started listening to it on repeat, Tweeting about it (and not just once), and telling people about it. I was hooked immediately.

But it isn't always like that.
I'm a longtime fan of Gavin Creel's (since my very first Broadway show) and was very excited about his recent release, Quiet. After quickly downloading it to my iPod, I listened to it first on my commute. On earbuds while walking along busy streets and riding the bus, Quiet simply couldn't compete. Its EP length hurt it further, the songs running together and seeming to end before they began. I was left with the unfortunate reaction of, "Is this it?," which is not how I feel about any of Creel's other work (least of all his recent brilliance in HAIR). I wasn't willing to give up that easily, so I listened to it at work. Emanating from the plastic speakers while I was focused on the morning's e-mails, Quiet lived up to its name and once again fell flat. But I couldn't let it go. When I got home, I played it in my otherwise silent apartment and was finally able to hear the intricacies of this unassuming, delicate, understated album. A few more listens, and I was in love.

Sometimes an album requires this time and effort of exploration. As Hyden highlights, "An album might be best experienced on headphones, or it might demand to be played at 11 on stereo speakers." My favorite place to listen to music, the place where it sounds the best, is in my car. But like most people, I also tailor playlists to different activities (a run) and experiences (the morning commute). Some songs go anywhere, some don't.

Likewise, it's the nature of music to become intimately attached to time. Sometimes you're hooked in a moment, on a note or a lyric, and sometimes it takes days, weeks, months or even years for an album to feel right - to feel like you really "get" it. Of course, you can fall out of love with a song or album in the same time frames. Hyden also gets it absolutely right on this idea of time and our relationship to music:
"Music by nature is a slow burn, parsing out its charms in small increments over the course of weeks, years, even decades. Music can be the focus of your attention, but it often fades into the background, only to re-emerge when you least expect it and reveal a whole other dimension. No other art form weaves its way into the fabric of your life like music, and this inevitably shapes our feelings about it."
Couldn't have said it better.