Monday, August 16, 2010

Playlists and Albums

I've recently been listening to a lot of Rush.  This is, of course, a good thing.  But in this I've re-discovered the value of the "album" in music.

These days, in this age of iPods and eWidgets, playlists are becoming more common than albums.  After all, it's my music collection and I should be able to organize it as I see fit, right?  Well sure, that's fine in some circumstances.  Creating a party mix of various songs from yesteryear, or a driving mix of enjoyable music that keeps one awake without being distracting, or even a nap time mix of soft classical.  But it's important that we don't lose sight of the value that an album itself can represent.

I had lost sight of that, and that's why my first attempt to "get into Rush" met with failure.  For this, I apologize.  See, I've never really been a Rush fan.  Their music is fantastic, and I've always recognized that, but I just never really paid any attention.  At some point I decided to give it a try, so I loaded up my iPod with as much Rush as I could muster and set it to random.  And, well, I just didn't get it.  I didn't see the fanatical appeal.  But, of course, that was my fault.

To go from Moving Pictures to Vapor Trails to Fly By Night to Counterparts to Hemispheres and end up on Power Windows... That's not the musical journey that the artists envisioned and produced, but rather a disorienting maelstrom of sounds and experiences.  I was hearing Rush music, but I was not listening to Rush.

Since it didn't click with me, I moved on.  I went back to what I was doing.  A few gems from that attempt made it to my regular playlists, but that's it.  Then sometime later my friends and I went to go see the Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, at the Nickelodeon theater downtown.  (It is, by the way, an excellent documentary.)  This gave me a little more insight into the career of Rush and helped me understand the progression of their albums.

See, unlike other bands which tend to have a sound and just stick with it, Rush has evolved tremendously over the years.  They've truly perfected their craft in the sense that perfection is a journey, not a destination.  Over the years they've produced a lot of albums, but each one is its own discreet unit.  While some may be grouped into eras of the band's career, the albums themselves are atomic units.  Some songs may be taken on their own, but the album is the true unit of music being presented.

So shortly thereafter I tried again.  I commuted to and from work one day listening to Moving Pictures, in the order in which the songs were intended.  I.  Was.  Hooked.  And so it continued, album after album, commute after commute.  One need not necessarily listen to the albums themselves in the order of the band's career, but one does need to keep each album in its proper era context.  If you just came off of Roll The Bones and you're in the mood for 2112, take a moment and get into the right mindset.  You're not just moving to the next song in your playlist, you're embarking on a musical journey.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

I think I'm just about ready to load up some prog metal concept albums.

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