Last night was the third gathering of The Long Player - an evening of album appreciation at QUAD arts centre in Derby. We played Fleet Foxes new album Helplessness Blues and it was GRATE. I've also now come to appreciate how much I enjoy putting expectations on a record and hearing it with other people. I thought I might write a few short thoughts on the matter.
I want records to connect with me. Music is unlike many other art forms in that the audience is usually quite receptive to a record they have bought/downloaded before they have even heard it. We want records to speak to us, we look for meaning in the lyrics or throw awesome shapes on dancefloors (I do anyway, I'm like Michael Jackson escaping from a straight-jacket). A record will always have a bit of a head start in trying to worm its way into our hearts because pop music has become so entrenched in our lives and so easy to access. But this convenience shouldn't result in us giving new records an easy ride by allowing them to become background music. Last night, after avoiding listening to the album and just seeing a few of the many favourable reviews posted online, I found myself making time to sit down with a gathering of people and getting excited about hearing it for the first time. I'd built it up and my experience was much richer for it. Every lush wave of vocal harmonies felt amazing with the sun setting over the buildings and refracting through the blues and reds of the glass in QUAD's Box (currently a very comfortable cafe/bar while their refit continues on the ground floor). It almost made the Assembly Rooms look pretty.
So next time you get a new record, just try making time for it. It's not a case of you making a concession for a record, it's that you should expect great things and a great experience from it. If you don't expect a record to be capable of that "aura" then it can only disappoint.
All My Friends...
My next point is this - I love records. I love them in all their forms (singles, albums, EP's, double-gatefold concept albums about vegetables, whatever). That's not to say I love all the music on them, just that I don't care what format I'm presented with as long as it works. Hence I would be sad to see 'The Album' go the way of the Dodo. Albums, when done well, can shape a whole evening as each track plays with recurring themes and a whole picture steadily builds up of what the artist thinks and feels. By experiencing that with others in a public setting, we create expectation in the same way a live gig would. We're opening the album up to criticism, not just keeping it locked up in our own heads. We might wonder if other people are enjoying it and if it's an album you already like, the hope that your companions are connecting with it in the same way becomes a really important part of the experience. That and there have been times when I've spotted a few people at these nights make a move to clap after a song before realising there's no-one to receive their applause.
With these thoughts I'm just going to round off with a plug for the next night in June. On Weds 15th, we will be paying due care and attention to Rings Around The World by Super Furry Animals. As we are totally 2011 multimedia wizards, we are opting to make use of the Box's cinematic capabilities and presenting this on the DVD release which is in ear-caressing 5.1 surround sound and features a visual accompaniment to every track. This album is amazing, if you don't know it, this is a great way to start.
Stay frosty marines,