Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Take: An Album's Timing

As a reviewer, I have records regularly streaming into my inbox, and it's my job to listen to them, figure out which are interesting enough to talk about, and then give you an honest opinion of how I feel about what I heard. It seems simple enough, and it usually is, but there are times when little questions creep into my mind that make me wonder if it's possible to do the job with the degree of objectivity (as though judging art can be objective) that I would like to think I bring to the table.

Recently, I reviewed the newest album from Gothic death/doom masters Paradise Lost. Listening to that album triggered in me a doubt that I mentioned in my review, but want to expand on a bit more here.

Does the time when an album comes out affect how we hear it?

Over the course of time it will make no difference, as years down the line no one will remember when exactly an album came out, and it will be discovered in all manner of situations. But when we're talking about new music, and trying to help the artists by talking about their new efforts, are our opinions colored by the circumstances in which we happen to hear the music? I worry, at times, that I am doing the artists a disservice by trying to review an album when I am not prepared for that kind of music.

In the case of Paradise Lost, this feeling struck me much harder than usual. As I was listening to the dreary music, the sun was shining, and Spring was just beginning to bloom. My mood was optimistic, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and listen to an album that reveled in the art of misery. It seemed to me to be a mistake to release the album on the cusp of the bright, sunny days that fuel our summer dreams. Such an album, I think, would be much better served coming out in the early days of fall, as darkness creeps ever closer over the line of the days, drawing down upon us earlier with each rotation of the clock's hands. Next year, of course, none of this will matter, because the album will just be another record waiting to be discovered at the right time.

But the record industry right now is heavily focused on the initial buzz, and the first week sales. In that respect, I struggle to understand why an album would be released at a time that seems to be the very antithesis of the band's identity. I consider it to be a form of self-sabotage, although when I voiced this opinion, I was roundly ridiculed. Perhaps I am in the vast minority by being affected by my surroundings, but I notice it happen to me every time I turn the page on the calendar.

Last year, around this time, I received an album that dovetailed with the moment absolutely perfectly. I was sent the sophomore album from power-pop songwriter Edward O'Connell, titled "Vanishing Act". As I hit play that first time, there was a synthesis of the sunshine, the sweetness of the music, and of my mood, that worked together to create a moment in time that was far bigger than merely listening to a record. It was one of those rare occasions where you can see as it is happening that power that music has to dig inside of us and pry out our feelings, to take us to places we didn't know we needed to go.

So as another summer begins, I find myself right now spinning "Vanishing Act", and feeling that rush of summer warmth come over me again. A year later, the album is still able to evoke that feeling in me. It was still a great record when I listened to it during the winter, but it wasn't quite the same. But now that the sun is shining, that missing piece of the puzzle has been found. This summer, like last summer, I will be trying to fill my listening time with as much music as I can that amplifies my mood, and not the kind that fights to bring the darkness into moments it can only ruin.

So while bands like Paradise Lost are certainly free to release their records whenever they like, I wonder if by the end of the year they will regret their decision, because fewer people would have had the chance to have that kind of transcendental moment with their record. I'm going to have to wait until fall to see if it happens for me.

Until then, I can't recommend you go listen to Edward O'Connell and "Vanishing Act" enough. You're welcome, in advance, for making your summer great.

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