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  • Writer's pictureNikolis Clark

Music: The World in My Eyes

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

A friend of mine in response to my writing told me "Dude, why would anyone read a non-informative blog? What was the point? I didn't learn anything from what you wrote." Buddy, this post goes out to you.


Playlist: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_nMft1HP8iD7Wu0f0PfOKfao7r_nrBz6O8


It was the October of 2018, I had just finished training to become a student radio DJ, a role that I would fulfil until a world spanning virus would lockdown the studio in Spring of 2020, and I wondered about what I was going to do my radio show on. I had then the same question I still have now, what is the point of a radio show? For some it is to bring new music to the airwaves, for others it is a platform, and for me it was to look at music in a way that I believed was often looked over by many of my peers. Music as we know it, is not music as we knew it.

February 25th, 1985 Tears for Fears releases their masterpiece, Songs From The Big Chair. The Album would go on to be recognized for classics like "Shout", "Head Over Heels", and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", which while important are still just single pieces of a greater whole. It was the fall of 2022 when I would finally hear this seminal work. It was, as I suspected, a mosaic of sound and passion. Missing from this mind palace of music contextualization is the most important piece of the puzzle, "The Working Hour." "The Working Hour" stands a the technical high point of the album, and unsurprisingly "The Working Hour" was the title track of the album before the name was changed to better fit how the band was feeling at the time. Nonetheless times have changed.


The Album: Musical Storytelling

It was the Summer of 2017, I had as many young people do, a shitty job. I was working full time at Walmart, and had started the Summer getting dumped by a woman who only referred to Depeche Mode, as De-Peshi Mod, a trait that still makes me cringe to this day. Depeche Mode had been a favorite of my since, I had first listened to Violator, Spring of 2015 in art class. As I said, Buddy, this one goes out to you. Violator, a masterpiece in its own right, combines elements of goth rock, synth pop, and dance, uses variability to convey a message.

The symphony, was constructed by the forefathers of classical music to encapsulate a range of feelings. Their Symphonies, would eventually be used in operas, dramas, and orchestral performances. This idea of emotional storytelling created the basis for what would eventually become the album. Robert Shummann's Album for the Young, served as the definitional precursor for the modern album, a set of music that creates a greater whole. However in modern terms this "album" was really a mixtape.

In same way that the symphonies of old tried to convey an emotional throughline, through movements, modern bands began organizing albums to express a feeling, story, or a message. Sometimes this organization is in fact in musical evolution. Maxinquaye by Tricky conveys the feeling of complex internal struggle, sexuality, and mystery in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Like a child from the same house walking out the backdoor instead of the front, Portishead magnum opus, Dummy demonstrates an evolution of form that creates a learned narrative throughline of innovation. The album as a medium was not simply a collection of songs, but rather a collection of themes, a nuance that was lost with the rise of the single. An albums quality was decided not by any single song, but rather by quality of the whole. While I will argue all day that Sonic Youth is one of the greatest bands of all time, I think they failed to make a single album that fully meets the bar for a good album.


The Single: Incomplete Wholes

The great clock of time chimes at the changing of the hour, and much the same our time is landmarked by events. Like how video killed the radio star, digital killed the physical format. Sometime in the late 90s and the early 2000s, singles, not albums, became the focus of newer music listeners. This was spawned by what I would argue was beginning of the Pop Boom. Many pop albums of the 2000s lacked substance, and as such studios began marketing the singles instead of albums. The hydra lacked heads, and failed to grow more. Looking back at the battle of Brit-pop, both Oasis and Blur were far more popular for their singles than their albums. I heard "Song 2" by Blur long before I ever listened to one of their albums. Even further with age of the cellphone, also known as 2006, using a song as a ringtone became common place. Digital sales, and streaming fed singles to the public and soon enough the single replaced the album. A single always has substantially higher listenership on any site than the album it comes from.

This change is a consequence of music beginning to lose provenance. Provenance is the story, and context of a thing. Much like memes involving movies that many young people have never seen, music has begun to lose context. A Moon Shaped Pool is an album about loss, and it is at its strongest in that context. It serves as a memorial for the loss of Thom Yorke's wife and long time partner, Rachel Owen. "True Love Waits" existed as an experimental single for years, but it was its placement as the final song of the album that gave it real meaning. It is the final goodbye to a person who hurt Thom Yorke, then died while he still loved her. The refrain "Don't Leave, don't leave" haunts the song with melancholy that is multiplicative when given provenance. That loss of provenance has placed all music at the same place on the timeline. To be streamed and not contextualized.


The Playlist: Curated to Shuffled

I grew up with an iPod Shuffle. I grew up with mixtapes, and burned albums. I had Youtube playlists that I would play through my Kinect mic, serving as a radio station for my friends' Xbox Live Party. I made my first playlist in the Fall of 2010 using a third party website in 8th grade game making class. I had a serious crush on the single ginger woman that served as the teacher for the class. I was in "love", and worked hard to try and impress her, a plan that I believed failed at the time, because my parents moved us to Fresno, California. The playlist was mostly Rage Against the Machine. In the Spring of 2011, I burned my first album from the Apple Store for a class project. It had Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" on it, I thought that song ruled. It did and still does rule.

Long before, I ever listened to music on my iPod Shuffle, people were making mixtapes. An invention of the 80s, the mixtape allows a person to sculpt their own provenance from previously existing music in a long and tedious process. In the same way that Robert Shummann's Album for the Young., wasn't really an album, the mixtape allowed people to share their feelings in a way that only music really can. By extension, the mixtape was a piece of art in its own right. The personalized mix created by the impersonal machine through Spotify, or Youtube, is the product of algorithmic control. Music no longer exists as something that evolved overtime. There is no progenitor of a sound, the beginning exists as recently as the now, a sign that in these modern times nothing exists readily in context. Nobody thinks about how "Airbag" from Radiohead doesn't exist without the drum sampling techniques created by DJ Shadow. Moments of musical innovation slip away from time, displaced by the endlessness of the digital void. The sample is lost in the rhythm.


We give away a part of ourselves everyday to the great machine. We give our information, our smiles, our pictures, our DNA, our bank accounts, etc., to our corporate overlords. How much of ourselves are shaped by the digital bellwether, and how much of them do we perceive as ourselves? Do we often tell others that we are listening to Spotify, instead of what music we are actually listening to? In a virtual echo chamber filled with only what we like, do we ever discover something radical? When we look back will we remember what we were sold as pre-nostalgic noise in an infinite sea of branding, or will we remember the things we discovered for ourselves?

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