Most people reading this article were probably introduced to music at a young age by their parents. For me, a cassette would be played as everyone went about their household business. Skipping tracks wasn’t allowed. My mom had a beat-up cassette of Paul Simon’s classic Graceland. I wasn’t old enough to understand the shady South African politics that governed the production of the album, and I happily spent many hours humming along to catchy songs like “Gumboots” and “You Can Call Me Al.” My love affair with the album came to a tragic end when I heard the dreaded screech come from my boom box and opened it to reveal the tape unspooled beyond repair.

Looking back, I realize that listening to an album was once an immersive experience. It was important to sit close by so you could flip sides when the time came. There was also something very moving about the general cohesiveness of the albums of yore. Artists relied on a strong record to sell and then tour behind, so they made sure to create a thematic release that could lend itself to drawn-out listens. Perhaps the best example is Radiohead’s Kid A. Full of ambient washes and mesmerizing loops, it deviated from the group’s prior material, but above all it played like a story — and a great one at that. Today, the music industry has become so commercialized that many people are wondering, what happened to the music coming first – coming above all else?

Musicians aren’t solely responsible for the blame. To keep their shifty “fans” attention, artists are forced to churn out single after single. The thought of creating a concept album might seem ludicrous to the financially struggling musician who more often than not has to retain a day-job in order to make ends meet. Even concerted efforts to please fans can bite them in the foot in this digital era where album leaks are the norm. Most artists aren’t even able to make the music they want to if they want to make a living.

That said, things aren’t quite as bleak as I’ve suggested. Frank Ocean, a singer who only recently caught the attention of the mainstream media, just released a stunning epic with Channel Orange. But it wouldn’t hurt to go crate-digging for records when you visit your parents for the holidays. You might find something surprisingly enjoyable.

 

Tomi Milos

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