2017 was the year I learned how to listen to music.
I had been hearing it before, memorizing the words and floating between melodies and occasionally picking out the bass, but this year, wow. I think it started with a guy I was seeing earlier in the year. We liked the same artists so picking out music was no problem, but when I put on an album I always hit shuffle, just my default, he hated that. But it was from my iPod shuffle days mainly, where I would dance around on my sunlit green carpet to Ke$ha and then to John Mayer and then to Maroon 5. It didn’t really matter the juxtaposition of the songs because I was bopping along, singing the words between study packets, and it was just music. It was three notes I learned to play on the recorder to manage a squeaky “hot cross buns” or Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd I learned on the guitar and would mindlessly play while watching Sailor Moon. It was math and tuning and keys being in the right key for choir and getting the time signature right and then Landslide by the Dixie Chicks which was a feeling more than a song and had me crying by the chorus. My music education had been in public classrooms and Usher CDs, and my music appreciation was pretty lacking. Yeah I liked it, but I didn’t often sit through it and feel it when it was uncomfortable.
I had to make the switch from shuffling the album to listening to it all the way through, the only way to listen to an album, he said. I rolled my eyes at the time, thinking it didn’t matter, that it was all the same artist, lost on the story and the journey there was to discover.
My brother got a job at a record store, quickly amassing a large collection of vinyl and know how. He too reiterated the importance of listening to an album!! all the way!!! through!!!! He would lecture as he alphabetized his vinyl and I sat in the middle of his super Seattle teenager bedroom looking around at his posters of Prince and Jaco Pastorius when I visited home for holidays or birthdays.
Granted, some albums aren’t engineered to listen all the way through in order, some are made of hit singles kind of mish mashed together, most pop records are like that. But fuck.. I was missing out on some serious cinematic experiences. It was hard in the beginning, to sit through and listen to an entire Pink Floyd album where you barely know where the songs start and end and what they are saying. It made sense, stupid sense. I had been able to apply it to other art forms, reading a book all the way through because I was so immersed in it, or sitting in front of a painting at the museum for an hour until I had gone cross eyed. I had never considered to really listen and digest music alone in the same thoughtful way. I mainly used music as background to other artistic tasks, writing drawing painting dancing. It was like finally learning a language that I had heard people talking before but never understood.
Some of my favorite albums to listen to all the way through…
To Pimp a Butterfly- Kendrick Lamar
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City- Kendrick Lamar
Axis: Bold as Love- Jimi Hendrix
Are You Experienced- Jimi Hendrix
Age Ain’t Nothin But A Number- Aaliyah
Enter the Wu-tang- Wu-tang Clan
New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh- Erykah Badu
Miseducation of Lauryn Hill- Lauryn Hill
Every single Blood Orange album
Channel Orange- Frank Ocean
Blonde- Frank Ocean
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy- Kanye West
6 Feet Beneath The Moon- King Krule
American Boyfriend- Kevin Abstract
Pineapple Now Laters-BJ The Chicago kid
Midnight Snack- Homeshake
For Emma, Forever Ago- Bon Iver
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Leaving- Spooky Black
“Awaken, My Love!”- Childish Gambino
It’s easy to miss the point of art if you don’t know how to look for it.
Put on an album start to finish, listen all the way through, listen alone, listen in the dark and feel what lies between the lines.