There were quite a few records that came out this year that were on my ‘highly anticipated’ list. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use My Morning Jacket as an example. I haven’t been a fan throughout their entire career. I didn’t start listening till ‘It Still Moves’ came out. And even then, I bought it on the endorsement of one Dave Grohl. He told me I should check it out one night while we were hanging out. Anyways, what I heard were some truly great songs completely drowned in massive amounts of reverb. To me, it felt like these guys were completely self-conscious of themselves. So much so that they hid in this ocean of echo. So I politely told Dave they were ‘okay’. A couple years later, on a whim, I bought ‘Z’ at a local Borders. I had a gift card and could only buy so many copies of the new Clive Cussler thriller. So going on rave reviews and a weird album cover, I bought it. I listened to that record 3 times on the way home(okay, so it wasn’t a ‘local’ Borders). Point is, I was hooked. This was an amazing step forward in my opinion. They stepped through the threshold between finding your sound and artistic statement. This wasn’t a great collection of songs, but a full blown album. Each song lifted and connected to the next. ‘Wordless Chorus’ and ‘Dondante’ were bookends. It was, to these ears, an actual listening experience. Color me smitten. So 2008 rolls around, here comes ‘Evil Urges’. An often neurotic album, on first listen it left me confused, then a little mad. But the more I listened the greatness began to show. Here’s the thing, there were some stinkers. But like before, those stinkers had a purpose. They were there to move you along to the good stuff. They may have been lame, but they were part of the experience. So when My Morning Jacket announced that they were releasing ‘Circuital’, I was excited. I’d heard they were going back to a more straightforward album. Recording in an old elementary school gym, live and to analog tape. First time through, I thought it was a great collection of songs. And honestly, I think Jim James had written some of his best stuff to date. ‘Circuital’, ‘The Day Is Coming’, ‘Outta My System’ and ‘You Wanna Freak Out’ were outstanding tracks. But the more I listened, I found myself skipping around, getting to the good stuff. The songs in-between just seemed like filler. They weren’t bad songs. There isn’t a bad song on it. But they didn’t hold my attention. It wasn’t a great album, but a collection of great songs.
So what am I saying? I’m saying if you don’t have it, get it. But for these ears, it doesn’t gel from song to song like past albums. I feel that way about Wilco’s ‘The Whole Love’. I’m a die hard fan of Wilco. I’ve argued their greatness amongst talk of ‘dad rock’. But, like their previous record, I find myself skipping around to the songs I love. I don’t want to skip. I want to enjoy the album as a whole. And it’s not that I don’t want my favorite bands to change or evolve. I think changing and evolving are good things. I don’t want to hear ‘Z’ over and over again. Nor do I want Wilco to release ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ or ‘Summerteeth’ over and over again. If it means they release an album of 8 or 9 songs, instead of 14 or 15, in order for that group of songs to come together to create the best listening experience possible, then I’m for it. Sometimes less is more.
Maybe it just comes down to the changing times. Folks these days, at least the greater majority of music listeners, don’t really care whether it’s an album or just some songs. They hear a song they like, download that one song, and they’re happy. Nothing wrong with that. But I’ve never been that way. I grew up listening to side A and side B. I didn’t stop midway through the side of a record and go back later. It was an experience. Enjoying a record the whole way through. Whether there was a concept behind that record, content-wise, it didn’t matter. That album as a whole was a statement from a band at one particular time in their music making career. When the next album came out, they were a little different. They were somewhere else in their lives and so you caught up with them. The experience of enjoying that album start to finish was just as much a part of the music. I’m more long play than single, I guess is what I’m saying.
My Morning Jacket and Wilco put out some great songs this year. I’m looking forward to their next great albums.