The Death of Thoughtless Streaming ~ 1 Record For 1 Week
I once read a Pitchfork article where the writer referred to a particular album as one that "(he) has returned to throughout his life". His statement intrigued me and then haunted me. The questions began to stack like cards over the following months. How many records do I go back to? I listen to a handful of new singles almost everyday with my Spotify premium account, and I skim through new albums weekly. The questions and thoughts kept racing: Is that fair? Am I having a true experience with music when I don't take the time to get to know it? Suddenly the interview I had with Peter Sagar of Homeshake made sense where he said the one thing he'd change about the music industry was to take away music streaming platforms. His position wasn't based on musicians making more money – I figure he's less concerned about that then most – it was about how streaming platforms were killing the listening experience and killing the idea of full-length quality albums, just like singles did when iTunes broke. Who's going to sit through a five minute song these days or listen to an entire album? It's all about playlists now, and playlists rule, but a solid album from start to finish is still the pinnacle achievement for an artist and the pinnacle experience (next to live shows) for a music fan.
I started to see how Spotify and unlimited access to music was a detriment in terms of appreciation for quality, especially to someone with compulsive behavior like me. I slowly began to listen to more albums from my iTunes library, in an attempt to free myself from streaming, and I realized how anxious my listening habits were when using Spotify. I would frequently skip songs only one minute into them just to search for new songs that popped into my head, and then I'd worry about what "niche" playlist of mine I had to add them to. It was exhausting and unfulfilling. During this time, I got an email from Mexican Summer that mentioned the artist Amen Dunes.
Amen Dunes had always perplexed me. I found the majority of his music hard to listen to, but I was still constantly drawn to it. There was something about his aesthetic, his style, from album covers to song compositions that spoke to me. It was authentic – challenging and raw.
So I went to *wait for it* Spotify to check him out again. Lo and behold, he had a new single out. I then went to Instagram, another platform I love/hate, and realized his latest music had been heavily inspired by a notorious surf figure of the 60s, Miki Dora. Being a fan of the free surfing (non-competitive) culture, I was quickly drawn to Dora's tragic story and inspired by Amen Dunes' interest in a figure of surfing. With all of this in mind, I decided it was time to explore Amen Dunes' most recent full-length album, Love. It was time for me to find another album that I'd eventually go back to because it had a real impact on me, because I spent time with it. I decided not only was I going to listen to Love all the way through, I was going to make it the only piece of music I listened to for an entire week. This was going to be my way of telling my bad Spotify habits to get bent. So, naturally, I began listening to Love via Spotify. What a twisted world.
So why did listening to Amen Dunes - Love become so important to me? It was all about timing. This was the record I was ready to explore when I realized I was ready to break the cycle of incessant listening or addictive listening. But it was also the right record. I was led to this record, as we're all led when we're truly searching for something with faith and an open heart. Part of me was in a place at the time where I needed the full scope of love presented to me in a new way. I needed to see love for the beautiful tragedy that it is, and that's what Love offers its listeners.
I decided to review Love throughout this process in an entirely new way, by recording a daily journal entry of what the album felt like each day, what I learned about the album, and maybe what it taught me about my life. I hadn't listened to music this intentionally or sincerely in years. I've always tried to avoid relying on an album so heavily I let it change me in a way. I've never wanted to lean on music more than I do on religious forms of spirituality. I guess I've been worried about elevating an artist or piece of art over spiritual practices like praying or reading scriptural works. But I know that all things are spiritual unto God. If there's good in anything, it comes from Him. So with an open mind, I began an intimate week with Love.
Day 1. It's amazing how freeing it is to devote yourself to one album. I realized that this work has a much lighter vibe than previous Amen Dunes' releases. Although it's uplifting at times, Love is a critical outlook on the way love brings us pain and selfishness. From "Lonely Richard", Amen Dunes most popular song to date, "You’ve been that way for all time / Hanging love you placed it there / I may leave now for a while...Have yourself a good time."
Day 2. Maybe Love is about teaching yourself to prepare for the tragedies of life, almost like embracing their eventuality. Love is listed on Google under the genre "alternative country". It has elements of country but it's not the kind of mainstream country you'd expect to hear on the radio because it's not made to cater to a specific audience. It's just made for whomever it reaches.
Day 3. I'm getting more comfortable with spending as much time or thought on an album as I would something more spiritual. I've realized that this album may not fill me with purpose - like prayer or scripture can, but for some reason, whether it's the sincere listening or just the vibe of the album, I'm still put in a positive space when I listen to it. Even the raucous "I Can't Dig It", a song that sounds like it came from Ty Segall's garage rock era, just felt good. Nothing else I've heard in Amen Dunes' discography sounds as rowdy as "I Can't Dig It", which literally brings to mind a New Yorker telling a tourist to piss off and contains the lyrics "you can't cure the hate within you". If there's good here, it's the goodness that comes from being honest about how you feel. You have to acknowledge hate before it can be removed.
Day 4. Listening to the same album four days in a row isn't super appealing, but hey, that's devotion. "Sixteen" really hit me tonight. It's a touching singer/songwriter ballad with just a voice and a piano – and some nice reverb. "Today / my love / you've gone" Dunes' repeats over and over.
Day 5. It's a Sunday and I'm thinking about worship and devotion. It’s pretty interesting that Amen Dunes' follow up EP to Love is called Cowboy Worship. Today I’ve realized that we all worship something. Something we dedicate our purpose to and something our heart is set on. What do you worship?
Day 6. Started with "I Know Myself" today. Not a bad title to lead off a Monday, especially when it's followed by "Everybody Is Crazy". "I Know Myself" uses a steady tambourine clap and fading background vocals to create a calming mantra. The song eventually falls into a chorus that sounds like "I will stone you" but actually repeats "I will – storm too / I wish storms to you / I'm too bad". By the time you get to "Everybody Is Crazy", you can feel how therapeutic this section of the record is for Amen Dunes. He may be licking his own wounds a bit, but he's definitely owning up to his own imperfections being the death of love in his life. It's like when you try so hard to convey a certain feeling and the person on the other end feels the exact opposite of what you intended.
Day 7. There's no better way to conclude this process than by talking about Love's eight minute self-titled closing track. There's really two instruments that prevail on this album: the piano and Dunes' vocals. If you listen to his album before Love, Through Donkey Jaw, there's no sense of how uplifting and transcendent his voice can be. Just listening to the overlapping vocals and harmonies at the close of the album is really a grand piece. He's closing something very meaningful with a big statement and that's what makes this a great record. The artist already knows it's great. He's aware he's tapped into something pure and he's boldly done his best to share it in full.
So that's it. A week of musical solitude has ended. Spotify really isn't any different from other technology. It's a tremendous tool, we just need to learn how to use it. Without parameters, it destroys quality and character. But when used carefully, it provides access to great and meaningful experiences, like High Fidelity. My week with Love has changed how I listen to music, and I'm sure I'll always remember it for doing so.