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Davis, California

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Column: Pay attention

I’m starting to think Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most devastating and widespread diseases today, simply judging from the number of people who tell me they have it. Everyone and their kids, family and friends apparently have ADHD – even their pets suffer, too.

However, these excuse-loving hypochondriacs do have a point when it comes to their music tastes, and as a musical elitist myself I fully enjoy criticizing them for it. People truly have problems listening to music for any extended length of time, especially when it comes to listening to longer songs and full-length albums from start to finish.

I don’t want to make some snobbish oversimplification, favoring long songs over short songs. It’s the content, stupid! Rather, I’m arguing for the album as an album, not the compilation of crappy singles radio, Limewire, singles, shuffle mode and everything else created (better yet, butchered).

It doesn’t help that the top selling albums tend to suck. What’s so bewildering is the nature of these albums – simple compilations of one or two radio hits plus eight or nine tracks of filler. Really – why buy the whole album for a few singles? Albums aren’t mix tapes. If I wanted a bunch of randomly assorted singles, I’d buy a “NOW” CD.

People’s attention spans on average dropped tremendously after the ’70s. The musical holocaust that was the ’80s made this shift somewhat understandable, but there’s really no reason why musical attentiveness continues to shrink up with every new dumbed-down and chopped-up radio hit. Give anyone an album with five or six minute tracks and people will either faint or fall asleep with boredom. Because listening to one twelve-minute track is entirely different than listening to four three-minute tracks simultaneously.

Shuffle modes, Limewire and the radio are largely to blame for this musical ADHD. They render the album completely obsolete for the average listener, and reduce the average attention span to three or four minutes. It’s no surprise that every shared iTunes library you see on a shared network has hundreds of artists with only one or two songs each, or that iPod shuffles outnumber traditional iPods at the ARC. Even with these boiled down and edited singles, people still flip through stations or change tracks halfway through the song.

Call me old fashioned, but there’s no better way to listen to an album start to finish than in the car. Besides the lack of having to constantly flip through songs every few minutes, listening to an entire album is simply more of an experience. Maybe people don’t have the time to listen to an entire CD during their day-to-day routine, but there’s a pause button for a reason.

Artists that put effort into creating a cohesive, full-length album probably intended for start-to-finish playback, so it only makes sense to listen to the CD in full. But now, it seems like every time an artist wants to make a cohesive album-long idea, it’s immediately labeled as a “concept album.” What, like a concept car? Albums don’t have to have an obvious theme to be worthy of an entire sit down listen, and themed albums don’t need an obvious theme anyways.

Play the whole album, download the whole album and listen to that album that you heard on the radio. Don’t just fill your library with singles.

JUSTIN T. HO loves the radio, depending on what it is of course. Mainly, Jason Bentley’s old show on KCRW “Metropolis.” E-mail nostalgic memories of Bentley’s eclectic electronic sets and mixes to arts@theaggie.org.


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