Monday, 6 March 2006

Premature appreciation

It's an affliction which has affected many. Let me set the scene. You arrive home, and before you have time to properly shut the door you have already put it in. You give it time to sink in, and soon you are really enjoying the experience and getting into it. And then BAM. It's all over. Yes, you could say that listening to a CD for the first time can be an interesting experience.

I recently picked up Kelley Stoltz's new album Below the branches. It's an enjoyable album of quirky pop songs even if it isn't particularly innovative. The first listen was promising and the second listen was even better. By the third listen I was really enjoying it, and I started to picture my top ten albums of 2006 with that album taking pride of place in the list.

But here's the interesting bit - his previous album Antique glow took me about ten listens before I even started to get it. I'd bought it on a whim after reading a five-star review in the paper, and my initial impression of the album was disappointment to say the least. I wasn't quite ready to take it back, but none of the tracks really jumped out at me and made me want to listen to it again. Luckily, I did listen to it again and it was probably on about the tenth listen that it hit me. Subsequent listens unveiled gems like Mean Marianne which initially sounded like noise. I even gave it a spin the other day for the first time in ages, and I was hearing things on the album that I hadn't noticed before.

I'm now up to the sixth or seventh listen of Below the branches, and sadly I feel I have uncovered most of its layers. It's a much more catchy album than its predecessor, and on the third spin that was a virtue. We all love melody, and it's the tunes which bring you back to an album. But the strength of Antique glow lay in its subtlely, there was beauty beneath the lo-fi exterior and it felt like there was so much to discover. The enjoyment of Antique glow came from delayed aural gratification.

My experience with Below the branches is an excellent example of what I like to call premature appreciation. It's happened many times in the past. I thought Franz Ferdinand's debut album was a pretty amazing album on the first few spins. But like a lot of pop music, it quickly grew fairly tired. So much so that I really don't have the need to listen to it anymore.

Most popular music in the top 40 charts capitalizes on premature appreciation. The songs get their hooks in, and before the record company big wigs can count their ivory backscratchers, someone has already made a ringtone for the song and they are charging $5 for it online. The film clip ends up on Video Hits, the kids hear the ringtone on the train and before the thirteen year old girls can say oh Lee Harding he is such a spunk, his new song is on the top of the charts. But what goes up eventually comes down, and usually it comes crashing down at the same speed that it went up. There's something you will never learn in physics, kids.

Every now and then an album in my collection breaks the rules. Pulp's masterpiece Different class was an album which absolutely blew me away on the first listen, so much so that I had a huge grin on my face by the end of the album. Always a great feeling knowing that the $16 you spent at the CD shop in the Monash Uni union building was money well spent. And I gave Different class another listen the other day for the first time in ages, and it is still bloody impressive. On the surface, it's just another Britpop album but there is so much lyrical depth to that album that makes it not just another Britpop album but possibly one of the best indie pop albums ever. If you haven't heard this album, it's on sale at the moment for $10 at JB Hi Fi so go pick it up. I'm not going to guarantee that you will love it as much as I do, as it may be nostalgia at play here and it's difficult to be completely objective about music anyway.

Captain Beefheart's Trout mask replica is the most extreme form of delayed aural gratification I have in my CD collection. I've probably given it close to thirty listens and it's still not there for me. But something does keep bringing me back to it, and it's not just the reviews brainwashing me. I'll admit it that I gave it a listen the other night in a darkened room (I couldn't sleep) and it did take on an interesting quality that I hadn't noticed before. But maybe fatigue had something to do with it. I guess it's like those magic eye pictures -- they are supposed to look pretty amazing when the picture finally appears.

Unfortunately for me, I've never been able to see those damn pictures.

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