Baseball Toaster Western Homes
The Album: Not Quite Dead
2006-10-10 07:12
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Many of you may have noticed that the new version of iTunes corrects a long-running problem. The very slight but extremely noticeable pauses between songs in sequence on an album has been eliminated. This holds for your iPods, too. I have no idea why it took such a long time for this obvious wrinkle to be addressed. I was starting to think the technology just didn't exist.

This minor bit of new code has had a tremendous effect on my music-listening habits. For the longest time I'd just left things on shuffle and taken things as they come. I have this whole involved system where any time I skip a song for any reason, I mark it and remove it from a playlist of really good songs. There are still something like 10,000 songs on this elite playlist, so either I need to get more discerning or I just have the best taste in music that anyone has ever had. I think evidence favors the latter theory.

Anyway, it doesn't take an expert to realize that there are several rock albums that benefit tremendously from seamless transitions between songs. In the case of a record like Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand, the segues make as great an artistic statement as the songs themselves. While preparing a review of the new Tortoise record for NATN, I was struck by how carefully constructed the transitions on TNT and Millions Now Living Will Never Die were. A newly important focus on creating a "continuous listening experience" is one of the many ways electronic music and club culture have impacted rock and roll. But of course, groovy crossfades were not invented in the early 1990's. Thanks to this new iTunes fix, I can actually listen to Pink Floyd again. And it feels so good.

Now that the way most people consume their music is all-digital, the old importance of constructing an album to be an experience greater than the sum of its individual tracks is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle (if you'll excuse the double meaning). While I love my iPods and am already trying to figure out how I'm going to buy another one now that my 40 gig and 60 gig models have both been filled, I am against the concept of the album (though not necessarily the concept album) dying out completely.

Some of my favorite mid-album transitions that I've made a point to listen to and appreciate since the big iTunes update:
"Twin Falls" -> "Some" from Built to Spill's There's Nothing Wrong with Love
"TNT" -> "Swing from the Gutters" from Tortoise's TNT
"Stop Breathin" -> "Cut Your Hair" from Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
"Yours to Keep" -> "Echos Myron" from Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand
"Ashes of American Flags" -> "Heavy Metal Drummer" from Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
"Friends" -> "Celebration Day" from Led Zeppelin III

Play along at home!

Unrelated: The research department reports that there is a crowd lined up in front of the Electronics Boutique on the first floor of his office building. Preorders for the PlayStation 3 -- not the physical product itself, preorders -- are being taken beginning today. Some of these enthusiasts have been there since 5 a.m. It begs the question: Who has time to stand in line for five hours on a weekday that can afford a $600 PS3?

2006-10-10 08:23:05
1.   Ken Arneson
I recently upgraded to the new iTunes on my PC, and suddenly, iTunes didn't work anymore. Listening to any song was like listening on an old LP with a bad needle; it was all scratchy and skippy.

Turns out it was the new "transitions" feature that broke it. As soon as I turned it off, things were back to normal again. Obviously, Apple still has some debugging to do with their software.

So I still live in the dark ages, pre-transitions. I still don't own an iPod, either, so call me a dinosaur.

2006-10-10 08:31:22
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Obviously your PC just isn't awesome enough.

I'll sell you my 40 gig iPod as soon as I get my 80 gig.

2006-10-10 10:48:24
3.   neal
I'll add Tuesday: So Awake -> too much of today
and Crooked Fingers: Islero -> Weary Arms off Dignity and Shame

Good call on BtS, probably my favorite.

Oh, and Mars Volta can't count because they suck, right?

2006-10-10 11:38:56
4.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Regarding the Mars Volta: In order to have awesome transitions between songs, you must first have songs.

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