A Proposal to Turn Off the “Repeat All”

In my recent mourning of the loss of Lala.com, I commented that it was actually nice to only be able to listen to an album through once.  I’m finding that I prefer this when I listen to music.  In this modern era of mp3 players and CD players standard in cars and online playlists, it seems almost silly to NOT have a “repeat all” of some sort on, but I am proposing you try turning it off.

This is a not-that-often recognized problem that the benefits of our technology allows.  Plenty of people these days, especially bloggers, are realizing that the way we enjoy music is changing, and that it’s not necessarily for the best.  An easy target on this topic is “shuffle,” but I think “repeat all” is just as guilty.  We no longer have to be paying attention to the music to keep it going–eventually this means we tend not to pay attention to the music.  Sure, it’s a nice feature when we just want something playing at a party or while we work out, but actively listening to an album is something of a dying skill (and without it we’ve ended up with groups like The Black Eyed Peas winning Grammys).

So again, I recommend turning it off.  Put your headphones in, start an album, and make sure the “repeat all” (or even the “continuous play”–going from one album to the next) is off.  It’ll be weird–even annoying–at first.  You might not realize that you’ve been listening to silence for 20 minutes after an album is done, but give it time.  The first purpose of this is to get you to pay attention to what’s playing.  The second purpose is to restore an understanding of the finite nature of an album.  Good albums have very purposeful starts, engaging middles, and moving endings.  When everything’s constantly looping, you don’t notice these things as much, and that damages the experience.  Granted, not all musical artists pay attention to the order of their songs and put whatever, wherever, but the good ones do.

A good album opener is so important, and there’s so many ways to do it.  Sometimes you have an audio clip from a movie, or maybe a really strong riff, or something unexpected, like an out-of-place instrument or the reciting of a poem.  Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid starts with an overture.  An overture has a very specific purpose: to get you in the mood for the story that is to come.  Jimmy Eat World’s masterpiece, Clarity, starts with slow strings and soft, harmonic vocals.  And it’s a rock album!  The strength of a good album opener is lost when we aren’t noticing it’s starting in the first place.

And what about how they end?  I mentioned in my post about my favorite bands last week that Park knew how to close an album.  That’s a good trait!  On all three of their albums, the last listed songs were completely epic, with layered vocals or screaming or complex guitar parts.  It left you wanting more and wanting to, well, listen to the whole thing again.  But with the repeat all off, you have to make the concious decision to do that.

I could ramble on and on about this forever, but I won’t.  I just recommend you give yourself a couple days and try it.

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