This is my favorite post yet, from the early hours of Aug. 13 (also, my birthday). I was inspired to write this when realized I could listen to an album I was highly anticipating more than a week before its release date. Internal conflict ensued:
This morning I woke up to learn that I could listen to Julia Holter’s new album Loud City Song right now via NPR’s First Listen. This is good news, right? I love Julia Holter and have been in a constant state of looking forward to this album since I fell in love with Ekstasis and Tragedy, so the pre-release stream should be good news … right?
Nope. There’s nothing more anticlimactic than anticipating an album’s release for a certain date, only to be surprised with a streaming version of it a week early. I’ve been looking forward to Tuesday so much that I know exactly what’s going to happen. I’ll go on a post-work walk to Other Music and pick up Loud City Song. Then, I’ll look through the artwork and liner notes while I’m on my boring LIRR commute back home. And finally, I’ll flip the vinyl onto my gets-the-job-done mini Crosley record player, place the needle gently on side A and sit on my bed opposite the player.
Why would I trade all that to pop my headphones in the audio jack and sit at my laptop, just so I could hear what I’m sure is the magnificent LCS just a week early. Fortunately I am on vacation this week and I literally have better things to do than sit on my laptop all day. If I were at work today, this might have been a very different post. I’m sure I’d still manage to enjoy the music, but there’s something to be said about the ceremony of it all. I don’t want to sit at my laptop, tempted by the distractions of my Twitter feed — I might as well just listen to it while I’m at work. By removing myself from the listening experience, I’m removing myself from the potential to be affected by the music.
Now that sounds like a good, if cheesy, ending line, but my problem with the pre-release stream is that I don’t always have a problem with it. With albums I find myself daydreaming about purchasing in a record store on the day of its release — no, please do not spring me a week early with the tempting, but ultimately disappointing option of listening sooner at my computer. But for those records by artists that I normal-like or have been meaning to check out, pre-release streams are perfect. There it is, right there in my feed: “First Listen: Ty Segall, ‘Sleeper’ http://n.pr/16EXroW” Don’t mind if I do. I enjoy Ty Segall’s millions of musical endeavors and tried and failed to see him perform live (thx will call of a D.C. venue I love but often has these problems), but it’s not at that level where I am compelled to make it special. Listening to the NPR stream is so easy, which is key to the music discovery and browsing perks of the the First Listen option. I can listen to something on a whim, no money or downloading time spent — even no time spent waiting for Spotify or Rdio to load. If it were not for Pitchfork Advance’s one-click-away stream of Rhye’s Woman, I probably would not have listened to that album while I was a work and swooned hard over its sexy, laid-back disco vibes.
When Savages made their record available to stream on their website one week, maybe two weeks, early, I struggled for about two hours whether or not I should click play. Here was another album I was crazy-anticipating, after surviving on the very few things they had released for at least half a year since I learned of them post-CMJ and was sad for a week that I missed their showcase — one single and b-side, one live EP and a handful of tracks released in the lead-up to the release of Silence Yourself. I think by the time the record was streaming, I already had heard almost half the record in pieces. It was my last finals week ever and I was struggling. I planned to go to Red Onion to buy the LP on its release date, but I knew I probably wouldn’t have the time to have a proper sit-down listen. Plus, I needed something to amp me up, and I hate energy drinks. I clicked play. From the first bass riff on album-opener “Shut Up” to the clarinet outro on “Marshall Dear,” I powered through my studying and paper-writing, hitting repeat when the album ended and clicking the volume up. I got goosebumps. Despite the distractions and being latched to my laptop for work, Silence Yourself pulsed through me and gave me the energy to successfully complete my awful finals. I still had a meaningful, connected listening experience via surprise pre-release stream.
I won’t listen to Loud City Song through NPR’s First Listen, it wouldn’t feel right. But I’m glad it’s available there. Now, new listeners can fall in love with her music like I did, all because they saw a tweet in their feed, thought, “Maybe I should check this out,” and clicked a link.