On Musical Rabbit Holes
TAoN No. 101: "Listening through" as worthy binge — and the value of the playlist. And more.
From Public Domain Review
Just a quick, brief, and light post today to draw your attention to, and endorse (with a TAoN twist), what Kevin Smokler recently described as the practice of “listening through.”
Basically this means listening to every (original studio) album by a particular artist, chronologically. (Thanks to Austin Kleon’s latest newsletter issue for the pointer.) This sounds like a fun and ultimately informative pastime, especially supplemented with a little Wikipedia research, as Smokler suggests. I enjoy going down such musical rabbit holes myself.
In fact, I have a suggestion to add to the practice: While you’re at it, make a playlist.
The first time I did something along those lines was back in 2014: I listened through all of ABBA’s catalog that wasn’t already familiar to me — in other words I skipped all the hits — and made a Spotify playlist of my favorite overlooked tracks by the Swedish pop masters, dubbing it “ABBA Bronze.” (I wrote about that here. To my delight, a reader at the time responded with a similar playlist of overlooked Queen favorites, dubbed “Greatest Hits IV.” )
My goals were and are a little different than Smokler’s, although there’s overlap. In part I think this sort of thing is a good example of what I previously called a worthy binge — a cultural consumption strategy that’s worthwhile any time, but is particularly well suited to the cloistered pandemic era. (I’m still working on my PT 50 listening project described in that issue of TAoN.)
But I most strongly identify with the point Smokler makes about how he got started with this habit: realizing that Depeche Mode had continued to make albums after their peak success, but he’d never heard them, and was curious.
While I’ve done a full-catalog listen or two — I previously mentioned my deep dive on Sparks; a playlist here if you’re interested — I mostly focus on just the comparatively overlooked (by me) elements of an artist’s catalog. And I pretty much always make a playlist. For example there’s this Rolling Stones: Best of the Moss Years playlist (which I wrote about here), and one I named REM Sleepers. I’m currently working my way through Donna Summer’s catalog, and Paul McCartney’s (solo and Wings). My playlists for those are in progress. I’m considering making Billy Prestonmy next project, although now I’m somewhat tempted to try Depeche Mode.
While I technically make my playlists public and sometimes write about them, I do not generally promote them, and view this practice as essentially personal — more like a journal. Among other things, it’s a way to slow down my cultural intake. With music in particular I can get caught up in trying to hear the new new thing, discover different artists, dig for novelty. All good, but sometimes exhausting. Maybe you know the feeling?
In contrast, this deliberate and sometimes sprawling process forces me to take my time — and I find the playlist element makes me pay closer attention.
That’s true even though I seldom revisit these playlists. While building them helps me focus, in the end they’re just artifacts of a process; and to borrow a phrase from friend of TAoN Tim Belonax, sometimes the reward is in the process.
Enjoy Smokler’s essay here.
Mural reveals itself in reflection. ^^^ Bravo.
Highlights from old calculator manuals. Dazzling!
Urinal cake patents.
The insane auto designs of Jay Ohrberg. Wow, news to me.
Some very nice Arabic typography.
Okay that’s it!
I told you it was a brief issue. :) The Dictionary of Missing Words will return next time.
Thursday’s subscriber-only issue will proceed as normal. I’m planning to write about regret — although as always that is subject to change.
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments!
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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To be very clear: I’m not suggesting I thought of this first. The general idea of systematically taking in an artist’s oeuvre in chronological order is not a new invention! But Smokler has given the practice a fresh and well-done articulation, and that is what I’m riffing on.
I initially misspelled this as Billie. A typo. :/
Thanks for what you do
This was wonderful. I have been thinking of doing the same thing with Paul McCartney, but I never seem to find the time -- so I'm looking forward to your playlist!
I also wanted to share a recent discovery that I'm sure you've heard of -- in fact at first I thought I discovered it through you, but I can't find it in any of your newsletters. On the off chance you don't already know about it, I present: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/ It's your same Missing Word concept -- just around emotions -- and there's a whole book (and blog, I guess?) of them. Beautiful.