Music plays an important role in the lives of college students. We listen to music on the way to class. Music plays in the background as we study for our exams. Have you ever seen a student at the Plex who wasn’t wearing earbuds or headphones?
I think I speak for everyone when I say we wouldn’t get through life without music in our ears.
I was the type of kid who grew up listening to my mother’s radio selections in the car. My musical life was a mix of Z100 New York, 103.5 KTU, and the now defunct 102.7 FM.
Our constant radio use meant I didn’t switch to streaming until high school. I hadn’t known a better way to listen to music existed until we cashed in on three months of Apple Music for free back in 2019, but it wasn’t all that life-changing at first.
I’m ashamed to say at first, I only used Apple Music to download the songs that would play on the radio. My library was a jumble of the most popular songs from the most popular artists, even though I had the entirety of music at my fingertips. I was listening to individual songs when I should have been listening to full albums.
I had only just grazed the surface of what music could really be.
Over time, I slowly began to rediscover that, shockingly enough, artists would put out more than just their songs that played on the radio. Yes, even Taylor Swift had songs that didn’t get love from radio stations. I never committed to a full album listen-through, though, because ignorance was bliss. With rare exceptions, I assumed the radio knew an artist’s best music. Why would they play anything else? They found the good songs, and brought them straight to me.
It wasn’t until I received a record player one Christmas that I was essentially forced to listen to an entire album. I figured my parents knew me well enough, so when I asked for a record player for Christmas, I also asked to be surprised by the albums they chose to accompany it with.
Manic by Halsey was not what I was talking about… (thank you, Mom.)
Still, there were a few albums that I didn’t return, among them being The Highlights, a collection by The Weeknd. One night shortly after Christmas, I sat down and took out the glowing red vinyl and placed it on the record player. Music hasn’t been the same since.
The great thing about The Highlights is that I now think it’s a no-skips album, and I only knew maybe a quarter of the tracks on the record before I listened through. The songs came from all corners of The Weeknd’s discography—After Hours, Starboy, My Dear Melancholy, and even House of Balloons got some attention. I didn’t have any of these albums on vinyl, but I had them all available in seconds through streaming.
Finally, I’d discovered the beauty of an entire album.
Artists, or at least good ones, don’t stick a bunch of singles on an album and expect them to be a coherent and developed collection of music. Most of the time, artists purposefully and carefully choose which songs fit into the theme of an album.
I think there are two distinct layers to what makes an album special enough to stand alone. Lyrics usually share connections across songs, but the collective sounds of an album’s songs are almost always consistent and share a vibe.
Recently, I gave Tory Lanez’s album Alone at Prom a chance. Yes, he’s the same guy who shot Megan Thee Stallion in the foot, but he also put together a masterpiece with Alone at Prom, which is an ’80s-themed, loose concept album released in 2021. The album is most well-known for its single hit “The Color Violet,” but should be recognized for its well-rounded musical genius.
The loose concept plays out through the album’s narrative of being alone at prom, literally. Our lyrical protagonist only mentions his tragic ordeal in track seven, “Lady of Namek,” but the themes of heartbreak and hurt permeate the album. If someone was left alone at prom, this is how they’d feel. The various ’80s samples on the album really help to take the listener back in time, and work well to complement the album’s theme.
Alone at Prom is a mix of songs that, for the most part, have nearly the exact same energy. If you aren’t a fan of that specific energy, a listen-through of the album might be a waste of time. Other albums might have greater variety in their song structure and still maintain the integrity of a complete and whole theme.
Superache is a collection of heartbreak songs from Conan Gray, fitting a loose concept about the pitfalls of adolescence. Radios only know Gray for his 2019 hit “Heather.” Superache is a perfect example of digging deeper into an artist’s discography only to discover they’re so much more complex than their radio hits.
The best thing about Superache is that it’s a mixture of heart-breaking ballads and upbeat tragedies, changing in tone but never in theme. It’s a break-up album through and through.
Despite the emotional whiplash caused by the transition between “Disaster” on track three and “Astronomy” on track five with only “Best Friend” as an interlude, all of the songs on Superache share a common theme. The songs can stand alone, but they work better together.
This coherence is the reason why listening through albums is more important than ever. TikTok and social media replaced the radio’s job, and tend to dominate which music breaks through our screens and into our earbuds, but most artists have so much more great content than you probably already know.
I can still enjoy the radio when I ride in my mom’s car, but I can only truly appreciate a song once I hear it in the context of the album—the way it was meant to be heard.