FEATURE: Albums that grow

Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you listen to enough music to have experienced what I would call a “grower”.

A “grower” is simply an album that grows on you. An album where on first listen, you may have wondered what on earth you were listening to. Where at first you may have thought what you were listening to was absolute rubbish. But then it begins. You slowly, but surely, start to like the songs. And over time, the album continues to get better, it continues to grow on you. And you like it more and more. Until one day you look back and realise something. This album which you at first thought was awful, is now one of your favourite albums.

These kind of albums are pretty special in my opinion. They require much more attention, but in the end they become so much more enjoyable.

Now, just because an album grows on me doesn’t mean it will grow on someone else. But even after taking a subjective perspective with this, there is still a question I’d like you to think about: what is it that makes an album grow on us?

Not only that, but how are we meant to know whether an album is growing on us because of our own developing tastes and musical preferences, or whether it’s growing on us for another reason?

I’m going to be entirely honest with you at this point, and in what may seem like a poorly structured article, give you my conclusion before I explore this question.

In the end, it doesn’t matter one bit. Whether someone likes an album because it has grown on them naturally, or whether some outside influence has affected them, the fact that they enjoy listening to it should be enough.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s think about the now seemingly unimportant question for a minute. Just for the sake of it.

It all may seem rather ambiguous and murky at the moment, but let me illustrate what I mean with a few examples.

Example 1:

Karnivool’s album “Sound Awake” is an album that has grown on me a great deal. At first, having liked portions of their debut “Themata”, I thought “Sound Awake” was pretty bad. It was much more rhythmically difficult to digest, and seemed to lack the catchy hooks of “Themata”. But over time I learnt to appreciate these rhythmical differences, and I can confidently say it is one of my favourite albums.

Now I can’t say I’ve listened to much progressive rock, which is ultimately what I would classify Karnivool as. Especially “Sound Awake”. So perhaps in this case I had to become used to an entirely new style of music. Does this make it any less of a growing album though, or de-value it? I don’t think so.

I think it’s safe to say that sometimes an album may take time and grow on us because it is so drastically different from our already established listening habits. Which is one of the best reasons to listen to music: to expand your tastes and appreciate material you aren’t familiar with.

For me, “Sound Awake” was an album that grew in a way that I would consider natural. I hadn’t read any reviews of it at the time, and my other friend who is into Karnivool thought the album was terrible, so there weren’t any real influences on me that indicated that I should enjoy it or that it was good. At one point I was more than ready to dismiss it and listen to something else.

But, it grew on me.

Example 2:

Recently I’ve been giving Grizzly Bear’s album “Veckatimest” a bit of a listen. At first, it didn’t strike me as mind-blowingly good. It seemed alright though. But here’s the thing. And I’m not going to lie. I have given it a few listens, and will continue to give it a few more listens, not only because it seems alright, but because it got good reviews. This is what I’m talking about when I mean something might grow for “another reason”.

This sounds like a pretty sad thing to do, and I probably sound like I’m listening to it because it’s a “cool” and “hip” album. But ultimately, it was very well received, and I’d like to know why and give it a proper chance.

Now since I started listening to this album with the view that it would be good, if it does grow on me, how will I know whether it’s growing on me because it’s a good album, or because everyone says it’s good? How do I know I’m not simply convincing myself that it’s quality music because a large number of people say it is? I don’t know. But I get the distinct feeling that sometimes these outside influences (reviews, recommendations from friends, etc.) seem to influence our view of the music way too much. I’d like to think “Veckatimest” is a good album and that I’ll enjoy it. So when it all boils down to it, does this desire for the album to be enjoyable, in fact make it more enjoyable for me? Do I lower my standards because I want to like it?

Personally, I don’t think I do. A case in point being “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective. I wanted to like it, and despite being named Album of the Year by various music sites and reviewers, I still can’t get into it. Not matter how much I try. But it’s undeniable that these kind of reviews and recommendations do have an affect on what I listen to, and to an extent, how I approach it. I’m more willing to give something that’s been recommended to me or something that’s received great reviews multiple listens than something that hasn’t.

As I said before, regardless of whether a review of “Veckatimest” helps me get into the album more because I want to like it and enjoy it, that ultimately doesn’t de-value my experience of the album as a whole. If I enjoy it, that’s all there should be to it.

You may be thinking at this point, “But Jeremy! You review music! Your opinions should not be altered by any third-parties! Why do you have to be told something is good to give it more of a go than anything else? It’s the equivalent of lying to us.”

I would have to disagree with you.

In the end, it’s my opinion and recommendations that you’re reading, and if you choose to act on them and be influenced by them (eg: I give a good review, which prompts you to check an album or song out), your mindset and view is being influenced in exactly the same way mine is when I read reviews. You would expect to hear something that you enjoy, and it follows on that when you listen to it you want to enjoy it.

So when I follow this same pattern and hear things I like and enjoy, it’s exactly the same process.

I don’t think that I necessarily like something more because it got a good review. But I’m more willing to give it an extensive listen in an effort to understand why people think it is good. If along the way I discover that I like it for the same (or for different) reasons, so be it.

That said, I think it’s important to not let these things influence us too much. If I give “Veckatimest” a few more listens, and I’m not motivated to listen to it any longer, I won’t. Just as you shouldn’t listen to something I recommend if you genuinely don’t enjoy it.

You can’t force these things. It has to be natural.

If you take one thing from this article, take this:

In the end, I think the most important thing to think about, and to keep in mind, is this: is the album growing on you naturally, or do you want to like something so badly because it got a good review that you convince yourself that it’s good, or lower your standards?

It’s not good to lower your standards (intentionally or otherwise), or to try and change your opinion, due to someone else’s.

I’m not saying don’t listen to albums that have been given good reviews. It’s important to try new things and give them a serious go. It’s perfectly fine to be influenced in this respect. But it’s important to realise that although something may be popular, it doesn’t mean that you have to or should like it.

Don’t take us music bloggers (or any professional journos for that matter) too seriously. Give stuff a listen and make your own mind up. After all, our opinions are just as valid as yours.


FEATURE: Albums Of The Year – 2009

1. Karnivool – Sound Awake:

An experimental outing relative to their debut, Karnivool have crafted nothing short of a masterpiece with this album. Put simply, this album is a grower. It’s one of those seemingly magical works that transcends logic by becoming more intriguing and enjoyable after every single listen. Rhythmically, Karnivool work on a level superior to most other bands I’ve heard. I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate how great this album is. Ian Kenny’s vocals are really something to behold. However if I was to recommend this band to someone, I would tell them to try their debut album “Themata” first. It’s more accessible and easy to get into, though it has many of the elements of “Sound Awake” in a slightly less experimental form. It’s a great stepping stone for approaching this amazing album.

Link to full review.

2. The Antlers – Hospice:

Hospice evokes a great deal of emotion in observant listeners through it’s tales of death, cancer, and relationships. A very moving album, it makes use of simplistic piano chords that resonate through low levels of ambient electronic noise, that contribute to the songs tonally. Lyrically it’s thematically similar throughout, though it’s incredibly well crafted. With lines like:

With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger,
I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer.
I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself,”

you just might wanna sit down and listen to this one carefully. It’s well worth the effort.

3. Taking Back Sunday – New Again:

Though nothing fancy and special, it’s a great catchy album full of typical pop-rock/punk songs. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s strong and fun, and I liked it. It’s as simple as that.

Link to full review.


Other honourary mentions, in no particular order of importance or worth:

The Temper Trap – Conditions:

A blend of catchy pop hooks and stylistically distinct vocals made “Conditions” the strong album that helped The Temper Trap achieve a moderate level of mainstream exposure across Australian commercial radio stations. Though this point is often associated as the beginning of a band’s downfall in terms of originality and livelihood – the fall into being controlled by industry giants in terms of creativity and sound – “Conditions” builds the foundations through which The Temper Trap can continue to grow and explore music. Hopefully they will.

Metric – Fantasies:

The electro-pop synths of Metric merge together with agile guitar hooks, all overlayed by Emily Haines’ entrancing vocal lines, to portray the confident sense of maturity inherent on this album. Moving from the dominating songs like “Sick Muse” to songs like “Twilight Galaxy”, which show a more delicate side of the album, helps display the diverse range of moods that are explored over the course of the LP. An engaging album that is an exciting look at what seemed like – to me – a stagnating style of music.

Passion Pit – Manners:

Infectious pop melodies dominate the debut from Passion Pit. The first 4 tracks are very good indeed. After that, it drops a bit, but manages to pick up before the end. “Sleepyhead” is short, but very catchy. Not a bad effort for their first album. I like it for the most part.

Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another:

Taking a raw, alternative rock sound, Future of the Left created an album full of simple and strong riffs, interspersed between harsh and powerful vocal lines. Stripping songs down to what seems like the essential qualities of fast, angry rock music, the album has it’s moments, with fills in-between that leave just a little to be satisfied. Despite giving it a score of 6.5/10 (maybe I was a tad harsh), it’s well built, and it’s just plain fun.

Link to full review.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix:

Catchy french pop/rock with distinctive vocals. This album really propelled Phoenix into a musical limelight. It’s quite good, but hasn’t caught on with me as much as I’d have liked it to. It’s one of those odd times when I can recognise how good something is, yet still not feel compelled to listen to it for some reason. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good album.

The xx – xx:

The xx make slow, relaxing, and dare I say minimalistic music, that gives off an aura of spaciousness, while still seeming defined and not coming off as some band’s attempt at improvisation. Though the songs do seem to lag a bit in the middle, and the first half of the album does seem great deal stronger, they’re worth checking out. Plus the first track, “Intro”, is actually a very good introduction, which sets them apart from those bands who have introductions that seem to contribute absolutely nothing to the album.

REVIEW: Karnivool – "Sound Awake"

"Sound Awake" retains the atmospheric environment that debut "Themata" created, and develops it to the next, more consistent level. With the songs ranging from a mere 1 minute and 49 seconds to the 12 minute long penultimate track, "Sound Awake" has often been described using the ever so clichéd word "epic". Despite the popular term now being used so loosely, "Sound Awake" is clearly deserving of it in a more serious sense.

Off-beat and syncopated rhythms display a clear level of technical integrity, both in the drumming and guitar lines, and Ian Kenny’s magnificent vocals interspersed between these two often varying patterns seems to somehow fit in perfectly. The seemingly experimental nature seen within a vast majority of the pieces (for example, opener "Simple Boy" makes use of a xylophone) separates the album from something another progressive rock band could or would do.

Kenny’s simply amazing voice and lyrics go hand in hand, as he manages to make simple lines like "It’s a new day" soar. Four simple words become four infectious words that sound so clear and free.

"Sound Awake" consistently impresses, throughout it’s entire 72 minutes. Long tracks like "New Day" don’t bore at all, as many bands who aspire to such song lengths often do, and in fact leave you wanting more. Many believe "Sound Awake" inferior to predecessor "Themata", claiming that the debut’s tracks are instantly addictive and awesome. Whilst to a certain extent they do have a point, the defining feature of "Sound Awake" is that it grows as an album. With each listen, it becomes more interesting and enjoyable, which is an attribute of music that should be cherished, encouraged, and most of all enjoyed! The ability to create music that people discover something new with in every listen is a great ability indeed. To be able to go back to an album and enjoy it even more than the last time you listened to it is brilliant. This is exactly what makes "Sound Awake" so good. Thundering guitars, off-beat drumming, technical riffs, beautiful vocal lines, and an experimental edge all merge together to create something very special.

Score: 10/10