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(Dw. Dunphy and Ben Craven are) Loving the Album in a Digital Age
The album is dead.
No, that’s not quite true. Sales of vinyl LPs are up, up, up; Taylor Swift (though hardly anyone else) managed to sell a million albums; and crowdfunding new albums has become an established, successful venture for many independent artists.
So, the album’s not dead. The album is…well, the album is something that a lot of us love. But like a lot of other things we love, we don’t have quite the patience that the format demands of us. Oh, we have the patience to sit down with an album and invite it to speak to us (some of us, who are spinning a record on the turntable at this very moment, have the patience…). We do not, however, possess the required patience to wait on an album’s release. We watch the vanguard single’s lyric video on YouTube. We pledge for the Kickstarter campaign. We salivate over the Record Store Day announcements. But then, we have months full of other music to enjoy before the release date. Occasionally, something so big will be coming down the pipeline that we naturally stay in pins and needles mode for the entirety of the wait. But when it doesn’t happen automatically–and why should it, when we can automatically find something else to enjoy right now?–the wait ceases to be a wait at all. It just becomes time that passes, while we listen to something else.
This experience is apparently not unique to the audience. Dw. Dunphy and Ben Craven love the album, too. Furthermore, they lack the patience to wait, even on themselves. Thus, they have decided to test the theory that, when musical creativity takes too long, marketing creativity can fill in the gap.
Dunphy’s latest project incorporates this thesis into its very title. Test Test Test is an instrumental, progressive album featuring atmospheric keys, piercing guitar lines, and sophisticated pop sensibilities. At least, that’s my impression so far. The album isn’t actually finished, yet Dunphy has committed himself to releasing individual tracks on his Bandcamp page, as songs develop. Does he release them when they’re finished? Does he release them when he simply can’t wait anymore? I don’t pretend to know his mind, but the tracking order has already changed once, and there’s no guarantee that all the currently available tracks will make the final cut for the album. Maybe I’m listening to Side 1, or perhaps I’m only hearing the bonus tracks. I don’t know. Maybe Dunphy himself doesn’t know. Nevertheless, the album is live, and it’s available now. Test Test Test. The mic is on, if we just can’t wait to listen.
Do great Progressive Indie Artists think alike? Ben Craven is at least midway through his ironically titled Last Chance to Hear. I say the title is ironic, because Craven has been releasing tracks through his own TuneLeak site, which of course means that we have the first chance to hear the album as it develops. While each new song is available to stream for free, every purchase counts toward the price of the completed album. It’s the digital equivalent of “Buy every 7″ single, get the 12″ free.” As far as I know (please, tell me I’m wrong!), that’s not a thing, but TuneLeak is a definite, and definitely wonderful, thing. Last Chance to Hear continues Craven’s previous work in the genre of “Cinematic, Progressive Rock,” but now with 75% more instrumentals, and 100% more Rockabilly. While each track provides a satisfying experience on its own, several of the currently available tracks belong to multi-part suites. Thus, each TuneLeak serves both to calm and to provoke impatience for the finished album. I can’t wait, but I am waiting–pins, needles, and all.
I’m intrigued by the music Dunphy and Craven are releasing, I’m also intrigued by their chosen methods of release, which hearken back to a format generations old, while arriving as something ahead of the curve(ball). Long ago, the album was just that–as the photo album consisted of individual photographs collected together, the musical album consisted of (usually) previously released 78rpm records collected together. Test Test Test and Last Chance to Hear go back, before the birth of the album as we’ve known it, to inspire the creation of the album as we will come to know it. Each song will arrive on its own, and thus will have to stand on its own (goodbye filler!), yet each individual release provides a glimpse of the greater whole, whose full cohesion remains to be experienced at the end of the process. And hopefully, that full cohesion will arrive in vinyl form. Regardless, it will arrive bit by bit, not all at once, just as we experience most things in life.
So, the album’s not dead. It’s actually more life-like than ever before. That’s good news for those of us who love the album; good news for artist and audience alike.