My most played album?

@LPGroup, which I like as a concept but not so much as an actuality (the communal nature of voting and decision making over what records to listen to and tweet about together seems to often result in safe choices – but that’s always the result of democracy, isn’t it? [There’s also a lot of canon-favouring middle-aged white men involved – I know I’m only a handful of techno and pop records and ten years away from that myself, but still.]), was pimping the theme “My Most Played Album” for their session the other week. I looked at the list and thought about voting, but there wasn’t much on there that might qualify as my own most played, I suspect. It was my own fault for not catching nominations in time enough to put something forward. But it got me thinking about what records I have listened to most in my life, about the types of records they’ve been, and how those types of records have changed over the years, and in turn how the way I listen to records has changed over the years, as life has got busier, time shorter, and collections bigger.

17 years ago the answer would have been simple – The Stone Roses’ debut album, which I played incessantly and repeatedly, and convinced myself was perfect and imbued with magical powers. 16 year olds are odd. A year before that, Revolver. A year after, In Sides by Orbital. 4 years ago, after a year living in together in our flat, it was probably The Milk Of Human Kindness by Caribou, which became our default go-to record while just going about our lives – washing up, reading, cooking, pottering, doing those mundane day-to-day admin tasks that adult-life requires. Inoffensive, undemanding (unless you want it to be), but always interesting. In 2004 it was Drive By by The Necks, the seamless groove and ambient nature of which made it the kind of thing that I could literally play anywhere, anytime, whilst doing anything.

This year I’ve probably played Plumb by Field Music the most, although a considerable factor to consider there is that it was released early in the year. Also, it’s quite short; it fits almost four times into the length of The Seer by Swans, and can easily get played twice back-to-back on a short-ish car journey. In fact the title track of The Seer is almost exactly the same length as the whole of Plumb. At other times this year I’ve binged on Silent Shout by The Knife, Red Medicine by Fugazi, Grizzly Bear, Heartland by Owen Pallett, and WIXIW by Liars. But other than Plumb, the two things I’ve played the most are similar records by similar artists – Pink by Four Tet and Orchard by Minotaur Shock, which both, like the Caribou and Necks records mentioned above, lend themselves to being put on whilst doing other things. Pink, which I started off thinking of as a weird dancefloor compendium, has unfurled over the months to reveal itself as a superlative “livingroom” record. Which is where it gets played most often.

There’s a danger that one can make these records sound prosaic and inoffensive, that “most played” = “most utilitarian”, that their value comes in their palatability rather than their art or power. 17 years ago I thought music should be entirely magical and transformative, passionate and wild or exultant and irresistible. I worry suspect that these days I value the beatific over the outright brilliant sometimes, the tasteful over the transcendent (whatever that means). But actually, as always, it’s more complicated than that. There’s a certain degree of compromise in sharing living and listening space with another human being: I can’t blast Tilt by Scott Walker at a whim, but then again I’m not sure I often want to. And actually, Em would be more irritated if I played Embrace than if I cracked out one of Scott’s latterday opuses.

Sometimes I choose to listen to a record because I love it, and it transports and challenges me, and stretches my brain and soul. And sometimes I choose to listen to a record just because it fills space, beautifully. I probably do the latter more often, and, on average, probably have done so for the last dozen years since leaving the weird cocoon of university. I guess the choice is what you choose to fill that space with, and why: is it a comfort blanket of familiarity, or is it something else?

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