By: Sara Brinkac, Peak Associate
Our complete attention is invaluable, and in a world of infinite distractions and worries, rarely do we give one thing our undivided attention. Take how we listen to music, for example. It’s often through a streaming service with an almost infinite catalogue of music. Instead of fully paying attention to a song, we jump from playlist to playlist discovering new music. Or, we end up shuffling the same songs over and over again. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love music. So why don’t we give this truly precious part of the human experience more of our attention?
It is important we practise mindful listening when appreciating music. Musicians tirelessly hone their craft just to play us a song. That song then goes through countless iterations with the utmost attention poured into each instrument, note, mixing level, and silence. But too often, we take for granted that commitment and attention and rarely give the artist our focus in return.
Practicing mindful listening with music is the practice of sitting down without any distraction and concentrating on every aspect of a song. Listen to every instrument, every change of beat, every whisper from the left headphone, and each note from the right. We may already be familiar with this practice when we listen to our favourite song, but rarely do we listen mindfully for long periods of time. That is why we need to begin mindfully listening not only to individual songs, but to entire albums.
Just as a good song is carefully crafted to hold an artist’s soul, a good album is carefully curated to hold the same. A great album creates an enriching and fulfilling experience for the focused listener. The tracks are ordered with intention, to show range and emotion, to be a slow melodic breath of fresh air or a booming electric punch in the gut. Some songs flow effortlessly together, sweetly setting the tone for the next track, while others harshly juxtapose to create a surprising new direction. True care is marked by artists setting out to challenge the traditional album format, genre norms, and listener expectations. It is only fair we show the same care when listening.
Not to get nihilistic in the middle of a student newspaper, but life is meaningless and our time is fleeting, so every moment we are present in both body and mind truly holds meaning. I’ll be the first to admit that being present is hugely difficult. I often find my mind being consumed with issues out of my control, or that I’m unable to wholeheartedly experience life with others. But the simple act of sitting down and giving an album my unadulterated attention is something that temporarily fills this meaningless existence with joy. So give it a shot; choose to give the precious gift of music your full attention.
Consider these albums to get you started:
Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends (1968)
Mood: “Did those guys just create psychedelic folk?”
Top Song: “America”
The Strokes – The New Abnormal (2020)
Mood: Turns out indie alt-rockers have an emotional side
Top Song: “Ode to the Mets”
Ron Gallo – PEACEMEAL (2021)
Mood: An indie-Buddhist-punk with a great sound and even better lyrics
Top Song: “All the Punks are Domesticated”*
Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977)
Mood: A haunting, rocking, melodic 42 minutes
Top Song: “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)
Mood: “I don’t really know what genre this is but I can’t stop my body from moving”
Top Song: “All My Friends”
Childish Gambino – Because the Internet (2013)
Mood: A joyously creative experience from beginning to end
Top Song: “Zealots of Stockholm”
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Mood: A visual landscape created purely by sound and helped by drugs
Top Song: “Time”
*Please, just listen to this song.