A shorter post today because the possibilities for this topic are (hopefully) endless. And what I really want is for you all to dive in and share your thoughts - make some recommendations.
I was walking home from a late shift last week, doing some extra night-time work - as is the way in this new life of shared part-time parenting and working, the power bill goes up over winter and the hours of work you thought you'd decreased have to creep up again too in order to scrape by. So be it. Anyway, a real treat of traipsing home on a freezing Friday night near midnight was listening to Undun by The Roots. I love this album (as I said here) and I love this band (as I said there and here - and will probably say it again many more times). Now, this wasn't my first time listening to Undun on the headphones but it all just clicked. It just felt like exactly the right album to be listening to at that time, on/for that specific occasion. The walk home was brisk and I felt as though I was being pulled along by the unfolding story of Undun - described by the band as the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist; a cinematic story told in song. The precise crack of Questlove's kick and snare marshalled me home too. I have no doubt about that.
In a way it felt as though I was listening to it for the first time. In the best possible way...
I contrast this with the time I walked home from work listening to Chewed Up by the comedian Louis CK. It's a very funny/very good comedy album - but it's never wise listening to comedy records on an iPod walking near or through a crowd. You do your best to concentrate and to not let the smile spread across your face and that forms its own version of a demented look; when the smile eventually splits your face to all and sundry you appear as the person wildly beaming at nothing; possibly laughing at passing people in the street. Not a good look.
So this got me to thinking about a topic that I was asked to discuss a while back: Headphone albums.
Anything by The Roots sounds good through the cans - probably for the simple reason that the band makes brilliant music - and the album before Undun, How I Got Over (which I have also raved about previously), is another favourite to stroll home with...so I realise that this could, all too quickly, collapse into a bunch of people just naming their favourite albums/bands.
The thing that struck me - and that seems the right word, struck - about listening to Undun, headphoning it straight to my brain, pushing it straight into my ears, was that at this time, on this occasion (last Friday night) I felt lias though I was hearing anew what has already become an old favourite. Now that's a recurring theme of so many of the posts here at Blog on the Tracks, becoming newly acquainted with old favourites; hearing something from the past as if a brand new vital set of sounds.
But that's how it was. It was remarkable hearing this album in this way. So this is me remarking on it.
Headphones will give you that close listen - will force that on you. So concept and story albums can obviously be great for the cans (depending on how immersed you want to be/are able to be). But there are so many sonic aspects that feel fresh, that sometimes go unnoticed when the music is on the stereo and you're possibly walking in and out of the room to go about life, or chatting over and around parts of the music. Headphones, and I know this is obvious - should go without saying - strip away the distractions. And in this iPod age where we seem to feel we need a soundtrack for any simple journey the headphones also make music its own (new) distraction, scoring a stroll to the dairy or home from work, creating a mood while you wait for the bus, giving you a sound to stomp along with or as background as you serenely watch the world go by.
Apart from Undun, absolute favourite headphone albums for me include The Album Leaf's In a Safe Place, Giorgio Moroder's score for Midnight Express, B.B. King's Live in Cook County Jail (for that prickly-arms feeling that, again, I've mentioned to you all already), the second/final Grinderman album (which I loved from the time I first heard it) and - most recently - Swans' My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. These are all albums I feel I really get lost inside when they're being beamed right into my ears.
I could of course name 200 more. But that's where you all come in...
Do you have specific "headphone albums"? And what, to you, makes a good headphone album? Do you need to already have familiarity with the music, so it's a case of old favourites to accompany you to new destinations? Or do you like to experience new music this way, just you and the music and whatever world you feel like going to as a result?
And what are your four or five top albums to experience through headphones?