Why your favorite albums still matter

(Photo: DJ Shadow / Mo' Wax)
photo: DJ Shadow 'Endtroducing' full cover

Click here to vote for your favorite albums of the year in the 2014 OpenAir Listener Poll.)

The fact that artists are still making albums speaks volumes for the art form. Albums are novels instead of short stories; full-length features instead of selected short subjects; grand theatre instead of a one-act show.

Not to say that one song at a time is a bad thing. Rock and roll was born into a singles world for many reasons, the most specific being it was the affordable art form for the younger audience with their limited funds and their yet-to-be diagnosed short attention spans.

True, Elvis Presley had the top album of 1956 and a second in the top ten, but the rest of that list was filled out by jazz artists and Sinatra. Into the '60s the “Adults buy albums” trend continued, with rock and soul dominating the singles charts and soundtracks and comedy albums ruling the album charts.

Most of that changed in the '60s as albums transcended into creative statements as opposed to song collections: another Beatle-led assault on pop culture in general.

No longer was it enough to merely have one song at a time from an artist: you wanted the package. Gone was Phil Spector’s assessment that an album was two hits and ten pieces of something else.

Sure the themes marched in well before "Sgt. Pepper," but more importantly the new album consciousness dictated a wealth of possible singles. Filler became a thing of the past, replaced in importance by song placement, mood variations and beginnings and endings.

Timing was everything, and skewing everything for radio airplay fell away from most big pictures. “They’re working on a new album” sounded as relevant as “she’s writing a novel,” “he’s in the middle of a screenplay,” or “they’re shooting a movie.”

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century. Arguably we are back to a singles mentality, as every digital service available breaks the albums into songs and ranks them by sales.

And yet, most artists still seek the complete expression that comes with an album. Hits are great on several levels but the album promises more serious implications including cover art and vinyl legitimacy.

There’s nothing more subjective than picking your favorite albums of the year. The reason we have (and OpenAir plays) so many different artists is there are so many different creative forces in music today putting out so much music with so many ways to find it. The floodgates are open.

Today’s artists stretch out for miles along an imaginary starting line like participants in the land runs of the Old West. Out there is a vast horizon of possible listeners who may be more than ready to receive the artist's message.

Yes, artists are looking for you. You are the “if” factor in all this inspiration and creativity, because without listeners music doesn’t really exist. OpenAir’s Listener Poll for 2014 is your chance to tell them their signal was received!