There are any number of possible lenses through which to view music – genre, instrumentation, lyrical themes, political implications, and the list goes on. A new lens came to my attention recently when I made the following realization:
The more cerebral music is, the closer I want to put it to my head.
Sounds a little silly, but it’s true. It’s the difference between a headphone album and an open-air album, and it doesn’t just come down to wanting to listen more closely to music I like better. In fact, while I’d rank Reckless Kelly’s Bulletproof slightly ahead of Rodney Crowell’s Sex and Gasoline for pure enjoyment, it sounds all wrong to me through headphones. It’s the sort of urgent, driving music that needs to be played out loud and allowed to fill the air around it. The Crowell album, on the other hand, doesn’t sound right cranking out of my stereo system: some of its substance seems to blow away. To get it in its purest, most potent form, I have to inject it directly into my ear canal. It’s like a private conversation cheapened by the possibility that others might overhear it.
I wouldn’t say that a headphone album is better than an open-air album or vice versa. It’s just a matter of different kinds of music inviting different kinds of relationships. Does this distinction exist only in my head, or is your choice of music influenced by how you’ll be listening? Are there albums you love but have to listen to one way or the other?