Last friday I went to the first meeting of an Album Group set up by my friend Rick Walters. He'd picked two albums, one old one new, for us to listen to in advance of the meeting and talk about. He prepared food and put out the chairs. I arrived in some trepidation, not sure what I'd have to say about two records (discs? CDs? downloads? What do we call them?) neither of which were quite my kind of thing.
And would a level of musical knowledge be expected that would make me feel stupid?
It was a very enjoyable and stimulating evening. We talked about Scott 4, the last of Scott Walker's so-called masterpieces of the Sixties, and the first album by Cate Le Bon, a young Welsh singer songwriter who veers from pretty folk to angry heaviness and has been compared to Nico.
We'd all been listening to these albums free using Spotify, so were all fed up with hearing the same advert for British Gas being played over and over there. One of our number felt so bad about not paying that she felt duty bound to listen to the adverts instead of cutting the volume. We discussed the merits of this amazing new service and its implications.
We talked about our listening habits. I tend to play a limited selection of favourite tracks over and over, at work, out walking, in the car. Others listened for shorter periods of time but more often to new music. Whether these albums had been hear on tinny laptops, in the intense inner world of the iPod, or an a hi-fi system in the front room had an impact on how we'd heard and responded to them.
Afterwards I bought a few favourite tracks on iTunes as a permanent musical momento, and also found I wanted to download there the next album we're going to discuss before I'd heard it. I'm excited to find a new reason to listen hard to new music.
We found plenty to say about the music too, and enjoyed hearing tracks again, even the ones we didn't like at all. I still find Walker's sound an uncomfortable mix of schmolz and earnestness. Le Bon's songs reference lots of others, and feel like they sprang from sampling and mingling all kinds of sounds on computer more than strumming away in folk clubs.
And now I feel like the digital equivalent of the sermonising vicar whose Sunday anecdote always at arrives back at 'Jesus Christ Our Lord', for lo, see how digital culture changeth the way we listen and the place of music in our lives. And verily it changeth also the sounds we hear. Hear endeth the lesson, complete with clickable buy now buttons which I've just tried installing and which link through to Amazon Almighty.