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Surrender to the alphabet

Seth’s entry on shuffling yesterday reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to share for some months now: I’ve given up on the concept of the music shuffle.

Why?

  1. Like Seth, I had a lot of good music that was going unheard.
  2. I had a lot of crap building up in the invisible corners of the juke that really didn’t deserve to be there.
  3. Albums are surprisingly good, heard end-to-end.
  4. Albums are surprisingly bad, given any lone track out of context and jammed up against something incongruous.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a problem with shuffle in short bursts. It’s fun, it’s random, give chance a chance, etc, but it’s not a long term strategy for music enjoyment. Not for me, anyway. I like to think of myself as a ruthless MP3 dictator, bearing down on the musical citizens of iTunes with a single, inviolable mandate: be worthwhile. I don’t care whether you’re folk, or punk, or metal, or pop, or country, or soul; I just care that you’re doing your job… and your job is to bring me pleasure. That’s what music is for. So, in an effort to rout out the dead weight —the flabby middle of my music library— I decided I had to listen to it all. End to end, to weed out the junk and revitalize the old favorites.

This is something I’d tried and failed a year ago when I first got the nano. I listened chronologically, but grew tired of the 70’s before they were half over; I listened by genre, and inevitably put myself ‘out of the mood’ for Genre X after a few hours of listening; and then listened by artist, only to find myself similarly bored of said artist after their fourth album in a row. I gave up and went back to shuffling.

But it turns out I’d been doing it all wrong; you need to listen Album Alphabetically. Suddenly there’s a mix of genres and artists and periods. Random enough to be interesting, but predetermined enough that you can guarantee full coverage. In doing so, I’ve panned another gigabyte of music previously deemed acceptable —most of it borrowed, on the wishlist no longer— and refamiliarized myself with dozens of albums I’ve not heard in years.

Such is the curse of abundance. Sometimes you forget how good you have it, so you need to go back over it all to refresh your memory.