At some point in the last decade, popular music left behind the Age of Albums and entered the Singles Era.
If you’ve got a few moments, this article can explain the shift in detail. But if you’re in a hurry, it comes down to this: technology dictates format. No longer hemmed in by the standard length of a record, cassette tape, or CD, the digital age has allowed musicians to release individual tracks whenever they’re ready, rather than having to pad out a full 40- or 60-minutes’ worth of material.
Releasing a slow drip of singles has become a common approach, and it’s a strategy that can, arguably, help maintain an artist’s buzz. Or at the very least keep PR companies busy writing press releases.
There’s a part of me – the crusty old man part that sits on the porch yelling at clouds – that doesn’t like the “singles only” release strategy. This part of me yearns for artists who craft every track to fit an Overarching Theme, who agonize over track order and motifs.
Thankfully, there’s another part of me that realizes good music doesn’t have to be part of an album, or have an overarching anything. This is also the part of me that taps the crusty old man part on the shoulder and reminds him, “hey, don’t you have a blog that’s all about, you know, single songs?”
Like most artists of the Spotify era, Birds of the West tends to release singles rather than albums, but they strayed a bit from the singles-only formula in 2020 with their double-single “Yama / Niyama.”
If the crusty old man side of you has a problem with this, think of it as a micro-album. An A-side and a B-side, harkening back to a time before the Age of the Album: the age of the 45 rpm single.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. Like any good album, there’s an overarching theme. In yoga, “yama” is a set of principles for respecting others – things like non-violence and truthfulness. “Niyama” is similar, but turns the focus inwards. Contentment, self-discipline, self-study. So in a way, yama and niyama are the A and B sides of a good life.
2. The first track, “Yama,” maintains that outward focus with its open, reverb-heavy percussion, and its mixed vocal samples like faces in a crowd.
3. The second track, “Niyama,” evokes solitude. Its percussion is more muted, its humming voices more contemplative. It even ends with 10 seconds of vinyl crackle, as if the needle is making its way through the blank space at the end of the record.
Recommended listening activity:
Looking very closely at two sides of a coin.
The post Week 566: “Yama / Niyama” by Birds of the West appeared first on Beautiful Song Of The Week.