Pass the “Ammunition”
Posted on September 18, 2020 Posted by Athena Scalzi 30 Comments
I don’t always listen to albums, but when I do, there are usually only a couple of songs on it that I enjoy. Usually one or two, sometimes three, and on rare occasion, maybe four or so. But I have never in my life enjoyed an album in its entirety. Until I came across Ammunition by Krewella. This six-song album (or “EP,” as the old people call it) takes up only 21 minutes of your time, making it the perfect album to listen to while you shower or while you drive to the grocery store.
This is the thing with albums: they’re just a few songs too long in my opinion. It’s always the first couple songs that are good, and then everything after it is just kind of there. Back before my time, there were LPs, and they had about ten songs on them, an ideal number for an album, in my opinion. And then the CD came around, and suddenly you could fit more songs in an album. However, bigger is not always better, and that is certainly the case with albums that have, like, eighteen songs on it. It just seems excessive at that point.
But no one my age even buys CDs anymore. Or really ever buys music. Why buy one CD when you can just pay the same amount for a streaming subscription, or why pay at all when you can listen for free on platforms like YouTube? Why buy a whole album if you can just go listen to the one song you like from it? Does anyone even make albums anymore? It seems like artists just release singles nowadays. Which is preferable to me, because I have a very short attention span, so asking me to listen to something that’s longer than like, half an hour is a tall order.
The first song I heard from this album is the song which it is named after, Ammunition. I listened to this song a lot for about a year before I even thought to look and see if they had more music. I was hesitant to listen to their other songs, because I didn’t think any of it could top Ammunition. And I was right! Ammunition, in my opinion, is still by far the best song, but I was surprised that I liked the other ones, too.
So without further ado, here’s Ammunition:
If you want to look up the rest of the album, it’s on YouTube and on Spotify (if you go on Spotify make sure you don’t listen to the remix album of Ammunition). If you gave a listen to the song above, let me know what you thought of it in the comments! And as always, have a great day!
But no one my age even buys CDs anymore. Or really ever buys music. Why buy one CD when you can just pay the same amount for a streaming subscription, or why pay at all when you can listen for free on platforms like YouTube? Why buy a whole album if you can just go listen to the one song you like from it? Does anyone even make albums anymore?
Which is, sadly, why the miusic business is dying. No one thinks they should pay for music. I guess it’s a good thing that doesn’t extend to books, although Amazon is working on it.
That’s a great song! I’d never heard of it before.
I never did buy albums much, even when they were the only game in town. The few LPs that I still have are apparently worth some money now, given their age and excellent condition. I haven’t listened to them for half a century.
Mostly I download music from places like iTunes now and make playlists with just the stuff I like. It’s so much better (and easier) that way. I sometimes ,take playlists that I choreograph scenes to in my books.
Some people still buy albums, for various reasons. To support the artist (yes their cut is small but it’s still something), to get exclusive bonuses (Japan’s music market goes HARD on those, for example), because streaming isn’t a good fit for them, or just out of habit.
As for the question of making albums, I think people face a chicken and egg issue here.
Established fans might listen to a 30-40 minute album, but you aren’t going to get new listeners with that. Gotta have singles
On the flip side, a 40-minute single collection isn’t really worth listening to all at once, so the old practice of filling out a CD is pointless. I think albums that are best listened to all at once won’t die, exactly, but they’ll definitely get rarer and rarer.
Why should anyone buy CDs (or music in other formats)? That’s like asking why anyone should pay for books written by John Scalzi when they could read a bootleg PDF: because musicians and writers should get paid for their work.
And if I own a CD, a change in platform (bankruptcy, etc.) means I have exactly the same access to the music.
I can provide other reasons: sound quality, ability to play on a good stereo system, etc., but I’d say the reasons I provided above are the most important.
Thank you so much for the recommendation! I do really like Ammunition, but I like Beggars the most. I’ll be throwing some money their way!
You make some good points. Albums: I agree most albums typically have only a few best songs on them, and the rest may be mediocre or terrible. I think the problem with albums as they have been made for most of the time they’ve existed, is that it is only a rare composer who can make a large battery of quality tunes in a small span of time (let’s say for this discussion a small span is a year or less). So really, modern era or not, I think composers of songs should take a lot longer between albums, if their mission is to compile a bunch of them into a 9-20 song epic. Today’s musicians probably think that’s nuts since you can just ‘release’ an mp3 whenever you feel like it. Maybe they feel their fans will forget them if you don’t constantly release content. And that doesn’t necessarily mean 4+years between albums is a magic formula for sculpting a sonic masterpiece… but I do think it is way better odds, taking more time, reflecting – than just throwing a pile of tunes at the audience and observing what sticks. Ymmv.
As far as streaming goes: I still! don’t think most artists get paid enough for their services to streaming companies. I prefer Bandcamp (more like a record store, and pays artists a lot better, plus as an artist you can name your price or let fans pay what they want) vs something like Spotify (closer to old skool radio).
The music industry as a whole isn’t dying, it’s just changing, drastically. People consume music very differently than they did 30 years ago. The “music industry” still hasn’t figured that out and is trying to shoehorn modern consumption into an outdated model. Music as an industry is becoming much more grassroots and consumer driven. Corporate music establishment and traditional distribution is just becoming irrelevant. Musicians are finding different ways to reach an audience and make money, and most of those don’t require corporate support.
Tell that to the musicians who are starving. ‘Just sell merch!’ is not a sustainable business model.
Try “We’re Only in it for the Money” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Or Joe’s Garage, by the same group.
I think albums were the result of market pressure applied to the technology of the time. There’s no need for them anymore, so they will go away.
Of course, Taylor Swift just made waves with an album, so maybe there is life left in them, at least as a gimmick.
I try not to express music opinions because people are so touchy about it. I agree with you that song-oriented CD albums got too long. I blame the Beatles, of course, with their ridiculous double lps.
In the end, it’s all the Beatles’ fault.
(Oops. Don’t opine about music, fool.)
Love the song. I’m not a fan of subscription things, bumping up my fixed costs month after month. So when I can, I buy the songs, and make my own playlists. But I realize I miss out on introductions to new things, that a streaming service would give me.
There was a time when every song on some albums were a hit. Or they revolved around a common theme, like Rush’s 2112. I measured time by how many albums could be played, or money by how many albums it would purchase. I even rolled joints in double albums and years later would open one and find a surprise. Albums were a culture unto themselves!
Music seems so fractured now.
But no one my age even buys books anymore. Or really ever buys writing. Why pay at all when you can read for free on platforms like Twitter? Why buy a whole book if you can just go read the one meme you like from it? Does anyone even write books anymore? It seems like artists just release tweets nowadays. Which is preferable to me, because I have a very short attention span, so asking me to read something that’s longer than like, half an hour is a tall order.
This is my problem with modern “music butlers”, for lack of a better term. I enjoy albums. Artists are careful to choose which track starts an album, which tracks follow in what order, and which tracks end the album. I am not into listening to songs per se, I enjoy albums.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here. Actually pretty much all PF’s catalog
Hawkwind – Warrior on the Edge of Time
Dream Theater – Scenes from a Memory
Pain of Salvation – Be
Rush – 2112 side 1
Spock’s Beard – Snow
Hacken – Visions
Then again, I suspect your dad will be more “Hell Ya!” than you on these.
There are albums which I only liked a couple of the songs when I first listened, but then forced to listen to the whole thing (typically on cassette), I learned to love every song on the album. The Damned Strawberries; David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Diamond Dogs and Heroes (and Station to Station, and Ziggy Stardust, and and and); Metallica’s Master of Puppets; Iron Maiden’s Powerslave; Beatles Rubber Soul. That said, for every one of the above, there’s countless other albums that I bought for one or maybe two songs; and then stopped listening to the album because the rest of the songs were meh or worse.
So I’m not defending the album as an artistic artifact. I actually always liked greatest hits albums (my dirty little secret) because the “songs I like” to “songs I didn’t like” ratio was always favorable.
Your mentioning an “EP” brings up a bit of a definition question for me. Is an “album” a form factor; a technology; or an artistic object? For a long time, I didn’t consider EPs “albums” because it wasn’t full-length. But I did consider a CD with 45+ minutes of music an album, even though it wasn’t a vinyl recording. Maybe that was just my own definition, not borne out by the rest of society…
This was a problem when all you could buy were LPs and then CDs. You had to accept what you got even if you had not heard all of it. Today it’s better. You can decide if that album is worth getting or just the song you like. I will buy a lossless digital version with no DRM of the album if it’s good. I keep the streaming to try out new stuff.
However there was a sense of discovery about taking a risk on buying an LP. And sometimes you found out the B side was better. The radio songs were just short and had a hook. The Police Ghost in the Machine is one such album. The first two songs got extensive radio play, but they are not at all the best tracks on that album.
Any fellow nerds out there? I don’t yet have enough patience to listen properly to music at home, except for the radio, but more often than radio I’ll web stream ambient. I don’t want lyrics when I’m reading or desk working.
Albums are what I play in my car on special trips. Since I live on the Great Plains, there is a lot of roading to be done. Incidentally, a fellow nerd and I both commute in our cars in silence. (a good way to know what your normal car noises are)
Say, sometimes I’ll YouTube/vevo hop, but after a time that can feel like web surfing down a rabbit hole.
For me, a small part of playing album CDs on the road is “against FOMA,” to say I too have a life with music.
“Why buy one CD when you can just pay the same amount for a streaming subscription…”
Because the sound is like they cleaned out every last bit of resonance and sterilized the songs in a vacuum? I’m not still into vinyl but streaming plain sucks the life out of the music.
As for full albums, I was on the road and listened to the Moody Blues’ “Question of Balance” the other day. Still glorious.
I’m a bit older than your father, so my memories and experience will be more similar to his. But something that came to mind as I read your post was the Night Vale Presents podcast, “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats.”
I’m not a big Mountain Goats fan, but I am a huge Welcome to Night Vale fan. My youngest ran across their podcast back when only a dozen or so episodes had been released. We’ve been to all the live shows and I’ve been one of their financial supporters since 2015. And we’re both huge, huge, huge fans of Joseph Fink’s “Alice Isn’t Dead” podcast (with Jasika Nicole) and book and were sad when that story ended. So I listended to the Mountain Goats podcast because I was curious about Joseph Fink’s perspective. And even though I still wouldn’t call myself a Mountain Goats fan, I appreciate the songs more after hearing their conversations. The podcast hooked me. The conversations are wide-ranging and always interesting. It gave me insight into the creative process associated with music I didn’t really have before.
That podcast came to mind because the second season, which revolves around the production and release of the latest Mountain Goats album, dives into the process and consideration that the Mountain Goats specifically put into the songs on the album, the order of the songs, and the decisions about which to include. I’m sure as with all things, every artist is different, but I can see some of that same work and effort in albums I really loved to listen to from beginning to end. While Beyonce is doing things today that go beyond just an album, that same element, where the sum is greater than its individual parts, is present.
A lot of albums, of course, have often had only the one song or two that I liked and mostly weren’t that great. But I can also think of quite a few where the full experience lies in listening to the whole and not the individual parts. I’m not sure how that will translate into the future.
Oh, and I did listen to the song. I enjoyed it. I tend to be able to enjoy lots of sorts of music. (My youngest’s single favorite group if you forced her to pick is probably Within Temptation and all my kids tend to share songs that really speak to them with me.) Of course, with everything going on in the world and my own life these days, the song I tend to have on loop most frequently is Depeche Mode’s Where’s the Revolution?.
I find it difficult to believe that the music industry is dying when sites like Bandcamp are doing so well (in terms of digital sales, streaming, and sales of music on physical storage media!). Maybe conventional record labels were the only things that were going to go. Google Play Music is about to turn into YouTube Music in October, which suggests that Google understands that most consumers are defaulting to streaming these days.
Physical media is definitely a weird history for me. I was about 12 when P2P programs (Napster/Morpheus/LimeWire/KaZaA/etc.) showed up…but my parents hadn’t bought a CD player until I was 11. So I’d owned about 3 CDs, then jumped straight into collecting mp3s. I still buy classical CDs, but even then streaming via e.g. the Naxos Music Library is very much a possibility. In other genres, I do own a few CDs, but most of the time an album contains only a few highlights for me, and I don’t really want to put up with the rest. Streaming makes me nervous only because I like a lot of really obscure/indie bands and I’ve had things disappear from the Internet on me (or, around 2006, get locked up in DRM files – glad those days are over). As a result, I still focus on downloadable tracks – I have about 1500 of those by this point – though I try my best to pay for them now.
@John Kerr: A mean-spirited and unconvincing analogy. Aside from some of the most high-profile rock-operas, individual songs stand alone well enough that they naturally gain much more attention than the album itself. This means that any way in which tracks are available individually is going to be competitive. Twitter isn’t a bunch of books cut into half-paragraphs; even if it were, it wouldn’t do a very good job of replacing the intact versions.
I’m an old guy, about your dad’s age. I think it’s a perfectly fine bit of pop music but it doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not trying to be critical, just honest.
The thing I don’t like about it is the overly processed lead vocal. It’s typical of a lot of what I randomly hear of current music. I would call it autotune but it’s probably not that and it’s been used since before you were born (Cher, 1998). The tone turns me off. I think I would have liked the song a lot better with natural vocals.
Beyond that, it doesn’t have a strong hook and the lyrics don’t move me at first listen. I bet if it was on regular rotation it would grow on me.
@2QS: Mean-spirited? Actually yes, perfectly fair point. As for the rest, I’d echo Steven Wilson to say something beautiful has died, and nobody cares. Respect to Pink Floyd and others for holding out so long against the whirling razors, snipping their great conceptual works into 3 minute tweets! – Incidentally, prog god SW is also a great fan of 3 minute pop when it’s really well made, but you have to make room for both that, and long forms e.g. symphonies, whether rock or classical, if you want to get the most out of music. Don’t just listen exclusively to the ads. Watch the movie, not just the trailer. Take in a performance of a play, not just the Cliff Notes. Go see Wagner’s Ring Cycle, don’t just… actually, you know what, let’s forget that last one, four days is maybe a bit long for two or three good tunes…
I certainly should have noted that there are entire genres of music that were composed as whole works of multiple pieces: string quartets, symphonies, masses, operas, etc. Buying by the track is…inefficient, and there are all sorts of issues with the metadata at streaming sites.
@john Kerr Bandcamp are tech bros, not musicians. When I say the music industry is dying, I mean it in terms of musicians being able to feed their families.
I’m an official old guy (75 yrs old in a week or so). I grew up with singles (45s), vinyl albums, and cassette tapes. I was well into being an adult (whatever that means) by the time CDs came along, and now streaming in my older years. Each of these formats has had their time and place of pre-eminence and each has their advantages. As a teenager in the late 1950′ and early 1960’s, we all listened to singles on the radio and then went out to buy them and play them on our new fangled stereo’s ( assuming you were white and working/middle class or more). Albums hit their peak in the 1960’s/1970’s soon to be supplemented by cassette tapes (for listening to albums in the car and on portable tape decks).
What’s been missing for me in this discussion so far is that albums were part of a larger cultural movement/revolution going on at that time. Albums were often (but not only) not just a collection of songs with a few hits and the rest filler; rather they were (to use a contemporary term) a curated collection of related songs by the artists that often had a unifying theme. Not to mention the art work that went into the album covers that was often the focus (sometimes obsession) of much commentary. Yes, individual songs were usually plucked from the album for airplay/marketing, but the album as a whole made a statement. Several come to mind: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles is, of course the prime example, but also Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”, and the Moody Blues “In Search of a Lost Cord.” A brief contextual reference on concept albums is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_album.
So, Athena (and others here), I’d encourage you to take a half hour or so and take a listen to one of these albums or others listed in the referent above. Given what’s going on today, StevieWonder’s “Innervisions” might be a good place to start. You’ll be amply rewarded for your time.
I promised myself not to comment here until I had heard the Ammunition EP, and my first reaction – pretty cool! The first song, “Beggars,” really reaches out and grabs you, and the rest varies enough to keep things interesting. As a whole, I’d put the sound of Ammunition somewhere between Billie Eilish and the latest Sleater-Kinney album. I will definitely listen to this a few more times in the next week or so.
Interesting that no commenter (as I write) has mentioned the group Krewella yet. I assumed they’d be pretty new, but according to Wikipedia they’ve been putting out music since 2011, and that they’ve had a top 10 album and a top 40 single in the U.S. Given this modest pop success, I was surprised that they didn’t get any mentions in the Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” critics poll, either for albums/EP’s or for singles. (Krewella has enjoyed more success on the “dance” charts, which may be why they missed out with the P&J voters, who toward the end tended to concentrate more on what was left of “alt-rock” along with some hip-hop.)
I think we’re currently in a new era of what I think of as “post-popular” music, with a greater variety of music out there and greater ability to develop at least a small following for it than ever before, but the audience is so atomized that it’s harder to sell music to a lot of people at once. A lot of “hits” peak high on the charts with their debut, then fall off after a week or so; the few songs that penetrate public consciousness in a big way tend to hang around the charts much longer than they did in the late 20th century.
This can be a trial for music nuts of a certain age – and I should mention I’m one of those, about your parents’ age like many other commenters here – especially those (including me) whose instincts run toward collecting and canonization. I think it’s great that young people have a lot more access to different music than ever before, and that their musical tastes may be broader than those of the young people of my generation, but I worry that their listening habits and media environment discourage deep appreciation for any particular kind of music, much less any understanding of how different kinds of music relate to one another.
To this, one could point out that not many people of any age have that much deep understanding of any given kind of music outside their “native” idiom (so to speak), and that old people are perpetually concerned that young people don’t have as much depth as older people. I trust the young people to figure out their own relationships to music in time, as previous generations have done.
I think a lot of people took the wrong way your comment about not listening to albums often and only liking a few songs on them when you do. It was perhaps to be expected that album-oriented music nuts would would engage you on that point, and on the related one about young people not buying CD’s these days. For my part, though I still listen to albums all the way through and actively enjoy most of the cuts on my many favorites, I have a lot of sympathy for your position too – from experience, I can say that not all acclaimed albums hold up well upon repeated listening.
I also understand that when you say you like all of the songs on Ammunition, right after noting that you usually only like one or two songs on most albums, that’s a very big deal – it means this particular EP is something special,. and to my mind that makes it worthy of attention. Thank you for sharing that experience with us.
Copy editor hat on:
“The first song I heard from this album is the song which it is named after, Ammunition.”
“The first song I heard from this albums was the title track, Ammunition.”
Thanks for the share, Athena!
Music is about emotional context. When I was a child, I listened to my parents’ vinyl LPs and the radio. No television – Dad hated them. When I was a teenager, our cool young uncle introduced my sibs & me to Cream and Jimi Hendrix, and we were suitably impressed. When I was a young adult, I listened to what my boyfriends liked. It was all good. Sometimes it was glorious.
Somewhere along the way I got jaded & cynical about the music industry. This was part of an overarching disgust I felt about the entire world. Computerized sales records made it possible to track what buyers actually liked – classical music, comedy albums, recorded musicals, film soundtracks, folk & country, children’s music – yet the Top 40 stations carried on as if they were the only game in town.
Pink Floyd released the fiery “Have a Cigar,” their own indictment of the industry. (Maybe it was just Roger Waters’ indictment; David Gilmour declined to sing it.) Ministry’s Alain Jourgenson in a radio interview slagged off on, as he put it, the record companies’ “satin-jacketed assholes shoving coke spoons up my nose saying ‘We’re going to make you a star!!! if you’ll write pop music.'” Preach!
I changed my consumption of music altogether. I perma-tuned my radio to public stations with no ads. I went to folk festivals, bars & concert halls to hear music. I recorded stuff off the radio onto cassettes and traded them with friends. Ye gods, I’m old.
Having kids brought new perspective. Now we had a TV in the house, and programming for children was of refreshingly high quality. Check out The Wiggles’ “Can You Point Your Fingers and Do the Twist.” I dare you not to dance along! Video game music – incredible! Now & then I’d haul a moldy oldie of my own out of the closet and make the kids listen to it. Some of that made them go “meh.” Others, like Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” not only lit them up, but took me back to what it was like to hear it for the first time.
Which brings me to a recent discovery, and I’m talking late-last-night recent. Tim & Fred Williams of Gary, Indiana have a YouTube channel “TwinsthenewTrend” on which they do reaction videos of themselves listening for the first time to a variety of musical standards – most famously, Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” These guys are a delight! So open, so enthusiastic, so accepting! I stayed up a few hours later than I’d planned watching them discover Led Zeppelin, Heart, ABBA, Janis Joplin.
It’s hard, in the vast sea of content & available formats, to find something new and fresh and good. User behavior gets fed into the platforms’ algorithms. The choices fed back are increasingly narrower and more targeted. I reckon the next best thing to making one’s own new musical discoveries is to watch someone else take so much joy in doing it.
Back in the day, I used to buy c.d.’s just for one or two hit songs and pray the rest of the c.d. was good. I say “pray” because dropping $12-$15 for a new c.d. was a significant investment for me (at the time). In per-Covid days, I would by used c.d.’s from my local liibrary (they would have major used book/music sales twice a year and mini-sales year round) and those would often cost about $1-$2 each (most I ever spent was $5 for a five c.d. set of Curtis Mayfield). This would allow me to sample an unknown/known artist w/o dropping serious dollars in the process.
More often than not, I would find a lot of good music buried in the c.d.’s put out by known (like those deemed one-hit wonders) and unknown (at least to me) artists. I’m not a fan of streaming services like Spotify (too many of the same censorship issues in the vein of YouTube/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter), so often this is the only way I can safely sample music w/o spending a crap-ton of money. For new, there is a local college station that sadly goes automated for a good chunk of the time these days (semi-closed campus) and sometimes I can find a new artist to check out from a song that gets played.