The Stack Project

Several years ago, I was feeling silly about all the books I’d purchased, placed on my shelf, and never read.  One inspired day, I took all unread book off the shelf and made a very large stack beside my bedside table.  I decided that books didn’t go back on the shelf until I’d read them.  The project took me well over a year (might have been two, I don’t quite remember).  Since then, I only shelve books which I’ve read at least once.

I’m not suggesting that reading all your unread books is a universal moral imperative.  I recognize the desire to collect and I know the feeling of endless possibility gained by looking at a shelf of unread books.  However, the stack project worked for me — it made me happy knowing that I didn’t own a bunch of books I’ve never read.

Though the material is hidden inside hard drives and lacks the physical presence of a bookshelf, the same general problem exists for my music.  I had many albums which I’ve owned for years but I’ve never listened to.    I decided this winter that the music collection deserves its own stack project.  I’ve made a list of all the albums I’ve never listened to (or listened to very briefly such that I had basically no memory of them).  I’ll be working my way through this list over the next year (perhaps more — it’s a long list).

As silly and obvious as it is, a major help in this project is my (relatively) new iPhone.  I’ve owned portable music devices before, but I’ve never been in the habit of carrying them around and using them with any frequency.  I do this with the phone.  Moreover, our livingroom stereo system goes through the computer.  If Steph is on the computer, that means no stereo in the main room.  Previously that would mean not listening to music; now, I just listen through the iPhone.

I purchased a decent pair of headphone as well.  Again, remarkably obvious, but good headphones improve my music experience.  Listening to old favourites, I’ve found details and subtleties I’ve never noticed.

I’m working through the stack alphabetically (by first name, even, mostly because I’m using iTunes and some of its organizational decisions are ridiculous).  Sticking with this arbitrary pre-imposed order seemed easiest, and I have no strong preference about how I make progress.  I’m in the middles of the B’s so far.  I hope to write some substantial reviews as I go along, but here are some notes so far:

  • Alasdair Roberts’s “The Crook of My Arm” seemed odd on first listen, but grew on me quickly.  He has a lovely, mellow style for interpreting old British folk-songs.
  • Ani DiFranco is mostly amazing, with the odd miss for me.  “Not a Pretty Girl” is a great album, but “Evolve” left me disappointed. I don’t really have any of her material from the last decade, but I may purchase some.
  • The Arcade Fire is actually as good as everyone says, at least judging from their first two albums.  I think I prefer Neon Bible to Funeral, though that might be heresy.  I’m informed that their other two albums are also amazing; I will likely acquire them.
  • Basia Bulat is amazing!  We only have one album: “Heart of my Own”, but it has been my favourite of the stack project so far.  I remember getting it three or four years ago and being unimpressed after once through.  I never went back to it.  How foolish I was!  It’s a lovely album, and I hope to buy more of hers.
  • After being a huge Björk fan up to Vespertine, I lost track of her material starting with Medulla.  That’s four albums to catch up on: Medulla, Volta, Biophilia and Vulnicura.  I listened to these before I started the stack project.  (Mostly likely, going back to these albums was the inspiration for the project in the first place).  There is some amazing material here.  Volta is the most forgettable, though it has a couple nice tracks.  Medulla and Biophilia are excellent, with multiple sublime and transcendent tracks.  Vulnicura has quickly become one of my favourite albums in any category.

It’s been a month of two of the project, and as I said, I’m halfway through the B’s; there is a lot left to consider.  I hope to be posting updates as I go along.