For years, I listened to music based on my mood. Playlists were well suited for this. I had one full of sad songs for my sad days, days that would last months at a time. I had one with only quick-paced, aggressive guitar riffs and lung-spitting screams, for the pockets of rage I’d encounter every now and then. One that was mostly electronic inspiration — songs that would move me when I needed to move. One for the particularly difficult days, consisting of stoic melodies that could fill me with grit determination. There was even one for the bittersweet moments, perfect for a post-show buzz. Every song served a particular purpose.
This motley grouping of single tracks may have been the result of the way I discovered new music. Tenaciously, with ears always open, I would record as much as I could that caught my fancy, jotting down any discernible lyrics I could use as a basis for a search, and never stopping until I could find the song. Hysteria, by Muse, is just one example, which I happened to discover while watching an awards show. For a long time, it remained a song I’ve enjoyed on my for it’s subtle build-up, and energetic, nearly chaotic, synth-inspired bass lines.
Things changed when I lived with Trolley. He exposed me to bands of different genres, and being a musical collector, this exposure took the form of complete albums. One of them happened to be Absolution.
Now that I have the entire album, Hysteria is known to me as track 7, coming after the pensive Interlude, but before the gentle, ethereal, Blackout. In this context, preceded and succeeded by two equally significant tracks, the song doesn’t sound the same.
Eventually, none of my playlists were appropriate for what I was feeling. At first, I thought that this was the result of increasingly subtle or complex emotions, but I’ve come to realize that it’s simply because I’ve matured, and as a result, my emotions have evened out. With the wisdom and serenity associated with growing older, came the loss of emotional highs and lows that would inspire me.
Now it’s become difficult to listen to a song in a playlist. Every album has an order. Every track has its place. Listening to a song out of its musical context may be hard, but listening to music without the rush of inspiration is harder.
And this has become my musical context.