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What Does It Mean To Listen?

Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock uses a massive ear trumpet to <em>really </em>listen.
Wendy Lynch
Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock uses a massive ear trumpet to really listen.

We got a lot of thoughtful comments and replies from readers this week when we asked whether they really listen to full albums from start to finish. Much of the discussion focused on the ways we listen and what constitutes actually engaging with an entire album in a full-on listening, as opposed to merely having it on.

Most people said they listen to full albums, but many aren't giving them their undivided attention. "Most of the time, myself or my friends listen to full albums while multitasking, like driving or working or cleaning, etc.," Zak Kmak writes. "If not doing anything else is the standard, then I've never listened to whole albums," writes Sean Murphy.

Others took issue with the idea of multitasking. "If you're listening to a whole album while you work at the computer, that shouldn't fully count," Drew Hunter writes. "We're talking sitting there doing next to nothing else (maybe a very light, mindless activity), your whole attention on the music."

Randy Alberts adds that he feels "sad for (and angered by?) those who don't have time to actually get what a musician or band's art is saying. To wit, that's like only having time to look at the center of an artist's new painting while ignoring the corners."

For many, the solution is vinyl. "After 13 years of a disconnected turntable, I have rediscovered vinyl," Karl Lee writes. "I found myself having to reprogram my brain to be able to listen to analog signal again... The ritual of putting on a record. And I make the time to sit through an entire album. Read the lyrics. Listen. It's the best 40 minutes of my day."

The one thing nearly everyone agreed on is a love of full albums, regardless of how they're able to or choose to experience them.

Here at Team All Songs Considered, we're all madly in love with a fully immersive, fully focused listening experience for entire records. To celebrate as much, we're going to have a listening party. In the coming weeks, we'll pick and play an entire record, live online, and you can join us. No talking, no work or housecleaning or driving. Just you and the music.

While we're looking for a good date for the party, tell us what record you'd love to hear us play. Frampton Comes Alive, anyone?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.

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