The album, as a musical form, was born out of commercial necessity and technological limitation. In the late 1950s and early “60s record companies needed a way to shift a number of songs in a single package. Vinyl disks allowed the storage of 50 or so minutes (about 10-12 tracks) making the vinyl long-player an ideal mode of packaging music to the consumer. Later, in the late “60s and early “70s the album began to take on artistic relevance as a form in its own right. Rather than simply a collection of songs, bands began to view the album as a unified whole with a coherent character and narrative through-line.
Some 50 years later, the album is a more complicated concept in contemporary music. There is no longer the same technological limitation. The internet allows any amount of music to be uploaded and distributed immediately. Sites like iTunes allow consumers to remove a track from its context within an album, to treat each song as an end unto itself rather than as a component of a whole. Realistically, this is how the majority of people have always listened to music – the difference is in how it is packaged.
This itself presents new artistic possibilities in terms of musical form. Sleeping With the Fishermen, by Sydney collective Telafonica, is both the name of an ambitious meta-project and the album which forms its gravitational centre. The project includes (in addition to the seven tracks of the main album) seven remix EPs (each focussing on one of the tracks), a music video for each track and a Bandcamp album of fan remixes. There are post-modern, and even cubist, overtones in the way the album is broken up into its component parts and re-examined from multiple angles. Each remix and video offers a new perspective on the songs and after listening to them the original album takes new shape as well.
Even the original Telafonica tunes are awash with differing perspectives. The band is made up from members of a number of Sydney-underground musical and artistic projects (Lessons in Time, Karoshi, Boom Blip Blip) and these contrasting musical views make for an album which pushes and pulls itself into strange and unexpected places. The opening track, “Viceroy’, unfurls from an errant sine wave into a looped groove reminiscent of This Mortal Coil before jumping violently into the Sleigh Bells-esque noise-pop of “The Unravelling Man’. The album does have a few weak points, but its erratic shifts in style and pace are arresting.
In Sleeping With the Fishermen, Telefonica have delivered a traditional album, bracketed off from its context within the broader project by its two bookending tracks. Taken alone, the album is interesting but its meta-connections with the broader project are what make it noteworthy. For the consumer, there is a choice in how far one wants to delve into the project; to view the entire web of interlocking music, to hear the album as a standalone experience or to simply pick out single tracks as they see fit.