Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers: How Pitchblack Playback is Reviving Full Album Listening


For all of the endless hours I have spent throughout my life listening to music, it is rare that I have sat and listened to an album cover to cover (or so to speak). Part of this, as many have already recognised, can be attributed to the very reason that the phrase, cover to cover, is more metaphorical than ever.  Where albums used to exist in physical forms, hard plastic CD cases, and glossy record sleeves, they exist now, for most, in digital form. To repeat what has much been acknowledged, the introduction of streaming platforms has deconstructed the album as an inherent form, with tracks being ever more dispersed into Spotify curated radios and personal playlists, lost in the abundance of art we have access to at a given moment.

The merit of what Pitchblack Playback creator, Ben Gomori, has achieved exists on many The experience, whereby fans are played an entire album in the dark, was created to allow listeners to experience albums in a setting conducive to complete immersion, free from sensory distractions and with access to a quality of sound that is rarely achievable at home. The “big system” listening, as the website unpretentiously states, is not just for the benefit of audiophiles but for music lovers who want to experience the albums and artists they love, as the creator intended. As with a teacher hushing a class, optimum conditions are implemented before the true storytelling begins.

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar’s fifth studio album, deserved nothing less than every ounce of attention its fans came together at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith on Monday to bestow. Aside from the album’s final track, I had avoided listening to the album prior to my pitch-black submersion, seeking maximum impact. This is aside from the album’s final track, ‘The Heart Part 5’ which exists as a single and found me through the virtue of Spotify’s listener algorithm.

The palpable narrative quality existent in all of Lamar’s work is what earnt him the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 and was as prominent as ever in his latest, with the album structuring around a discussion of therapy. The 78-minute-long confessional explores familial trauma, childhood, fatherhood, love, and religion. Across the 19 tracks, Lamar’s distinguished poeticism is scattered with lines of innocence and naivety as he explores gender identity – “my auntie is a man now” (‘Auntie Diaries’), unrelenting and unmasked anger, as in the masterfully constructed dialogue of ‘We Cry Together’ and vulnerable admission – “Grown men with daddy issues” (‘Father Time’).  Lamar explores the undiscussed, the shameful and the beautiful in a way that is honest and moving and it is hard to see how any of the part of the album could be separated from its whole.

We all get off our ass and we drive to a theatre and sit down in silence, turn our phones off, and in the dark watch a movie… I just want that same reverence for music.

Jack White

As Jack White is quoted by Pitchblack Playback, “We all get off our ass and we drive to a theatre and sit down in silence, turn our phones off, and in the dark watch a movie. That’s incredible that we’re still doing that. I just want that same reverence for music.” Pitch Black Playback is serving as a space for music lovers to exercise this reverence, to switch off and to commit to an album in its entirety.

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Words by Ray Bonsall

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