Quietness may be one of the most underrated values in pop music. Look up “the loudest band in the world” and you will be confronted by a history of lusty rock behemoths proudly devoted to blowing eardrums, from Manowar (who achieved a sound pressure level of 139dB during a sound check in 2008) to the Who, Motörhead and, erm, Hanson.
Substitute “quiet” for “loud”, however, and the pickings are slim. There’s Dust, the self-proclaimed “quietest big band in the world”, Norwegian jazz musician Tord Gustavsen’s Trio, once described as “the quietest band in the world”, and an interview with Leonard Cohen’s musical director Roscoe Beck, in which he claims that Cohen’s group refers to itself as “the world’s quietest band”. Then the trail itself goes quiet.
In a way, this focus on loudness makes sense: increasing the volume of a song makes it stand out (something the music industry has exploited since the jukebox era) and increases the physical response. There is, according to Music Radar, an organ in the inner ear called the sacculus that reacts to low-frequency vibrations over 90dB and is linked to a region of the brain associated with pleasure, so cranking up the volume makes biological sense.
What’s more, quietness doesn’t always work well with the way we now listen to music. Quiet music demands audio quality and close attention, rather than crappy earbuds and computer speakers that struggle to be heard over the incessant background hum.
To me, one of the ultimate "quiet" albums is I Often Dream of Trains. It is one of many, especially if we're talking about Robyn Hitchcock. In general though, there are great quiet albums out there, all of which are being drowned out by overproduced garbage masquerading as product.