Let's talk albums


#1

Everyone’s always saying that albums are dead but music releases continue to be centred around the album and I think albums will probably exist in the mainstream as long as there are plenty of musicians around who like the format.

I’d admit though that even at 34, I find many of my friends do not do a lot of listening to albums, or if they do they’re not in the habit of playing one from start to finish, no skipping around.

Part of it’s gotta be a format thing, right? For all the amazing convenience digital music brings, it gives us so many ways to be less patient with music too.

Vinyl: Not into a song? Go up, lift needle, try to drop it where you want.
Tape: Want to skip? Fast forward and hope you have one of those decks which tries to detect song endings.
CD: Want to skip? Press skip.
Downloadable music: Now you don’t even have to download the track if you want to.
Music-as-service: Everyone can just make their own playlist!

I don’t mean this as a kind of luddite protest against new technology, but I do often think about the way technology changes the way we listen. And yet - I remain an album listener.

I do playlists, little mixtapes, that sort of thing, but if I really want to listen, I still like to put on an album. There’s just something about the album as a whole work that I find very satisfying, and how a good album can elevate all the individual songs in it.

Are you folks into albums? Let me know some of your favourites. What’s an album you can put on just about any time and end up feeling better, or an album that you love but have to get into the right mindset for me.

I’ve been in the mood for really sunny guitar music lately so The New Pornographers’ album Electric Version has been a good, reliable pick for that.

But when I’m looking for a really album-y album to sink into, lately I’ve been into the sometimes-poppy, sometimes-obscure but somehow always of-a-piece Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces


#2

I’m happy to report the album is still alive and well! As long as there are musicians who want to make a longform statement of sorts, the album will remain a flourishing medium for music!

But yes, I agree, the album is my favorite medium for most music. Other than a concert listening to an album is the best way to feel connected to an artist. And I enjoy the statements artists make through albums, whether it be some important political/cultural thought, or “love letters” to people, places, eras, other genres of music, or fuck sometimes albums can just be a great snapshot of a time and place for an artist’s life/lives. Albums really bring the human element of music forward in a way other mediums don’t as much and that’s fucking awesome as far as I’m concerned.

Anyways, some (mostly main-streamish) albums worth listening to:

Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz: So I’ve returned to obsessing over this album. Lyrically, there’s probably a lot over my head, but musically HOLY SHIT it’s a fantastic struggle between the analogue and the artificial. Stevens could have just made another Illinois and everyone would have been have been happy, but of course it would have been underwhelming. Many people were still cold on this album but I think it’s the bees knees.

Alice in Chains - Dirt: An uncomfortable dive into self-loathing and addiction. And musically, this album is just dark. Heavier albums have come before and after, lots of other fucked up albums too, but Dirt still remains very intense. Songs like “Rain When I Die”, “Junkhead”, “Down in a Hole” and “Sickman” remain tortured and overwhelming. (Obligatory reminder to any artist that you don’t need to - you shouldn’t - suffer for your art)

Jens Lekman - Nightfalls over Kortedala: No real overarching theme or statement, but that isn’t Lekman’s thing anyways. It’s a collection of mostly optimistic stories and dammit, he’s such a good storyteller. Listen if you need to feel kinda happy about something.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly: Here are some good reads on this album. It’s an influential, overwhelming, important album.

tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L: Inventor or putting space in between letters for E M P H A S I S. Unfortunately still incredibly relevant six years later. Come for the weird music and melodies, stay for Garbus’ pointed commentary on police violence (and much more).


#3

I think we’ve always been trying to find technological work-arounds to the limits of long play formats–mixtapes, 8-tracks, and music radio all offered escapes from the fixed album–but the design of digital libraries is almost anti-album by dint of having so many other equally-prominent ways of organizing music. When I open my iTunes, the first thing I see isn’t a list of albums, it’s a purely alphabetical list of songs.

In terms of contemporary albums, nothing for me beats Janelle Monaè’s three releases: Metropolis: The Chase Suite, The Archandroid, and Electric Lady. Three works of genre-skipping afro-futurism that artfully shift between high-concept robot love story, personal reminiscence, good good dance tunes, and inscrutable interludes over the course of each album.


#4

Ooh, it’s been quite some time since I listened to that one. Might have to give it another go.


#5

I listened to it earlier this week and it’s still fresh as hell!


#6

Just started listening to The Electric Lady and damn, this is fun! Thanks for sharing!


#7

I still love albums, I think one of the effects of vinyl coming back is that people who are really into music pay more attention to the album format again. Some of my favorites:

Jimmy Eat World - Clarity
It’s super cohesive, has a great ebb and flow of styles and moods, and it is just the right balance of detailed/produced and straight-forward. I know there is a long debate over its place in the “emo” canon, but because I came to it after the fact and outside of that cultural sphere, it’s always just been great rock/pop-rock to me. Originally picked it up because I thought the cover looked cool (early 00s…), but it has remained my favorite album overall. “Goodbye Sky Harbor” is just perfect.

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Still my favorite ambient record with it’s apparent simplicity, incredible clarity, and calmness. I heard it played in Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and it is crazy how well it fits the environment. Super relaxing listen, if you like ambient music.

Mono - Hymn to the Immortal Wind
Fantastic Post-Rock, very emotional, maybe a bit bombastic, but very effective. Together with the album packaging, which is very evocative and includes a story with chapters fitting the songs, it’s a really good package. It really feels like one long song, which fits the post-rock aesthetic well.


#8

posting my most recent topsters

i wouldnt say this is extremely indicative of my personal taste but i would heavily recommend every one of these albums


#9

Yeah, I said it over on the vinyl thread, but worth repeating here is that my collection has more to do with my love of albums than my love of vinyl specifically. The format itself? Eh. It’s got some pretty big limitations, I think. Most ‘quality’ arguments for it come from a misunderstanding of how digital music actually works, practically. I will say one thing though - I think I preferred it when because of the length limitations albums couldn’t hit much more than 45 minutes before becoming double albums. I find shorter albums often to be more focused.


#10

This is a cool list. I don’t think I could come up with something quite so large. The music I love I love intensely, but it happens quite rarely. Off your list though. Tortoise - TNT is a great album that I like a lot. I listen to it quite regularly.


#11

Mad props for Los Campesinos.


#12

if you like Tortoise then i’d recommend Earth as well off my list, and maybe Jane Siberry too? Earth is really laconic post-folky stuff and Jane is a total new-wave Kate-Bush-esque weirdo with really pretty synths and a lot of ambient production


#13

they’re so good! i’ve been a huge huge fan ever since Romance Is Boring came out. i love that each of their albums is markedly more mature than the last, being a fan of them in high school has been so rewarding cause i feel like over time the band and their lyrics have grown up alongside me


#14

RiB era best era. And totally agreed, they fast became my favourite band when I discovered them and I’ve been to every London gig of theirs since, seen them about eight times now?

I actually own every vinyl release of theirs, 7" singles, 10" EPs, 12" LPs, and all the Heat Rash zine stuff…


#15

I tried to do it and it was really hard. I’m not even sure I want to include a lot of albums in this list as I don’t really listen to them anymore, though I have enjoyed them all. I tend to follow artists and like most of their stuff, so for variety I decided I was only allowed one album per tier.

Still feel like I could get some more variety onto this list, though. My taste is a bit weird. I like tuneful and immediate, but I also like weirdness, and the intersection of the two. And I tend to drift towards rawer productions where you can hear the seams a little over music when has a really clean production style.


#16

I used to listen to music constantly and aimlessly, which made mp3s a convenience and shuffle a blessing. Now when I do, I like to sit down and really sink into an album, typically on vinyl.

An album I’ve been revisiting a lot recently is Exuma’s S/T I cannot recommend it enough. This album sounds like it happened spontaneously. Lots of percussion instruments, bells, chanting and yelling. Exuma is not a “good” singer, but man, his voice is powerful.


#17

Dangit I already thought of stuff I missed and would replace some of the albums on this.

Ah well.


#18

I have listened a lot to The Decline Of British Sea Power and even after all these years I still consider it the greatest album ever made. I went to an anniversary show where they played the whole album live and there were several points where I discovered inexplicably that there were tears pouring down my face. I love it so very much, but it is a fairly odd record.

I love that thing where an album is more than just a set of songs, when it has a unifying feel or atmosphere that somehow makes those songs in that order into something greater than the sum of its parts. It happens seldom, but it is so great. Also means I will sometimes actively seek out versions with no bonus tracks, because I’m interested in the art that the creators intended.


#19

I am super picky about deluxe versions of albums too! I just want what the artist intended and bonus tracks and demos and stuff clutter that.


#20

it’s bizarre how amazing an experience Mouth Sounds becomes when it’s listened to as a complete album