An album that overstays its welcome is unfortunate, but we don’t cry over it. In the vein of Jhene Aiko’s dreamy questions on Trip, it’s worth just getting to the summit of an idea and seeing how far you’ve come, of the achievement of scaling something in thrall to its own complexity.
For every Melloncollie, Scorpion and A Deeper Understanding, there’s a Life After Death, a Blonde to latch the songs to a logical odyssey, one after the next, or – in the case of some – to mutate wildly, such as The Clash going batshit on Sandinista! or The Beatles knocking out The White Album¸ a cursory touchstone for people going funny in each other’s company. So even when there’s chaos, we kinda love it. Unless it’s dross. Which is really what Jhene Aiko spends one hour and twenty-two minutes paying lip service to as she checks out of life, back into love, and away from shit that no-one should care about.
Which leads back to a question here – should anyone care about albums anymore? As a form, a puzzle, a precise mood? When’s the last time you listened to something for more than 30 minutes, for instance?
For me, it’s a weird experience; there’s a 25-30 timeout in my brain if I have control of two things:
1) The music itself, preferably at a desk with NASA-grade headphones, though the more noble thing to do would be not let the noise leak out. But I’m rebelling, aren’t I? Against the office playlist. Nobility has no place here.
2) Being able to judge the mood I’m in. Confusion leads to silence and stress and albums don’t mix. They’re too rigid, getting between you and the inspiring shuffle you’ve been waiting for all day, hyped on new ideas. Emotional control is pivotal.
And when this is happening, an LP can flow beautifully, so much so that you feel you are in a world that is aching to speak to us from the depths of experience, where we’re able to deal with many moods and harmonise them and avert the urge to press pause until they’re done colliding over us.
But it’s happening less than it used to. For me. For others too, I think. Streaming has changed our listening habits quite considerably. Sure, you could flitter from track to track on a CD, but you were stuck with those same 10, 11, 14 songs. If a girl made you a playlist, it was forged in the flames of the ‘burn’ function on her PC; not a grab bag made in the interim of a soggy bus ride.
With Spotify, we are gluttonous, feasting here, there and under the table for all the music we could ever want, Genius-synced and racing on the scroll of a mouse. I don’t know about you, but half an hour is (mostly) the litmus of my patience. Unless I adore it completely – To Pimp A Butterfly, for example, or Land Of The Freak by King Khan & The Shrines – a full play never airs. And even then, with those albums, I had to listen in stretches. It’s too fucking easy to flip.
We could hunt for validation, with a withheld eureka in our throats, by looking to the wash of six and seven-track mini albums that’ve come out this decade. Mac Demarco, The Weeknd, Manual, Laura Marling, Ty Segal, Kara Marni and Lindstrøm have all done it. These records tip a sack of aural spanners over your head, knock you out, then back cunningly away. Haven’t a third of music press headlines this year been about Kanye’s G.O.O.D releases? And then there are the weirdo maybe-not-demos that do what the internet does best: help anything to surface without pre-determined content limits. A product such as Kendrick’s untitled, unmastered, for instance, counterpoints the edifice of his previous work whilst being a piece all of its own. Short can be the new statement for any artist, going further even than the rush-and-done albums of the 50s and 60s that were themselves the product of a ruthless studio habit.
The other side, too, seems to be taking shape in massive, bloated releases by Drake, Milos and Future, as what passes for r n’ b is shoved in twenty directions on the same record, tugged asunder for the glory of Spotify’s chart rules. Some musicians are thinking ‘Fuck it’ and aiming both barrels at the streaming system. They want the revenue. Long plays are beneficial. So the long and the short may be migrating to two extremes – whatever it takes to make a statement of any sort. That’s the question rolling around in my head: which says more about our culture right now?
whaTo find out, I managed to grab the ear of a music professor who’s mad on this stuff. But there’s another article about that. Follow the click and, y’know, don’t be a douche about it.