Important Questions Raised By...

The Album Format Might Not Make Much Sense Anymore

We asked some random people about the last album they listened to all the way through, and where the 'long-player' format even fits into their lives.

by Rosie Hewitson
23 August 2018, 11:28pm

Photo via Pixabay

Remember all the fuss when your favourite artist released a new album back in the olden days? Before everyone had that one Spotify Premium shared with their housemates, when there was still a big fuck-off HMV on every high street in Britain and if you cared about getting your hands on the latest LP you had to jump on a bus into town and pay £12.99 for a CD you’d listen to 27 times in a row, until you knew every little vocal fry and could recite the track-listing by heart without checking the plastic case. Remember poring over the cover notes like they were sacred texts because there was no such thing as Genius and that was the only way you could be sure you were singing all the right lyrics? Haha of course not: it’s 2018.

And now, there are just so many albums coming out, chucking themselves at us on about five streaming services, that it can feel hard to focus (or care) on one at a time. It’s too hard to keep track, what with all the surprise drops, and Drake releasing another four-hour long mixtape or double album or whatever he’s caling it, every other month, and Kanye threatening to make an album every week for a whole fucking year.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before somebody releases a 12-”disc” album that takes up every single space on the Billboard 100 and we can all go home because they won music forever, but until then I guess we just have to keep churning out the content. With that in mind, I went to speak to some Real Life Young People to find out if anyone still pays attention to the relentless cycle of album releases in 2018, or if, like me, they’ve just been listening to Blonde on repeat for the past two years because let’s be honest, nothing else will ever be as good. So what were the last albums people on the streets of London listened to, all the way through?

“It was an EP. Oh, an album? Okay, CTRL by SZA”

Noisey: What would you say is your favourite album so far this year?
Cathal: It’s not an album, it’s an EP, it’s by… oh I can’t even remember what it’s called. It’s by doon kanda, he’s this visual artist who’s done stuff for Björk and FKA Twigs but he recently started doing his own music and it’s unreal. It’s on Hyperdub and it’s electronic stuff, and it’s class. But it’s only seven songs so it’s not really an album.

So when was the last time that you listened to a full album all the way through without any breaks?
Umm, last week actually; it was CTRL by SZA. It makes sense to listen to as an album, taking you on a kind of ‘journey’ from start to finish.

Do you think maybe there’s been a shift in how people relate to albums because of how long they are now? Things hitting the 20-track mark like Drake’s Scorpion, Nicki’s Queen and Astroworld by Travis Scott?
I actually wonder if in a way there’s also a trend towards EPs. I mean, take Kanye’s recent three releases: they’re all like six or seven songs long. You could probably argue that they aren’t really albums.

Why do you think that is?
Maybe cos making shorter stuff is just a way of getting projects out there more quickly? I would say that’s the case, definitely with people like Drake. It’s a way of dominating all the charts I guess. I definitely get what you’re saying, but then I still think there will always be a market for more classic long plays, even if it becomes more of a niche interest.

Only for the hipsters like you Cathal?
Ahh you got me there. Yeah haha.

“The only new albums I listen to as soon as they drop are by the Knowles sisters”

Noisey: Hi, how much do you think people still care about “the album” as a way of consuming music?
Laura: Ummm… not much, because we don’t buy CDs anymore. I think now it’s more like… like tasting different things. Now you have things like Spotify’s daily mixes and all these playlists.

Do you still listen to albums all the way through from start to finish?
Laura: No.

Well, damn. Can you think of the last album, new or otherwise, that you actually listened to all the way through?
Adam: It was an album by Nicolas Jaar… but I listened to it on YouTube. I dunno if that’s allowed?

What about you Laura?
Laura: I actually just today listened to an album by Duke Ellington.

Do you tend to keep up with new releases?
Adam: I’m not really on top of them no.

Laura: No, not really.

So you don’t listen to albums as soon as they drop?
Laura: I did with like… Solange’s last album. And Beyoncé.

Adam: Just the Knowles family.

Laura: And I’d maybe care about a new release by The National? I just really like their stuff… But otherwise, not really.

And you wouldn’t read the reviews?
Laura: Nope.

So most of music journalism is fucking useless then.
Adam: Yeah, sorry.

:(

“You know what? It’s Jungle by Jungle, from like three years ago”

Noisey: Hi Emmanuel, What’s your best album so far this year?
Emmanuel: Let me think. Is it weird if a say an album from three years ago? Errr… I feel like I’ve listened to so many amazing projects this year it’s kind of hard to think of a ‘favourite’ album...

Give me a few.
Umm, give me one second – I’m gonna have to open Spotify.

I can see panic in your eyes; this was a very cruel question to ask you without any warning. I apologise.
It’s a terrible question to be asked. Ummmm hang on. You know what? My favourite album right now is from, like, three years ago: Jungle by Jungle.

How come?
It’s sonically consistent and I find nowadays it’s hard to find an album that’s… really cohesive. Like, obviously I listen to singles but I really like Jungle because I can press play and just listen to the whole thing really easily. And I keep coming back to it.

Does anything that’s been released in 2018 do that for you?
No [he pauses for a while]. Nothing this year has really done that. I think maybe we’re getting to a point where it’s just about putting out singles and just constantly releasing stuff rather than taking time to make a coherent project. I think with someone like Drake, maybe he’s just trying to get out of his Young Money contract so he can put out stuff himself. I’m from Toronto and that’s what I’ve heard.

Well the way he’s releasing music would definitely suggest so! Are there any other albums you can think of from recent years that stand out for you as coherent projects that make sense being listened to from start to finish?
Ummm… I think Kendrick’s albums?

Yeah. How about Blonde ? I feel like a lot of people got into that, all the way.
Even with that one, though, thing that Kanye West and Frank Ocean have done – where they’re fucking with people, saying they’re going to release stuff and then not doing so – has just got so impossible to keep up with. And I’m a little jaded as a result.

“The banana one by Velvet Underground & Nico”

Noisey: When you listen to music is it mainly playlists or albums or singles?
Tom: It depends for me, I suppose it depends how you’re listening to things doesn’t it. When I listen to music on Spotify it’s very much listening to playlists or selecting specific songs, but I do have a record player and I like the fact that it’s really hard to kind of... skip things and go from one thing to another.

How come?
Tom: I think if it’s been curated as an album it’s been put together very carefully and I’m too lazy and fickle so if I’m on Spotify I will change the song. Whereas obviously when you listen to a record you can’t do that, and it somehow brings something to the experience, I think especially with older music where it was created as an album it’s definitely nice to listen to as a full album, even if you need to be forced to do it slightly.

What was the last album you listened to start to finish?
Tom: I think Velvet Underground & Nico... the banana album. But that was on vinyl, I’m not sure about recent albums.

Very Urban Outfitters. Steph, do you listen to Spotify’s playlists at all or just your own?
Steph: That’s the only way I listen to music really. I’ve never really been a big music person so I’m probably the wrong person to ask, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever listened to an album. But then I don’t think I ever really sit down to listen to music, it’s always just background noise.

So the way they make playlists that are different moods or different genres is good for that?
Steph: Yeah definitely for me.

Tom: Less so for me, I use Spotify in quite a basic way. I use the ‘Radio’ function quite a bit, I quite like that, but usually it’s just selecting my own music.

“Four Tet’s last album, New Energy

Noisey: What was the last album you actually bought instead of just streaming?
Chris: Ooooh… a Bonobo album, probably six years ago? The one before Migration.

And what about the last time you listened to an album on a CD player?
Ages ago, yeah. My main way of listening is streaming on Spotify.

What about the last album you listened to all the way through on Spotify.
The newest Four Tet album, New Energy.

What about that made you play it all the whole way through rather than dipping in and out?
It’s mixed very well between songs, so… I listen to online radio stations like NTS quite a lot, and I found that album a lot more in tune with that kind of style. You can like listen to it and you don’t really think of it as an album playing through. It’s just quite seamless and nice to listen to all the way through, rather than feeling like individual songs.

Would you make playlists yourself or is it things that Spotify has made for you?
Ones I’ve made or maybe my friends’ sometimes.

Do you have a go-to for when you can’t decide what you want to hear?
I actually don’t. I quite like listening to new music or stuff I haven’t heard before instead of listening to the same stuff again and again.

How much do you keep up with new album releases, then?
It’s more as and when really. I couldn’t actually really name an album that’s come out this year that I’ve been really excited about – I don’t really keep up to date with music. I listen to a lot of it but I don’t really tend to care that much about what is coming out when; not enough to be lining up at a record shop to pick up the latest release.

You can find Rosie thinking about how easily CDs used to break, on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.