In Earshot: Are you anti-album?

Grace Pearson-Thompson, Arcade Editor

A slow-burning virus has finally anchored itself: we lack the attention spans and patience to experience an album in its entirety. We turn to singles and sub-half-hour EPs to satiate our hunger for new music — but our stomachs have shrunk. We’ve grown intolerant to full-length albums, deeming the intricate work of thoughtful musicians indigestible. 

When I was younger, I would bite my nails in anticipation of Taylor Swift’s next album. Singles were, of course, released in advance of full projects as a component of musicians’ marketing plan. 

“We Are Young” by fun., released in 2011, attracted enough attention to make their 2012 studio album, “Some Nights,” a success. Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” was the second single from their 2014 album, “In the Lonely Hour,” accompanied by other heart-wrenching hits like “Lay Me Down” and “Money on My Mind.” 

But we’ve reached a point where, in mainstream music, the smartest way to get traction is to release single after single until there are enough to compile into an EP. 

Reel it back to the golden age of albums — think Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” At the time, albums were the strategic move. They could be comprised of an artist or musician’s greatest hits; they could be concept albums; they could be a chance to experiment, but above all, albums were more cost-effective. Consumerism was slower; social media and streaming platforms didn’t exist yet, and listening experiences were intimate and thought-provoking. 

But things have changed. The pressure is on. 

On platforms like TikTok, utilized by musicians to promote upcoming work, the algorithm is nearly impossible to figure out. Users have to be consistent with posting but also only have a minute amount of time to participate in a trend before it’s peaked. It’s imperative that creators have a hook within seconds before most users scroll. 

Some indie musicians have struck gold: “Looking Out for You” by Joy Again, “Show Me How” by Men I Trust, and “nothing else I could do” by ella jane saw astronomical success due in part to social media attention. All three songs, released in the last six years, were singles. 

That’s not to take away from the success of the aforementioned musicians and their body of work: I love ella jane’s “bored&blind” as much as the next music-reviewing hermit. Thanks to light-speed consumption and the conception of streaming platforms, the push for aesthetics and new content has never been stronger. 

Fans are largely less patient, preferring more consistent content in the form of singles as opposed to waiting longer for more thoughtful and high-quality albums. Playlist curators are prioritizing singles over albums: Spotify for Artist’s editorial playlist submission process puts shorter releases, like singles and EPs, first. Songs that aren’t brand new are automatically ineligible for playlist placement. The pressure is coming from all directions. 

In the wake of social media exhaustion, there seems to be dwindling ways — and hardly any time — to appreciate albums. 

As an ex-Tumblr-using-14-year-old, my favorite method to do so has always involved laying on the floor by my record player. Now, as an adult with an income and a vehicle, I can take myself to record stores, bookstores and thrift shops and head straight to the sale section. I try to buy myself an album I haven’t heard much of every time I’m around a record collection: at a one-off record store in Biloxi, Mississippi called Marley’s Music, I walked out with Carole King’s “Wrap Around Joy” and Carly Simon’s “Playing Possum” having spent less than $15. Once in a while, I’ll treat myself to an album I’m already addicted to — this month’s purchases were “I Know I’m Funny haha” by Faye Webster and Fleetwood Mac’s classic, “Rumours.” 

In my years of album-surfing, thanks to my parents with exquisite music taste and thanks to me having too much time on my hands from being ungodly terrible at sports during grade school, I’ve narrowed it down to my personal favorites ordered by release year. In the words of Maggie Rogers in a TikTok from this past February, “[make] listening to an album its own activity.” 

“Pet Sounds” — The Beach Boys (1966) 

Being an ex-choir kid, I’m a sucker for anything with complex vocal arrangements. Having five vocalists in the band, The Beach Boys’ entire discography is nothing but a sonic playground to anyone with a sensitive ear. 

“Pet Sounds” is the grandfather of concept albums, taking listeners along the rough tides and intense emotions of love. I also thoroughly believe everyone, for therapeutic reasons, should listen to “God Only Knows” at least a couple times a week. Hug your friends and love hard. 

“Tapestry” — Carole King (1971)

Starting her career at just 15 years old, Carole King became a legendary songwriter within just 10 years: she penned Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and The Shirelle’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” King was making waves with established icons like Paul McCartney and James Taylor long before the release of “Tapestry.” 

King’s second album tells of beautiful truths: beauty, friendship and longing. Songs like “So Far Away” and “You’ve Got a Friend” have been my most faithful companions. Regardless of King’s unobjectionable legendary status, listening to this record makes me feel like I’m leaning on the piano while she plays.

“Rumours” — Fleetwood Mac (1977) 

This has been, and really might always be, my favorite album. We, as listeners, tend to give an album value based on how many hits it has. Based solely on that logic, “Rumours” would still be at the top of the list: this album hosts “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain.” That being said, the test of time isn’t what makes “Rumours” so indubitably legendary. It transcends “Hotel California,” and it soars past “Frampton Comes Alive!” “Rumours” is an intimate epic. The instrumentation is nothing other than unfathomable. It is a story that keeps telling. 

“The Joshua Tree” — U2 (1987)

Excusing the automatic-iTunes-upload incident of 2014, my dad and I have been faithful U2 listeners for most of our lives — well, all of mine. In a decade where an unprecedented number of one-hit-wonders graced radio stations, U2 sticks out like a sore thumb, and “The Joshua Tree” was the Band-Aid we needed. 

“The Joshua Tree” balances introspection, vulnerability, intelligent writing and a tasteful amount of religious imagery. It’s ragged; it’s painful: “One Tree Hill,” a song Bono could only bear to sing through one time during recording, pays homage to one of U2’s roadies, Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident. 

I will never forget the day my dad first showed me a clip from U2’s film, “Rattle & Hum,” where the band sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with a gospel choir in Harlem, New York. In an album so deeply written for forgotten people, places and paths, “The Joshua Tree” is solidly unforgettable.  

“Dizzy Up the Girl” — The Goo Goo Dolls (1998) 

My father is also deeply — hilariously, to me — obsessed with The Goo Goo Dolls, enough to see them perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre this summer without me. Having more of a home in the punk genre, The Goo Goo Dolls wear their hearts firmly on their sleeves on “Dizzy Up the Girl.” 

The subdued longing felt across alternative music from the 90s is even more amplified on this project, particularly on “Slide” and “Black Balloon.” Plus, I truly cannot resist the cry-banger-classic “Iris.” I am a water sign. 

The Goo Goo Dolls explore plenty of styles in this album, from guitar-heavy rock to acoustic ballads, all while telling a cohesive story of love, lust, and resentment. 

“Fly” — The Chicks (1999) 

Having grown up in Texas with cowboy-hat-donning parents, sounds of The Chicks often filled my mom’s car, most memorably on road trips through the Texas Hill Country. My mom lent me her iPod Shuffle one summer so I could listen to music at summer camp, and one of the songs on it was The Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” It’s been one of my favorite songs of all time since I was just six — I’ve sang it at nearly every show I’ve played. 

The classic “Goodbye Earl” is a poster child for one of my favorite subgenres: angry women in country. This album feels like the realization that you can finally see the stars clearly after living in hazy cities — like finally catching the firefly, like getting your marshmallow to the perfect golden brown, like things falling into place. 

“A Song For Every Moon” — Bruno Major (2017)

What began as a self-assigned challenge to fully flesh out one song every month for a year has turned into, in my opinion, one of the most carefully-crafted and melodically complex albums in the past decade. While this structure may have led to more inconsistent storytelling over the course of the album, that continuity is found in raw writing, masterful production, flawless vocal and instrumental arrangements, and elements of jazz and R&B. 

Heavy-chested tunes like “Places We Won’t Walk” and “Fair-Weather Friend” are countered by the sweet nature of “Second Time” and “Wouldn’t Mean A Thing.” Through gentle but multilayered guitar tracks, beautifully dissonant background vocals and delightfully unpredictable progressions, “A Song For Every Moon” has proven itself to be a project of unbreakable musicianship, and Bruno Major has once again proven himself a songsmith. 

“Atlanta Millionaires Club” — Faye Webster (2019) 

After an alarming degree of fixation on “Kingston” and “Right Side of My Neck,” I impulsively bought a limited-edition orange vinyl pressing of “Atlanta Millionaires Club” at Grimey’s on a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It’s impossible for me to not fall in love with a record if it has pedal steel guitar. The lyrics and feel carry the same brand of melancholy of Joni Mitchell, but feature strong inspiration taken from folk and soul. At first listen, it feels easy, cool and vintage. 

Upon further investigation — by this, I mean a lot of nights spent in fetal position next to my Crosley turntable — Webster’s writing comes from a place of jagged pain and longing, decorated with floaty keys and teary-eyed bass lines. 

“Women In Music Pt. III” — HAIM (2020) 

I have been a faithful follower of HAIM, a band of three sisters, since I heard the song that put them on the map in 2013, “The Wire.” 

“Women In Music Pt. III” is an 18-song beast complete with cathartic drumming, genre-bending and more nuanced songwriting than ever before. While the album covers glam rock, country and funk, along with a wide array of explored substyles and while the honest lyricism comes from traumas and events from multiple perspectives, HAIM still manages to craft the motherlode of albums. It even hosts features from friends and industry legends like Taylor Swift and Thundercat.

“Women In Music Pt. III” proves that vulnerability and rawness can manifest in a variety of sounds: while “Hallelujah” is a heartfelt ode to the bond of the Haim sisters, “Up From A Dream” forces listeners to confront an unwanted reality to the tune of an energetic guitar solo. Despite the album’s title, HAIM proves themselves to be much more than just women in music.

“evermore” — Taylor Swift (2020) 

Freed from the shackles of Scooter Braun, “evermore” is Taylor Swift’s best piece of storytelling to date. While prior albums — my favorite of which is famously “Red” — feature beautiful individual vignettes, “evermore” tells an hour-long tale of reeling and healing. 

While its sister, “folklore,” was beautifully bitter, “evermore” is more bittersweet, giving listeners a glimmer of hope in “happiness” and “closure.” With features from talents like HAIM, The National and Bon Iver and lyricism so complex you can find a new angle with every listen, “evermore” is a work of modern art. Where “champagne problems” and “‘tis the damn season” are shattering, the final track “it’s time to go” picks up the pieces with careful hands.  

“Home Video” — Lucy Dacus (2021)

“Home Video” quickly became the love of my life for the latter half of 2021. Having grown up in a small town — leaving with a few guitars and some religious trauma — and having gone through a breakup on the day of its release, Lucy Dacus was unknowingly carrying me through the summer. 

Dacus’ lyricism on “Home Video” is more incisive and powerful than her past releases, but the album maintains the same intimacy characteristic of her body of work. While the album is very sonically variable — “Brando” is pop-inspired while Dacus uses Auto-tune to symbolize deception on “Partner in Crime” — it carries themes of sexuality, spirituality and small town upbringing throughout the project. 

After impulsively buying tickets to her show with my mom while evacuated in Dallas this past September, I didn’t fully think through the impact of listening to “Hot & Heavy” and “VBS” played live at a hometown venue. 

Still, Dacus’ impressive list of collaborators for the project — boasting fellow boygenius members Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker — only further proves the talent behind her craft.

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