Zach vs. Rock ‘n’ Roll: Albums as Stories

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bill-swift - October 7, 2011

Word on the street is that the album is dead. The music industry and its Internet-savvy consumers have joined forces to bludgeon hour-long opuses into submission, leaving only oh-so-shufflable iTunes singles, remixes and a slim variety of hastily packaged, generally forgettable morsels. (R.I.P., Steve Jobs, on that iTunes reference, it's not such a bad invention.)

September's deluge of outstanding new LPs helped me remember something: Albums tell stories. Single songs are capable of spinning their own yarns (i.e. Boy Dylan's The Hurricane), but a full-length album, crafted with cohesion and care, tells a story like no other medium can.

Consider three recent releases: The debut of future hip-hop royalty, J. Cole, the latest disc from punkers-turned-avant-rockers, Thrice, and the tenth album from Swedish prog metallers, Opeth. None of these offerings is an outright concept album with a transparent narrative, but the sonic stylings and sequencing of each record, coupled with the histories of each act, subversively tell tales that are equally as compelling melodies, beats and hooks. Even the titles promise plots, conflicts and resolutions (Cole World: The Sideline Story, Major/Minor and Heritage).

Maybe I read too much into the music I listen to. But, with a solid group or talented artist, it's difficult not to hear songs, records and discographies as the musical parallel for paragraphs, chapters and hefty tomes. It's a brilliant thing, and it's enough to convince me the story of the album, as an institution, isn't quite finished yet.

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