It’s all my fault. Or maybe it’s all of our faults. Most likely, it’s something in-between, so let’s just say it’s the Internet fault and call it a day. What did the Internet and only the Internet do? It killed the boring album.
Today’s date is July 31st. We’re still many months away from having to name the Best Albums of the Year, but it’s already on my mind — dozens, if not hundreds of publications have published album lists with “so far” in the headline, and the only reason we didn’t is because I couldn’t decide between Sunbather or m b v or Trouble Will Find Me or Run the Jewels or Yeezus or Random Access Memories or…it’s been a good year for music, and we’ve still got new releases from Arcade Fire, Nine Inch Nails, Justin Timberlake, Wu-Tang Clan, and Drake to go.
Lucky for us, each of those albums has its own built-in story: Arcade Fire’s first album since winning Album of the Year; Nine Inch Nails’ first album since 2008; the second installment of JT’s mega-popular The 20/20 Experience; Wu-Tang’s first album since 2007; and Drake, well, Drake’s in a prepackaged league of his own. Basically, there’s a lot of firsts, which make for easy pegs into evaluating albums, not so much as a collection of songs but as a response to something. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with this — the reason so many people are fascinated by Wu-Tang is their mythology, and a comeback album does wonders for updating canon — but with so much press sure to be dedicated to NIN (guilty!), music journalism can feel a little top- and bottom-heavy. It’s fun to write about albums that are great and albums that are terrible, but what about the ones in the middle, the boring ones?
Now, before going any further, I should clarify something: by boring, I don’t mean that the album is necessarily bad; otherwise, I’d just use the word “bad.” Rather, I’m referring to good to very good albums that don’t have a Twitter trend-worthy hook. No one’s reunited, there’s no special guest star, there’s no controversy, it probably won’t go multi-platinum, and definitely won’t win any awards. For instance, earlier this month, Speedy Ortiz released their debut album, Major Arcana. It’s the best Liz Phair album since Exile in Guyville, but obviously received about 1/800th of the press that Magna Carta Holy Grail did. As it should have, considering Speedy Ortiz is Speedy Ortiz and Jay-Z is JAY-Z, but because it got buried under mounds of think pieces, it’s already mostly forgotten. That’s a shame, too, because although there’s nothing revelatory or industry-shaking about Arcana, it’s a delightfully messy, totally assured little album that deserves a listen. (What I’m saying is, despite that terrible band name, here.) “Boring” simply means that the reason you’re listening to an album is because of the music itself, not puffed-up WHAT DOES IT MEAN essays or hipster hype nonsense. It may not be sexy, but it’s good, a pleasurable way to pass 40 minutes.
(I mentioned Run the Jewels in passing earlier, but I think that’s a “boring” album that also happens to be intense and brilliant. It was released without fanfare, for free, and although Killer Mike and El-P are respected, they’re not big names, so they were spared write-ups and reviews in places like People.)
But that’s the nature of music, and movies, and TV, where the big guys get most of the attention and the little ones are either forgotten or beloved by a teeny tiny group of individuals who kept begging us to check out some obscure band, which we will never will because SHUT THE F*CK UP ABOUT THAT BAND. L Magazine put it well:
It seems fair to say that less and less music writers are rewarding albums that they love with 1,500-word think pieces. In the constant churn of advance album streams and hyped four-song EPs, a record may be publicly praised for a moment, but then it’s quickly reserved for personal listening as the the music press moves on to dissect the next day’s offerings. Driven by page views, we’re leaving the larger cultural conversations to when there are negative aspects of a band to discuss, not positive. This year’s Big Deal albums can be boiled down to pessimistic taglines: Kanye’s an egomaniac, Robin Thicke’s a sexist, Vampire Weekend’s still too white, Foxygen’s a mess. We’ve created a world where a band only stays in the public conscious if there’s a debate or controversy to be had, and then, like Foxygen, we tear them apart when they oblige to take part. (Via)
So, I’m asking you all: what “boring” albums from 2013 should I check out? I need something to listen to before the new Nine Inch Nails and Wu-Tang and Arcade Fire albums come out…
(via Getty Image)
I want more like this!
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