An Album a Day Keeps Attention Away
If I wanted to, I could create a playlist that consists of Young Thug, Frank Sinatra, and Madonna: an unlikely collection of musicians. We live in an era where music has reached new heights of accessibility. With the advent of streaming services like spotify, millions of songs by famous and unknown artists are at our fingertips ready for discovery. There is no possible way to digest all the music that already exists let alone the current releases that happen every week. If you factor in services like Soundcloud the content becomes overwhelming. Anyone can take their favorite hip-hop record, pitch it down, upload it to Soundcloud and claim it as a remix.
The point is, with accessibility comes oversaturation and society currently has a short enough attention span as is. We lack patience and thoughtfulness when consuming content. Twitter is reflective of that. We are constantly waiting for the new album or movie to drop so we can instantly state our extreme opinions on it whether it be classic or garbage. I really took notice of this after Frank Ocean’s 4 year hiatus resulted in a double album release: Blond(e) and ENDLESS. I had these albums in rotation months after they dropped and I still listen to them, contrary to the current trend. Frank lived. He experienced. He took 4 years to craft thoughtful music that is lyrically worthwhile to listen to and absorb. Every time I seemingly find a new wrinkle that I never noticed before. In an interview with the New York Times, Ocean states that at one point he had writers block for an entire year. Do you know how many songs can be released on spotify in a year? It’s a true testament to the phrase quality over quantity. Although only a handful of artists take their time to operate creatively, the process isn’t anything new. Before this crazy social media era of the 2010s where everyone has become an expert on all topics, prominent mainstream artists spent years to craft albums. Justified released in 2002, Justin Timberlake didn’t bring Sexy Back until 2006! Usher released 8701 in 2001 while the follow up, Confessions, didn’t release until 3 years later.
Frank Ocean is following an old blueprint but being judged by the current state of consumption. With streaming, music listeners are bombarded with content that is conditioning us to quickly move on from project to project. Twitter promotes an environment that allows voices to be heard but only while something is a trending topic. What kind of landscape does that result in for an artist like Ocean? Casual fans of music who have access to his albums are judging off of one listen and writing it off as a classic or failure. The reality is that you can’t decide whether you like an artists album based on a universal criteria. If it takes 2, 3,or 4 years to create an album, your initial listen results in a first impression not a cemented feeling. Songs that have the quality of time and detail behind it should be allowed to marinate with listeners. Unfortunately, this disposable style of music is most prevalent in the Hip-hop community where new releases can be found daily. Not only is it hard to keep up with, it has also cheapened the experience by saturating the market with passive, easy listening music.
I understand the trend though. I’m an album guy, I want to see what an artist can do from start to finish in a cohesive manner. Nowadays, albums are replaced by playlists that contain a compilation of the most popular singles from various artists. I won’t find those B-side gems on blogs or curated playlists and that’s my favorite part of the listening experience: finding a song that resonates with me in a unique way. The handful of creatives who still put the time in to create artistically driven albums will continue to fly under the radar.