The Death of The Album

How singles and EP’s are killing the album.


Jackson Crocker, Staff Writer

The sun peaks over a distant ridge, its warm rays touch the hard edges of the desert plains. A faded camp chair, a lonely camper. Empty canyons and windy plains, dead desert grasses. This is the scene evoked by Phosphorescent’s album “Muchacho,” a surreal journey following a cast-out cowboy searching for redemption. “Muchacho” does something only an album can do, it transports you to a completely different world, one full of interesting sounds and whirling emotions. 

Nowadays singles make up the majority of popular new releases, and when a full project is released that gains some traction, it’s in a much shorter form. These shorter releases include “Scared Money,” a single from J. Cole, “Lightning i,ii” an EP from Arcade Fire and “Durag activity,” a single from Baby Keem featuring Travis Scott. It’s hard to pinpoint when this gradual shift began, but it was likely around the time when CDs and records fell out of fashion with the rise of digital music. Ever since then, albums have started to be phased out by shorter pieces. 

“What’s becoming a lot more popular recently are EPs (extended plays), or shorter collections of songs,” said Kian Warnock, a Summit junior and music enthusiast. EPs are shorter collections of 2 to 4 songs that are usually similar in theme or sound but aren’t long enough to have any larger sense of cohesion. 

In this new era of constant stimulus, EPs are the perfect length, they allow for a longer project to be released while still allowing for each song to be listened to without the accompaniment of the rest of the piece. Unfortunately the unintended side effect of these standalone songs is that synergy between songs in an album is sacrificed for each individual track’s merit. Additionally if an album is full of tracks fishing for a hit, some of the songs will fall short causing an overall dip in quality. 

For some, however, this shift is welcome. “Some albums are better than others, and some [individual] songs on the albums are better than the rest of the album.” said Jacob Gordon, a sophomore at Summit who likes to keep up with the most recent music drops. “I’m usually listening to a single song off an album.”              

For artists and producers, the shift to singles is logical from a business standpoint as well. Why pour all the effort into a long grueling album? It takes time, one bad song can compromise the integrity of the whole piece, and people are more likely to listen to a song or two off of an album anyway. Instead artists just put half as much time into one song that can stand confidently on its own, meaning more releases, similar listening numbers, happy listeners. Like so many pieces of media lately—movies, video games, and TV shows to name a few—this business mindset ends up costing consumer enjoyment. 

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Although Kanye’s recent albums have started to falter, his older hits such as “College Dropout,” and his more controversial “Yeezus” are masterclasses in album creation, each track meticulously placed. More recently, Tyler The Creator has recaptured the public’s fascination with carefully thought out album cohesion.

With “Igor” Tyler effectively wove a narrative into music, each song advanced the background story of unreciprocated love. The entire album was even a narrative and musical loop. Listen to “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS” and “IGOR’S THEME” back to back and you’ll notice that the last note of “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS” and the first pickup note of “IGOR’S THEME” compliment each other perfectly, smoothly restarting the album and symbolizing Igor’s inescapable cycle of falling in love and being rejected.  In “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS” Tyler begins to fall for his friend again as he asks “Are we still friends? Can we be friends?” unwilling to admit that his love with this friend was never meant to be.

Another amazing example of a masterpiece of music is the aforementioned “Muchacho” from Phosphorescent. There is a strong underlying theme of regret that shines through on tracks like “Terror in the Canyons(the wounded master)” with lyrics like “My hands and my mouth, aw honey, they was caught in a rage, See, I was the holy lion then I was the cage.” But more than just a theme, the album evokes powerful images and feelings. The sun soaked lyrics sound worn out. Each song sung by the fire, or in the morning as the sun rises over the desert landscape. It’s almost a collection of trail songs.

These grand soundscapes and rich narratives being so widely loved proves that there continues to be an audience for these more artistic releases.  

“I just listen to albums,” Warnock said. “Just today I’ve listened to two albums all the way through.” If you’re interested, those two albums were “GHETTO GODS”  by earthgang and “Flower Boy” from Tyler the creator, if you’re just starting your deep dive into albums either of these would be a great place to start.