The Lost Art of Album Curation, by Jason Meggyesy
The year is 2155. Elon Musk has downloaded his consciousness to his cars, and Amazon has provided everyone with a personal A.I. assistant. Oh, and everyone finally understands how an NFT works.
Music is still an essential part of everyone’s life in this futuristic society. People attend concerts in the metaverse and download albums straight to their minds.
But something is missing. A piece of music has been gobbled up by the relentless chase for streaming numbers and TikTok views: an art form so outdated that when grandpa brings it up at Thanksgiving, everyone completely shuts down—like literally shuts down using “the chip” implanted in their arms (stay woke).
The dying art in question: album curation.
Today, in our yet-to-be-chipped world, we still have the opportunity to enjoy this art form, albeit in small doses. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Tyler, The Creator, and Westside Gunn still take pride in creating a masterful tracklist to ensure listeners float through a coherent sonic odyssey.
Previously, the almighty LP showcased the best product an artist could create. Defined by a seamless flow from track to track, refined production, and exemplary features, the album acts as a stamp in time during an artist’s career, a moment that connects listeners to the best parts of an artist’s prime years.
The artist creates consistency from front to back—a true story told over 15 to 18 songs. And while not every piece sounds the same, each track contributes to the overall thesis of the album.
Modern examples of album curation include Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Both projects present shining models of how a proper album should be constructed. Intro tracks set the scene for the album, interludes and lead singles follow to help push the story forward, and outros and closing tracks provide a satisfying conclusion.
More often than not these days, listeners fail to receive these career-defining moments from their favorite artists. As listeners, we’re exposed to bloated, over-saturated projects from artists who are dragged to the finish line by high-level production. Tracklists can be as long as 20 songs and border on two-hour run times. These lengthy projects stray further from a “proper” album and lean more toward a compilation of seemingly unrelated records stitched together from various points in time.
LPs should be the peak of the musical mountain reached after months locked in the studio, mixing vocals, passing on beats, and adding 808 drums. But with the democratization of music production, these long journeys have transformed into short trips for some artists.
Now, I’m not saying that the liberal movement in music production is a bad thing. Creating and producing music with such ease has helped transform the industry. Once perceived as a narrow domain for select individuals, the gates have been flung open for anyone to transform and manipulate sound in whatever way they choose.
However, this movement has prioritized the single while subverting the body of work. Now that the number of streams measures success, many pursue numbers and clicks rather than a focused concept. By creating these catchy hooks and danceable rhythms, artists chase the trends for their fleeting 15 minutes. The current model of musical success has pushed quality to the side to make room for a surplus quantity in the market.
So, where do we go from here? Well, the current model won’t be changing anytime soon. With the rise of overnight hits and TikTok’s clever algorithms, the single may rule for the foreseeable future. However, those who feed into the current trend still take a back seat to the big names that carefully curate and manicure their discography.
As we near the ever-expanding metaverse and our attention spans continue to dwindle, hope remains that when artists put time and effort into the creation of timeless bodies of work, the world can unplug and take the time to listen.