The second life of the album
Let's face it – MP3s are here to stay. Just about everyone has an iPod at this point, and it's become clear that downloading music has supplanted buying albums as the most popular means of obtaining music in this country.
That being said, the album shouldn't be counted out yet. While most of America prefers to grab their tunes off the Internet, there is still a large contingency of music pursuers who prefer to go to record stores and buy their new albums. This is why vinyl sales have seen such a sharp increase lately. There is still a fair market of consumers who want to buy music the old fashioned.
Sadly, the online downloading boom has caused many record stores to close recently, including right here in Buffalo. A few years ago, longtime Elmwood Avenue record shop New World Record closed its doors, while FYE, a popular national record shop, is about to close up shop for good.
Thankfully, there are still a fair amount of places in Buffalo where music aficionados can get their fix. One of the most popular is Record Theatre, which has a location near South Campus and another on Main Street in Buffalo. The store has a large selection of CDs and vinyl, and is a very convenient for music lovers.
Other local record stores that have held up over time are the Record Baron, and Spiral Scratch, both of which can be found on Delaware Avenue. These stores are institutions of Buffalo, and show that our fair city is one of the better places to go to get music the old fashion way.
The vinyl resurgence isn't the only part of the album's recovery. There are also many popular artists who seem to have rededicated themselves to making albums as a complete statement, rather than just the vehicle for a hit single. Now, more than ever, serious artists are ditching the filler and making full albums of great, meaningful music.
MGMT are a fine example of this. Last week, the popular indie-rock duo released their second album, Congratulations, which is a throwback to the sounds of 60s psychedelic rock. The two refused to release any proper singles from the album, because they wanted people to take it as a whole, and not merely focus on the songs they like best.
Considering that MGMT broke as a result of their hit singles "Time to Pretend", and "Kids", the fact that they were so eager to have audiences look past the singles and have people focus on the whole album says a lot about the mindset of working musicians. They want to be known for creating serious art, not for creating ringtones.
MGMT aren't the only ones to release a serious rock record in 2010. Vampire Weekend proved they had staying power with their sophomore album Contra, a strong, cohesive album where every track is worth listening to.
Even some of rock's grizzled veterans have gotten in on the act. Just look at Peter Gabriel, whose recent covers album Scratch My Back is one of the strongest records of his career. Gabriel challenged himself by eliminating drums and guitars, and using symphonic elements on every song.
As a result, he created a record where every song blends together, and it works much better when played as a whole than when playing the best tracks individually.
In the past years, it's become clear that the album isn't going out without a fight. As a hardcore music nerd, I couldn't be happier. It's about time musicians remembered that there's more to life than getting to the top of iTunes chart. Making a strong, enduring album is far more important in the long run.
Physical music will probably never be as huge as it was 15 years ago. Downloading music is simply too easy and too popular for it to be replaced by the old guard. Still, while the MP3 is here to stay, the LP isn't going anywhere either.