“The album is dead.” Some may agree, some disagree, but that’s a popular thought when it comes to modern music. Declining physical sales and the rise of streaming services such as Spotify allow listeners to get the song they want on demand and move on.
Because of this, the majority of mainstream music has become a singles-driven realm, instead of the grandiose long-form albums of the 1970s. However, some artists still believe in the power of a solidly constructed album from start to finish.
Read along to find albums that push listeners to sit down and enjoy engaging, excellent music without any sort of distractions.
1. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo make up the secretive French house duo. Long before they won Album of the Year at the Grammy’s with “Random Access Memories,” they released “Discovery,” the record that arguably launched them into the mainstream.
Showcasing the influence of disco music, the 60-minute album contains massive singles such as “One More Time,” “Aerodynamic” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the latter of which would be the basis for Kanye West’s hit “Stronger.”
Although “Random Access Memories” would benefit from bigger commercial success, “Discovery” is the album that works better as a unified hour-long track. The songs blend seamlessly and move beautifully from upbeat moments to intimate R&B and other genres.
If sitting down for an hour with just the audio seems a bit difficult, the album has a workaround that pushes listeners to enjoy the entire production. The anime “Interstella 5555” works as a long music video containing the entirety of the record. The absence of dialogue gives the music center stage.
2. Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999)
Back in the peak of grunge music, “Pull Me Under” hit the charts and put Dream Theater on the map. The New York progressive metal quintet pioneered a multifaceted and powerful style of music involving odd time signatures and complex, technical instrumentation.
Though progressive rock albums from Pink Floyd and Rush had the same basic elements, Dream Theater infused it with heavy metal and struck gold. While “Pull Me Under” is the most well-known song, even featured in the popular video game series “Guitar Hero,” “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” is their magnum opus.
A concept album from beginning to end, inside the delicious guitar solos and diverse song structures there’s an intricate story of a man discovering a past life involving love and murder. Highly inspired by Kenneth Brannagh’s 1991 film “Dead Again,” the album connects every song into a single piece of art, with ballads, instrumentals and outright bangers filling the track listing.
Concept albums have been done before, yet the 1999 production took it to the next level. Ideally watch “Dead Again” first and then check out how Dream Theater translated that story into music. It’s one hell of a ride.
3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
There’s no need for an album to be a unified song in order to be great from beginning to end, nor does it need to have a connected story. Indie rockers Vampire Weekend achieved this with their third album.
Despite their discography only containing three LPs, each of them has been of consistently good quality. “Modern Vampires” raised the stakes and found a place at the top of the year’s best albums, particularly in Rolling Stone magazine and Pitchfork.
Unlike the lighter lyrical themes and upbeat sound from their first two releases, their third effort is more mature both in terms of sounds and writing. Lead singer Ezra Koenig and company focus on religion, foreign policy, mortality and growing old, wrapping it up inside a vintage sound. There are no filler tracks and no dull moments. The 43 minutes go by so fast that the band leaves the listener yearning for more. It’s arguably the type of album that only comes by ever so often and adds a freshness unlike anything else.
4. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)
He brought sexy back, ‘nuff said.
Just kidding, the former *NSync leader had already kicked off his solo career with his freshman release “Justified.” Spawning hits such as “Like I Love You,” “Señorita” and “Rock Your Body,” finding something to please fans again seemed tough. Impossible is nothing for JT, as his partnership with producer Timbaland put their careers on the spotlight again.
Despite his boy band past possibly associating him forever with a pop vibe, “FutureSex” sounds so different from the “bubblegum” pop of the ’90s boy band craze. Aiming for a more developed and richer tone, the tracks are longer, with only a quarter of the songs staying under five minutes.
The record smoothly mixes R&B, funk, dance and a mix of other genres. While not as easy to listen as more straightforward pop albums, the sheer joy that comes from guessing what the next song is going to be like makes “FutureSex” a modern classic.
5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Can it get much higher for the self-proclaimed music God? Kanye’s discography contains consistent A-game material, but “Fantasy” has no rival, standing out as a timeless hip-hop masterpiece.
Spawning successful radio singles “POWER” and the Rihanna-featured “All of the Lights,” “Fantasy’s” 11 remaining tracks are strong enough to stand on their own and make the record worthy of a top to bottom listen.
With a little help from his friends Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, John Legend and others, his fifth studio album is also an exercise in meaningful collaborations. While his immediate follow up “Watch the Throne” alongside Jay-Z and 2013’s “Yeezus” prove the rapper can still deliver outstanding productions, for the time being, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” will remain as his magnum opus.
Other Notable Efforts
The five records above cover a variety of genres and corroborate albums aren’t a dead art form in the 21st century. Nevertheless, they aren’t alone in this fight, with the likes of Madonna joining with her dance-infused “Confessions on a Dance Floor.”
Shock rockers Marilyn Manson deliver the goods with “Mechanical Animals,” and the same applies to “Favourite Worst Nightmare” by Arctic Monkeys and “Is This It” by The Strokes. Beyond rock, Nick Drake adds a heartfelt classic with “Pink Moon,” which likely inspired another memorable soulful piece in Jeff Buckley’s “Grace.”
Give albums a chance and you’ll understand the importance of keeping them alive in the era of fast hits.