Hoptellectual: The Double LP

My interest in music can best be described as anthropological. Generally, the tastemakers are roughly six to eight months ahead of me (hello, Lana Del Ray, nice to meet you and your lips). Cultural newness never really struck me as much as autobiographical newness. Alos, it’s a plus any time a song helps answer the question, “did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Suffice to say, I was all over M83′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (well, maybe not all over—I had to be gently reminded a few times, so thanks Kyle). However, I got my first few listens in the week before Pitchfork’s review and had my own revelatory opinions of the record. I had a feeling the word “ambitious” would get thrown around a lot by people who hadn’t really listened to M83 in the past, and the armchair critics didn’t disappoint. Sure, M83 released two albums of dance ready dream-pop, but this was hardly new territory for the thoughtful, eclectic collective. Better than past records? Most definitely, and that includes Saturdays=Youth. But what made it better? (Ed. Note: Probably this song)

For me, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes mountains, metaphorically at least. How do we build things that stand the test of time? Shakespeare presented three ways to achieve immortality: through creating, through making history (which is loosely related to creation) and through posterity.* Famously, Woody Allen claimed he wanted to achieve mortality—simply enough— “by not dying.” In music, the double LP is the equivalent of building a mountain—a swing for the fences, out of the races and onto the tracks, go big or go home, fortune favors the bold. Whatever inspirational  adage you prefer, it takes guts to conceive and dispense a double LP.

Throughout popular culture, the double LP has been met with scorn, mockery, critical acclaim and of course, some degree of immortality. Often and quite dreadfully labeled a “concept album,” criticism tends to pigeonhole double LPs instead of taking the time to figure out why someone set out to write 20-odd songs about a topic. This year, M83 will no doubt occupy a top 5 spot amongst most best of lists, and much of that reasoning will be due to the scope of the project and whatever critics mean when they say “ambitious” (I’m compiling my top ten best of lists just for this year, considering how asinine the whole thing can be).

In my lifetime, few artists have tread into double LP territory. It’s difficult to embrace such a project with candor, as it tends to be associated with pretension. Radiohead did but didn’t as they tepidly released Amnesiac almost a year after the expansive, ethereal Kid A (though they appear sonically different in their underpinnings, Amnesiac features a lethargic, lurching version of “Morning Bell,” that serves as a rope between releases). Last year Sufjan Stevens set out to make the record to which we should compare all records, The Age of Adz. Critically, many felt he had accomplished the unthinkable. Those with half a brain recognized he had merely put out another Sufjan record, this one with more pop-angled flourishes and familiar falsetto curvature. Probably the most memorable and best executed double LP of this young millennium is Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,a record that truly fires on all cylinders at all times.

This brings me to Wilco’s Being There. Released in 1996 by a band with little commercial appeal (at the time) and a strung-out, hard-partying Jeff Tweedy at the helm, music criticism raised an eyebrow, penned some congratulations for having guts and moved on. In September, I wrote about the importance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ten years on. To get ready for it, I listened to all the other Wilco records, and the only one that’s stuck with me more than Foxtrot, surprisingly, is Being There. We get access to a different Jeff Tweedy, one stuck in between things and trying his hardest to focus on just being there, somewhere in the present. For someone who writes such elegant songs now, he really didn’t have a good grasp on it then.

This record comes shortly after Uncle Tupelo’s breakup and the transitional AM. For Tweedy, this comes as a warm-up for things to come. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a dense affair. Being There? Not so much. Forgettable lyrics mesh with unbelievably affectatious observations in a way that so few have. Yes, there is grandeur to the record, however, it comes at the price of far-too-occasional listlessness. For a band that goes on to bigger and better things, the double LP is just another step along the way. For others—like M83—it’s something you grow into, and this is precisely what makes Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming such a startlingly good, thought-provoking record.

Themes like friendship, childhood, innocence link all of M83′s six records. In economics, I learned the power of specialization. By specializing and only focusing on one thing, we have more to share about that one thing than anyone else. This isn’t to say that M83 connects best with their own past, but that they share these unique experiences better than almost anyone else. They have hit a well and water just keeps pouring out. In contrast to Being There, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has already been distilled. It’s in its simplest most pure form, and sounds all the more better for it.

*I realize there’s a certain amount of absurdity in attributing these ideas to Shakespeare, however, I sat through a whole lecture in college on it so I’m going to use him as my citation.

Want to raise a stink about a double LP? Let us hear it on Twitter (@midwestbeer), Facebook or send an email to mwbeercollective@gmail.com.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Hoptellectual: The Double LP

  1. Brian Kaufenberg

    Another great double LP: Smashing Pumpkins Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness. Corgan at his best.

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