Indie pop icons Vampire Weekend made headlines last month by releasing two new tracks, their first since 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City. For fans, this was exciting news, throwing them into a frenzy of anticipation. As a casual listener, I was interested in hearing the songs, and marked the band’s return as something I would want to review later in the year when the full album dropped. But, the release of the new tracks also came with the news that they would not be releasing their album by traditional means, opting instead to release two new songs every month until the album drops, which will result in six tracks being pre-released total.
Singles are nothing new. Since music first became distributable, artists have been releasing single tracks as promotion for their LPs. With the advent of digital music, this became an even more popular promotional method, as musicians began putting out singles on iTunes and now Spotify and other streaming platforms. And, with the digital world geared so much towards playlists, singles make more sense than ever, whether they appear on “curated” playlists by streaming moguls and algorithms, or in your own personal library.
Although the move towards an album-as-installments-based plan on Vampire Weekend’s part is relatively unsurprising, it does make one think about how the art of the album is evolving in the digital age. Because of the mass availability of an endless supply of music, artists are having to find new ways to make themselves stand out, especially when it comes to releases. Beyoncé set the trend of the “surprise album” with her self-titled record in 2013 by simply posting the full track-list online with no prior warning or promotion. This has become a popular method among BIG artists since, and hence has somewhat lost its shock value, but the surprise effect is one that many still opt for.
When a band as big as Vampire Weekend chooses to release a record in installments, it causes me to wonder whether this will become the new norm sooner or later. In a faster and faster paced world, people have less tolerance for listening longer. Perhaps Vampire Weekend understands this, and are capitalizing on this awareness. It causes me to pause and wonder how many other artists will follow suit.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned and over reacting, but as an editor of a blog dedicated to showcasing the album as an art form, I was a bit disappointed by their decision. The power of the album is to create a world that is experiential, a feat that is not possible in two songs. I did listen to the two tracks, and did enjoy them. But, I think I’ve made the decision to save the others until the full release. To me, the power of the album has always lied more in the full experience, not in the song-by-song consumable rush of things. As the music industry continues to shift and change, I hope that the album format remains a medium that artists continue to give their listeners, allowing them to partake in a brief escape from their daily lives that is longer than a few moments.
However . . . if you just want to listen to the singles . . . here they are, free of charge.