The Album is Not Dying, Despite What You May Have Heard

Categories: Reviews


Like great albums before, "Shangri La" aims to create and maintain a mood through the sequence of its material. Concept? Yeah, there's one: fill the determined time and space with inspiration. There aren't many guitar solos, though "All Your Reasons" dissolves with Neil/Crazy Horse psychedelia and our boy Jake gets 15 seconds to shred on "Kingpin," a blur of clubland riffage and exploding hair that gives the LP a kick in the ass near the midpoint. Bugg goes lightest on "Pine Trees," but that solo acoustic number feels big as Laurel Canyon with crow flying imagery and vocal conviction. If there's a weak link it's "Kitchen Table," which sounds a tad like Crosby Stills & Nash discovering electric piano, but there are more songs like LP-closing "Storm Passes Away," a bit of country gospel, that ring so true as to be beyond judgement.

The album's sprawling moment of spiritual envelopment is "Simple Pleasures," which looks back at the scuffling 2012 Bugg as if from the window of a train bound for glory. The Oasis influence shines through like hangover sunlight, but Bugg emerges naked and unselfconscious. It's as stunning as any five minutes of music you'll hear all year. But it works best in the context of all the other songs it's bound to under the Shangri La cover.

I've been listening to Shangri La on my computer all weekend from an NPR "First Listen" segment, but I'm going to buy the CD today for a couple reasons. 1) This is my kind of Kickstarter: you make a great album and I'll buy it. Thank you, here's $15. And 2) CDs sound better than MP3s.

Not being an audiophile in the least, I can't back up number two with any data. Computer, stereo, car -- it all sounded the same. Until the night I spent on a couch in a storage shed a few months ago. I had spent the day going through all my shit and I was too tired to drive the hour home, so I thought I'd catch a couple hours of shut-eye and then head home in the morning light. I put on a CD, moving boxes to get there, then went back and laid down. "Every Picture Tells a Story" by Rod Stewart played from beginning to end without interruption, without clicking to a song from a different album I was reminded of. I listened to it with a depth of sound you don't get from your computer speakers and noted how even the weaker tracks had their places in setting up the LP cornerstones. It was one of my favorite listening experiences in years, and since then I've gone back to some of my favorite albums and played them from beginning to end, as they were designed to be heard.

The album format is magical. And Shangri La is what happens when you have what it takes to make a great one. I've been playing this Jake Bugg record over and over, and this week when it hits stores, I get to own it.

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11 comments
Cara Barnard
Cara Barnard

I'm saying not all artists put out an album that has 2 good songs and 10 filler songs. Not get rid of the album; get rid of the crap and put out a collection of 12 quality songs. The original post referred to Jake Bugg; that album is 14 songs and there's not a weak one in the bunch. (Confession: I once listened to that album for the entirety of an 800 mile drive. Not sick of it yet and still not over how good it is.) I have 11 songs on my phone. 3 are from Daytrotter, the rest are favorites from albums I own. I don't have any other kind of MP3 player, an iTunes account or whatever... I listen to music as an album.

Cara Barnard
Cara Barnard

I'm saying that most of the artists I like don't need fillers because they have a quality album of 10 or 12 or 15 songs....they don't have two "singles" and 10 other songs on a CD. I have 11 songs on my phone, 3 of which are from Daytrotter, and I don't own another device that plays MP3s. I don't have an iTunes account or anything of the sort. I listen to either CDs or records. An anomaly, I know!

Ryan Crader
Ryan Crader

I think what you're saying as far as getting rid of "fillers" is the result that should come from doing away with albums. Yes in many cases I am referring to having heard the entire album. I have owned many CDs in my day and don't use any now. I have bought many songs individually (for my phone/ipod/etc) that I really liked from those albums, but not the whole album. Think about it this way, how many full albums do you have on your phone/mp3 player vs. how many individual songs? There are a few, but not a lot of full albums I listen all the way through and I would bet most people don't have many (if any) full albums on their player of choice.

Cara Barnard
Cara Barnard

And are you listening to the entire album in some way prior to purchasing the "couple songs you enjoy"? If not, how do you know you're not missing the best songs on the album? Of course what is good is not always what's popular.

Cara Barnard
Cara Barnard

1. I thought for a brief moment that the photo meant Jake Bugg was coming to town. So disappointed now. :-( 2. If you listen to the right artists, there aren't "filler songs". I think one of the marks of a truly talented artist is that there aren't any throw-away tracks on the album. Just the other day, I heard an artist say he had the plan for his next album, and now he was working on the songs. So, he's meaning for it to be heard as a unit, a single entity. It all depends on what you choose to listen to; there are people who see the set of songs as a complete piece, and listeners who want to hear it that way.

Alex Rathgeb
Alex Rathgeb

Books were often serialized (and released chapter by chapter) before being published as complete novels...either by design or necessity. Music can evolve the same way, I think. Excellent points, however.

Alex Rathgeb
Alex Rathgeb

I don't Albums will disappear, but I could definitely see the serialization of the album, just as novels were "sold" via serial publications, and early movies were often broken up into serial productions...many artists may benefit from both the buzz creation, and also financially earning capital while they build an album song by song. See many sci-fi and even classic novelists (Dickens, Jules Verne, and Frank Herbert come to mind immediately) for examples of this being done successfully. Also, artists who focus on albums (like the craft a band like Daft Punk put into Random Access Memories) will make albums...but I could see why Justin Timberlake could slide away from albums...(and I like JT, so that's not meant to be a derisive statement)

Ryan Crader
Ryan Crader

No, definitely nothing like that at all. Unless each chapter were it's own short story and were for sale individually, that would be more comparable. Saying a person has to buy a whole album just to get the couple songs they like would be more like saying a person has to buy an author's collection of books instead of just one of their books. There is a reason why artists sell songs instead of albums now and why people buy them. There is not a market for a single chapter to an entire story.

James Wright
James Wright

That's like saying writers should only write one chapter at a time instead of a whole book.

Ryan Crader
Ryan Crader

I think in the near future artists will be focusing on songs instead of albums. People no longer have to buy an entire album to hear the couple songs they enjoy. Put more effort into making every song a masterpiece and stop worrying about albums IMO.

bill.streeter
bill.streeter

"Musicians will stop making albums when filmmakers stop making movies. It's what they grew up wanting to make, the form to strive for excellence in. More perfect creative enclosures have not been conceived. Albums, movies, are the standards, not the number of YouTube views or Spotify listens." 

100 years ago there were no feature films and there were no albums. But there were musicians. There have been musicians for almost all of human history but they've only been making albums for the last --what?--fifty years or so? Musicians need albums like painters need acrylic paint. It's a nice thing to have but not essential to their craft. If it is, then maybe they should call themselves "musical albumists" instead of musicians. 

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