Has the Concept Album Died?

Before answering that, you have to know what a concept album is. Essentially, it is an album with tracks that hold greater meaning together than individually, usually revolving around a central theme or narrative. Got it? Good. No? Reread it.

Now, has the concept album died? No…

That sums it up. No, it hasn’t died. Not even sort of. However, many diehard classic rock fans may argue against that. They might reminisce about the “golden” era of concept albums, with iconic releases like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or The Who’s “Tommy” as benchmarks of musical storytelling. Don’t get me wrong– these albums marked a pinnacle in the art form, where intricate narratives, immersive soundscapes, and thought-provoking themes came together in a symphony of storytelling.

The right question is, why aren’t there popular concept albums like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles? Hotel California by the Eagles? These are diamond albums!

So, what has changed since the concept albums in the ’60s and ’70s? The music industry has evolved significantly, driven by technological advancements, shifts in audience preferences, and how we consume music. While some argue that this evolution has marginalized the concept album, others maintain that it has simply taken on a new form to suit the modern music landscape.

One reason for the perception that concept albums have waned is the rise of single-track consumption. In the era of streaming services, listeners can access vast music libraries, and it’s easy to skip from one song to the next. This has led to shorter attention spans and less inclination for audiences to engage with a full album and one that demands sustained attention to follow a narrative thread. In this context, the traditional concept album might appear less relevant.

However, proponents of the concept album argue that it has adapted rather than disappeared. Artists have found innovative ways to infuse their work with conceptual depth, often employing subtler narratives or thematic throughlines that span multiple tracks. This evolution is evident in how musicians like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé have created cohesive, narrative-driven albums in the digital age.

Moreover, the resurgence of vinyl records and physical media in the music industry has offered a renewed platform for the concept album. Vinyl’s tangible nature encourages a more immersive listening experience, flipping the record and engaging with the album artwork, becoming part of the ritual. For artists and fans alike, this return to analog has revitalized the concept album, emphasizing the album’s importance as a complete work of art.

Lastly, I want to ask you a question. Can anything really die in music? Every trend, idea, or experimentation can now thank the internet and increasing connectedness for helping find a niche audience that wants to hear their work. Want to listen to a band that sounds like the Smiths or melancholic themes? Check out the Drums. If you’re big into the Beach Boys and 90s indie pop? Meet your new obsession: Real Estate. Are you a huge fan of the actor Jack Black? Well, boy, do we have the duo for you! What I’m trying to get at is that, for better or for worse, nothing can genuinely die in art anymore. If you think, “They don’t make music like this anymore,” I’d argue you simply aren’t searching hard enough. So get out there and listen to whatever the hell makes you happy! You won’t have enough time to listen to every song, but I’m sure you’ll find some damn good ones.

Still not convinced or just don’t know what to listen to? Here is a list of a few concept albums from the past decade spanning multiple genres; feel free to check them out!

  1. Sufjan Stevens – “Carrie & Lowell” (2015) – Indie Folk
  2. Swans – “To Be Kind” (2014) – Experimental Rock
  3. Julia Holter – “Have You in My Wilderness” (2015) – Art Pop
  4. Mick Jenkins – “The Healing Component” (2016) – Hip-Hop
  5. Alcest – “Kodama” (2016) – Blackgaze (Blend of Black Metal and Shoegaze)
  6. La Dispute – “Panorama” (2019) – Post-Hardcore
  7. Kamasi Washington – “The Epic” (2015) – Jazz Fusion
  8. Purity Ring – “Shrines” (2012) – Electronic/Indie Pop
  9. Protomartyr – “The Agent Intellect” (2015) – Post-Punk (Not technically a concept album but very similar)
  10. Daughters – “You Won’t Get What You Want” (2018) – Noise Rock/Industrial
  11. The Antlers – “Familiars” (2014) – Indie Rock
  12. Aesop Rock – “The Impossible Kid” (2016) – Hip-Hop
  13. Mount Eerie – “A Crow Looked at Me” (2017) – Indie Folk
  14. Baths – “Obsidian” (2013) – Electronic/Experimental
  15. The Caretaker – “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World” (2011) – Ambient/Experimental
  16. Oxbow – “Thin Black Duke” (2017) – Experimental Rock
  17. Perturbator – “The Uncanny Valley” (2016) – Synthwave
  18. Andy Stott – “Luxury Problems” (2012) – Ambient/Techno
  19. The Body – “I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer” (2018) – Experimental Metal
  20. Jenny Hval – “Blood Bitch” (2016) – Experimental Pop
  21. Aphex Twin – “Syro” (2014) – Electronic/IDM
  22. Brand New – “Science Fiction” (2017) – Emo-Rock/Post-Hardcore
  23. Dave Cobb – “Southern Family” (2016) – Americana/Country

Featured graphic by Jeneta Nwosu

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