The B Side: Less is more in the streaming age
My first listen of Vince Staple’s newest project FM! disappointed me. It had nothing to do with the quality of the album but rather the length.
FM! clocks in at 22 minutes in length, 14 minutes shorter than the rapper’s previous album Big Fish Theory despite it including only one more song than FM!. While FM! falls into the technical category of an “album”—the Recording Academy defines an album as a collection of at least five independent songs that runs for over 15 minutes—FM! didn’t feel like much of an album with 11 songs.
However, the more I listened to FM!, the more I enjoyed the album. I could constantly relisten to the 22-minute album which made me like it more. I fully believe quality overrides quantity although the album falls on the shorter side.
“More” is not hard to come by in this contemporary streaming era in music. Nevertheless many artists pad the runtime of their albums in an effort to put out the most content to get the most possible steams and earn the most money possible.
Atlanta rap trio Migos represents a great example of this. The group’s 2017 album Culture consists of 13 songs and clocks in at 58 minutes while their 2018 follow-up album Culture II features 24 songs and runs for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Some artists settle for quality over quantity and release shorter albums as others stretch their albums further beyond the hour mark. I want to consume the most music possible from the artists I love, but I’d rather get a small number of great tracks instead of a bunch of average ones.
Short albums benefit from a lack of filler—my least favorite part of any album. FM! includes little to no filler tracks on it with its short runtime. Aside from the three interludes on the album, each song justifies its spot in the tracklist and does not exist solely to pad the runtime.
Shorter albums also benefit from a stronger sense of listenability. One of my favorite albums of 2018, Kanye West’s collaborative album with Kid Cudi Kids See Ghosts, exemplifies this. While most of this comes down to the impressive musicianship and an almost psychedelic take on hip-hop the short runtime makes the album easy to listen to. I could listen to the 23-minute album upwards of three times each day easily—something I did very often this summer. I may have revisited it as often as I did without its short run time. It also complimented my 25-minute commute to work every morning.
Hip-hop superstar Drake’s latest album Scorpion did not follow the style of West’s short albums. The highly anticipated double album—an album with two discs—spanned a whopping 25 songs and clocked in at 1 hour and 30 minutes. I consider this album one of my least favorite releases of the year because of its length. It contained too much filler.
Don’t get me wrong, Scorpion features some great material, but in the end the filler tracks offset the standout tracks. In reality you can consider most of the second half forgettable aside from “In My Feelings” and “Nice For What.” I might dub Scorpion my favorite album of the year if it consisted of seven songs like Kids See Ghosts—just as I would not enjoy Kids See Ghosts as much if it lasted for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
I’m not alone in this opinion. Scorpion received Drake’s lowest ever score on Metacritic—a popular review site that aggregates critics’ ratings—with a meager 67 while West’s Kids See Ghosts garnered an 84. The same went for Migos—the 58-minute Culture earned a 79 while the nearly two-hour-long Culture II received a 69.
This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy longer albums—some of my favorite albums of all time stretch longer than one hour. Every song belongs on these records which sets them apart. But short albums don’t let the quality of the album suffer from length unlike many albums released since streaming music grew in popularity. Quality does outweigh quantity.