Friday, November 21, 2014

Eight is Great

"Ever wonder why there aren't more than 10 songs on most albums? 'Cause it's a chore to write half a dozen. Some guys lay back and rest on their laurels like lazy old hacks."

The above is an excerpt from Track Number 8 by Sun Kil Moon. It's a classic slice of Mark Kozelek grouchiness, but while broad accusations like this are certainly preferable to MK's ongoing feud with The War on Drugs, I would like today to make an argument to the contrary. Fewer tracks doesn't necessarily signify a lazy artist, or a bad album - in fact, I'm fast becoming convinced that eight tracks (just eight - imagine how lazy that must seem to Mark Kozelek!) is actually the perfect amount.

Of course, I've always had a fondness for short albums, but eight is a particularly appealing number. For one thing, it splits neatly in half - even if you're not listening to the album on vinyl (and goodness knows that I probably won't be), you can still tell where Side A ends and Side B begins.

Indeed, keeping your album to just eight tracks will make it a lot easier to navigate in general. I find that a big part of enjoying an album is knowing whereabouts you are in the runtime, and I sometimes find it hard to get my teeth into a tune when I'm lost in the woods of a 17-track behemoth (like, say, Among the Leaves, the Sun Kil Moon album that Track Number 8 calls home).

Aside from being more digestible for the listener, a lean eight-tracker forces the artist to think a lot harder about quality control. The odd duff song doesn't matter if there are a dozen other tracks to help you get over it, but if one-eighth of your album is less than awesome, your audience will feel it a lot harder.

This, incidentally, is one of the problems I have with Age by The Hidden Cameras; some of the songs on that album (like Skin & Leather) are brilliant, but Afterparty - the unhurried dub stroll that opens the record's second act - is such a waste of space that it makes Age as a whole feel significantly less essential. It would have been fine as part of a longer set, but it's not good enough to constitute an entire 12.5%.

It's no Ban Marriage, that's for sure.

Still, when done correctly, the eight-tracker can be truly stunning. One example is Damien Rice's latest album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, which contains eight amazing songs and still manages to sound like a big, sprawling slab of tremendousness. Oh, and here's a sure sign of brilliance: even as I enjoy the music, I feel a bit sad when track 7 rolls around, because I know that I'll soon be wearing silent headphones and longing for more.*

Ironically, track 7 is actually one of the less depressing songs on MFFF.

A less recent example is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden - shorter than most of their records, and yet hailed by many as their best. And, again, songs like the title track and Infinite Dreams make it sound like a mega-epic in spite of its slimness.

I'm actually in the process of recording an album of my own right now, and I decided long ago that it would only be eight songs long. Sure, this is partially because I don't yet feel capable of creating a cohesive dozen-song set, but it's just as much to do with the objective awesomeness of a sleek, sinewy eight-tracker. Feel free to mention some of your favourites in the comments - let's celebrate the eight!

*This may not sound like a positive, but it definitely is. Aside from things like 69 Love Songs and MEN, which are obviously playing in a completely different ballpark to most other releases, I think all albums should leave the listener itching for more, rather than satiating every nook and cranny of my musical stomach.

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