The Rise of Visual Albums

Musicians are blurring the line between music video and art house film.

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In the age of the single, where albums can be mostly stuffed with fodder that serves as embellishment for a usually-too-polished single, we're seeing a lot of musicians are still cranking out LP's that are as thought out as they are thought-provoking. Some are going the extra mile, and making visual albums that are about the length of a short film. Others are making particularly cinematic music videos in series, and giving them a blockbuster treatment when they're released.

Let's not forget when Lana Del Rey, whose reputation as a music video auteur precedes her, premiered Tropico, a short film / music video trilogy, at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome before uploading it to Vevo. Troye Sivan took a similar route with his Blue Neighborhood trilogy trilogy, and Lady Gaga's Paparazzi and Telephone music videos, both shot as short films, were meant to be a trilogy of their own; don't think for a second people aren't still waiting.

This year in particular we've seen a rise in visual albums, a door opened by Serge Gainsbourg in 1971's Histoire de Melody Nelson (though some would credit 1964's A Hard Day's NightA Hard Day's Night, a film helmed by The Beatles that accompanied the album of the same name). Since then, we've had such diverse artists as Adam Green, Kanye West, James Franco's musical project Daddy, Frank Ocean and, of course, Beyoncé. It would be sacrilege to not mention both her self-titled 2013 surprise visual album and Lemonade, where we see Beyoncé refining, even re-defining, the form.

The Weeknd's Starboy was accompanied by an ultraviolent and visually mesmerizing short film called M A N I A. Not exactly a visual album, but not not one, this falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the trilogies attempted by Del Rey and Sivan and the blockbuster showstoppers helmed by Beyoncé and Green, whose excellent Aladdin short film is accompanied by an original soundtrack for the ages.

We're seeing a new generation of musicians taking complete creative control of the visual as much as the auditory, flirting with the history with which Pink Floyd's The Wall and Prince's Purple Rain began to play around with. Music and film junkies aren't the only ones that should be excited about this shift to the cinematic; to see constant, cohesive conversation between cinematic and musical mediums, especially from artist who primarily work in the latter, is a game-changer. Whether you're more Lemonade than Histoire de Melody Nelson will depend on your particular taste, but in the growing world of musician auteurs, there's something for everyone to appreciate.

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