A Musical Education: Concept Albums

I’ve had a lot of time to think whilst living in Spain, lots of silence to ponder and lots of worthy music to fill it.

**I couldn’t find some of these songs on YouTube so check them out on Spotify or something…**

Call me old fashioned, but my favourite way to listen to music is the full album, in order. If you can listen to around an hour of someone’s voice and not get bored, you know they’re doing something right. This method worms out the one hit wonders and really champions versatility, personality and poetic license. Due to the instrumental patterning within concept albums, these creative outlets are seamless; by blending one song into another, these pieces can bring forth a unified and powerful message much harder to achieve elsewhere. Here are a few of my favourites.

To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

The King of concept albums himself, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ challenges the creative boundaries of music itself to present an album rich with intertexuality, artistic collaboration and a unflinching screenshot of racism, poverty and extortion in the U.S.

This album transcends genres, with every kind of instrument imaginable involved in creating a truly chaotic yet beautiful illustration of African-American culture. Lamar’s heavy use of jazz is the perfect example of this, with the saxophone primarily used as a vehicle to carry motifs between songs.  Considering musicianship like this, it would be a shame to condemn this album purely due to its, at times, excessive swearing. The more you listen to this piece, the deeper you’ll find it goes.

Listen to: Institutionalised and Blacker the Berry.

Watch: Lamar’s 2016 Grammy performance that slaps America right in the face

HERE, Alicia Keys

To anyone who wants to cleanse their soul, this is the album for you. It deals with the biggest social issues of our time in an empowering and uplifting way. Keys champions her multifaceted identity, exploring what it means to be a black woman in our time and challenging where that places her in society.

The album is an amalgamation of poetry, spoken word, rap and singing, all of which give birth to the sound of a truly modern woman who is willing to call out poverty, racism, environmental exploitation, sexism and religious hypocrisy whilst starting a conversation on how our relationship with the words ‘family’ and ‘motherhood’ have evolved.

Listen to: More Than We Know (amen sister)

The Altar, Banks

My actual feminist icon. Banks, how I love you. Unlike Alicia Key’s album that takes a more united and uplifted approach to gender issues, Banks puts her middle finger up and says fuck you. I listen to this album when I want feel like a sassy independent female who doesn’t stand any shit.

This album tackles the nitty gritty of modern relationships including the power balance, masturbation, manipulation and female identity. There is a lovely blend of strong beats and harmonies that reinforce the dark tone of the album, all of which serve to contrast the broken and melancholic sound of Banks’ voice.

I take my hat off to this lady, as not only does the album convincingly document a struggling relationship but it retains thematic links to the artist’s first album.

Listen to: Weaker Girl (you go girl) and then carry on to Mother Earth

Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots

Having just finished All My Sons (the play that gives the band their name), I have even more respect for Twenty One Pilots for associating themselves with such a literary masterpiece (read it now).

Blurryface manages to convey the fear of modern adulthood in an authentic and honest way, with the alter ego of Blurryface  (the blurred identity that arguably represents the struggle against mental health illnesses) drawing together the whole album in a convincing manner. This very open analysis of anxiety and depression highlights to me the forward-thinking of the band during the creation of the album, with this approach perhaps a social sign of changing times.

Twenty One Pilots are also great to drive to due to the heavy drum beats, spoken word sections, guitar and general sass directed towards society. When you’re a millennial feeling hard done by due to the impossible property ladder, rising university fees and falling investment per pupil in the UK, this album is just what the doctor ordered.

Listen to: Lane Boy (you’re probably familiar with it)

I hope you enjoy listening to these masterpieces; they’ve got feeling by the bucketload.



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