Short albums give musical food for thought

When it comes to papers, English teachers like to say it’s not the length, but the content, that matters.

The same can be said of a music album. Most artists sweat it out in the studio to produce a full-length LP of at least 10 songs, but sometimes they call it a day at five or six. While these shorter albums don’t often make the same splash as the longer ones, they hold together just as well. Here are two recent examples.

Best CoastFade Away
Released last Monday, the latest mini-album by ’50s and ’60s surf rock-inspired alternative duo Best Coast shows a band that has grown tremendously in the three years since its debut album, Crazy For You. That being said, Fade Away is also hindered by songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s tendency to fall back on old formulas and influences.

Fade Away contains Best Coast’s most sophisticated and ambitious songwriting yet. Instead of the usual simple songs about unrequited boy love and unconditional affection for California, Cosentino is writing and singing from a much deeper and more bitter place. While Cosentino has definitely matured as a writer, she occasionally tries to make her old tricks work harder than they can. Most of the songs are around four minutes long, but because of her simple, poppy themes, not all Cosentino’s songs can support the extended length. “Who Have I Become?” takes what could be a tight three minutes and extends it to nearly five.

For Fade Away, Best Coast found the comfortable middle ground between the lo-fi, fuzzy-pink feel of Crazy For You and the studio shine of the band’s second album, The Only Place. The production is atmospheric, opening up the songs and allowing them to breathe. This kind of studio trickery is best evidenced by “Baby I’m Crying,” whose vocals float gently over soft acoustic and pedal-steel guitars.

The album’s highlights occur at perfect blends of all the band’s previous work. The closer, “I Don’t Know How,” begins as a slow, sad waltz before exploding into what can only be described as Stevie Nicks singing for the Ramones. Meanwhile, “This Lonely Morning” sounds like the mature older sister of the title track on Crazy For You.

Fade Away may have its missteps, but these missteps prove that Best Coast is finally stepping outside its comfort zone. Besides, there’s no doubt that after a listen, the melodies will bounce around your head and slip out of your mouth all day long. If this album signifies anything, it’s that we should all hotly anticipate what the band cooks up in the studio for next spring.

Superstar DJ and music producer Diplo is nothing if not a workaholic. This year alone he racked up a list of collaborations, remixes, and releases that would make the average performer feel like a couch potato. That being said, Diplo doesn’t match this quantity with consistent quality. His latest solo EP, Revolution, seems it was released just to be released. Diplo put little thought and effort into the album’s four songs; the last two are remixes of album tracks by outside producers TWRK and Boaz van de Beatz.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that Diplo’s recent fascination with booty hasn’t waned. Album opener “Biggie Bounce” picks up where last year’s “Express Yourself” and this year’s “Bubble Butt” left off, with Travis Porter stringing together words that rhyme without much attention paid to coherent thoughts. While Diplo’s work usually matches this standard in terms of substance, he makes up for it with dynamite production. “Express Yourself” is a song about twerking, but has enough twists and turns to make up for it. On that track, Diplo clearly put time and effort into crafting something that sounded new and interesting. This time around, it seems he’s perfectly content to put just enough into the song that it plays for three minutes and includes a command for all the ladies to bend over.

The big problem with the album is just how formulaic and forgettable much of it feels; the long list of collaborators seems to exist only to fill space. Mike Posner’s vocals on “Crown” seem to only bide time until the mediocre drop. “Rock Steady” features rappers Action Bronson, Mr. MFN eXquire, and RiFF RAFF, and is the album’s standout track for all the wrong reasons. Uninspired sirens and whistles blare over a beat that ferries its unskilled passengers over the song’s three-and-a-half minutes. Why Diplo ever decided to sign RiFF RAFF to his label, Mad Decent, is beyond all comprehension. He must owe someone money.

While Revolution probably won’t go down as Diplo’s highest creative peak, the man shouldn’t be written off. He is, after all, the mind behind the Clash-sampling “Paper Planes” by M.I.A, a nearly undisputed modern classic. Following the 2011 departure of DJ Switch, he is also now the main creative force behind Major Lazer, a project that has birthed great tunes such as “Pon de Floor” (later sampled by Beyonce for “Run the World (Girls)”), “Original Don,” and the mellow “Get Free.”

Diplo remains one of the most sought-after producers in music today, mainly because of his reputation for catching on to the next big thing. Let’s just hope the next big thing he finds is a bit less gluteal.