In the world of downloadable music, the 40-minute album is obsolete. It took six years and the latest Illinois release to make me realize this, but here I am. In fact, with the deterioration of radio along with the eradication of physical properties entirely, pop music’s ties to tradition are the demons of the art itself to slay. Simply said, if you make a 3+ minute pop tune nowadays, you only did it because everyone else did so before you. By this logic, the sans-time music world should allow unstoppable song-making machines like Prince to release an album (or whatever could be quantified as an “album” now) every week. It also makes me question the motives of artists today: Why do they wait until they have 40 minutes of material to release a “full” record any more? Can they only fill 40 minutes? Or were those just the best 40 minutes of 80? Are they happy for the resurgence of vinyl, so they can have a physical limiter of their material? The whole system is in flux and it’s freaking me out.
All of these thoughts swam through my mind while enjoying The Adventures of Kid Catastrophe, a mix of Moby-style hip-hop and power pop that offers many a delicate tune. The true realization moment arrived when I came to “Are You Coming With Me?” and my world stopped. Preceded by the kinds of wonderful songs normally reserved for Wes Anderson movies (that would be emo-pop based on 60s mod rock that you could score a wrist-slitting scene to), things came to a head on this song. Sonic grandeur arose in my ears as the song soared to the heavens, carrying everyone along with it. It’s a heartbreaker, but with realistic optimism one has to fool himself into believing he can turn a bad relationship around. It feels climactic. There’s something about pianos, harmoniums and acoustic guitars surrounded by full-volume choruses that feel like the end of prom night, and I was ready to stand and applaud.
And then the album kept going.
And going. And going. That might sound like a bad situation if the following songs weren’t so good, but the real point is that my experience opened my eyes to the sans-time capabilities of today’s music world, and it’s a capability Illinois must be aware of as well. Kid Catastrophe won’t receive a CD release until June 9, yet the album’s been available on iTunes since early May as a “Deluxe Edition,” implying there is a “Standard Edition” forthcoming. That means cuts, and that would be a shame, because the true luxury of the sans-time album — for all my pseudo-complaining earlier — means flexibility and freedom. With no time constraints, Illinois can feel free to include instrumental tracks like the lovely “Church”. A hit-seeking, time-sensitive producer would spy those one hundred seconds and see a trim target. Limited by time and the physical realm of CDs, we might also lose gems like “Old Saloon” or “Broken String” (a.k.a. “The Big Finale, Part 2″). An expansive and inviting album would near dangerously close to becoming either repetitive or unambitious.