This year, instead of putting our favourite albums into a no-doubt 100% objective list, we're taking a deeper look at how 2013's most influential records have shaped the landscape of independent music. Today, we look back at surprise no-warning albums from artists like My Bloody Valentine, Beyoncé, David Bowie and Death Grips.
More THE ALBUMS THAT DEFINED INDIE IN 2013:
As I began musing on this piece about how traditional album promotion has waned in 2013, Beyoncé released a new self-titled record completely unannounced, a stunning gift both to her Beyhive and my brewing editorial. 14 songs and 17 videos from the world's biggest pop star, and it received no more anticipatory fanfare than a collection of demos uploaded tagless to Bandcamp. How she was able to dodge not only a pre-release leak, but any pre-release mention of the album's existence, is significant, and so is her rollout.
You couldn't have expected a bigger bang to end a year of industry dabbling with reduced or altogether abandoned promotional campaigns. While bands like Daft Punk and Arcade Fire launched gaudy, neverending (and sometimes problematic) hype campaigns, acclaimed artists of all stripes, from My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie to Blondes and Death Grips, threw their finished works into Internet's flooding rapids, its flow of information never faster or dense thanks to social media, and hope to shift the tide of conversation.
In 2013, the music industry banked that supernovas of visibility could be more or just as valuable as long burning (and innovative!) fires. Artists and labels gambled on a certain kind of event - i.e., a full-length album being released right this second - and its power to overtake the dozens of discussions going on at once on our Twitter page, if only for a day or so. In our desire to attach ourselves with that colossal event, we help spread the album throughout our networks.
So when one legendary band nonchalantly releases an album 22 years in the making on a Saturday night, or when another makes a widely anticipated move following a near meltdown, we share the news to be a part of the conversation. Whether it's through sharing a defamatory comment or link to buy the album, it almost doesn't matter, so long as you keep the chatter going.
And in many significant cases, it's paid off. Kevin Shields notes mbv sold the equivalent of a million and a half major label copies. Beyoncé sold 600,000 copies in the U.S. in three days, near double what her previous album 4 made after a week in stores (that's digital only, no physical, and iTunes exclusive). And Death Grips enraptured critics while still beguiling them with both sound and strategy on Government Plates (another album with one video for every song - perhaps this photo is more revealing than we thought).
It's exciting to think of who else will jump on the no promo bandwagon, as well as the new places they'll take it. But if this method does become profligate, it could become its own undoing: the social Internet buzzes loudest about surprises as they occur, and unannounced album releases becoming the new normal could undo their hysteria-inducing and wallet-opening capabilities. But for now it's been proven as an adrenaline shot of capital and excitement for an industry hemorrhaging both.
READ: The Albums That Defined Indie Music in 2013: Deafheaven's Sunbather and Metal's Blurred Lines
READ: The Albums That Defined Indie Music in 2013: HAIM's Days Are Gone and the rise of Ariel Rechtshaid
My Bloody Valentine, m b v:
David Bowie, The Next Day:
Death Grips, Government Plates: