As I’ve been thinking about albums lately, I’ve been particularly concerned with what makes an album an album. I remember hearing Illinois and Michigan pretty early, and becoming really attracted to the idea of a concept album. It was easy to understand, and concept albums typically have a lot of instant gratification as a unit. The songs fit together in an obvious way. But the more I’ve listened to music, the more I’ve come to appreciate albums that hold together in a more abstract sense. Obviously, I’m not trying to argue for the typical pop album, which seems to only be a unit in the sense that the songs occupy the same disc. I’m referring to an album that contains musical and lyrical threads which bind it together. Mutemath’s albums come to mind, simply because I’m so well-acquainted with them. Each album hits on certain themes (most obviously Armistice, which is almost singularly about compromise) and has common sounds (the self-titled album draws on a lot of synth and tight drums, while Odd Soul is carried by the guitar-bass mirroring and Darren’s switch to an even more aggressive and out-of-the-box approach to drumming). But I don’t think you can claim that any of their albums are concept albums. They are simply well-constructed collections of songs. Perhaps the best picture of how a good album is formed can be seen in Kid A and Amnesiac. Radiohead was working on all of the material for both albums at roughly the same time, but the products are very different. Most of Amnesiac would feel completely out of place on Kid A, and vice versa. The one song on both records, Morning Bell, takes on radically different arrangements to fit each record. Here’s my point, if there is one. I think that the best albums aren’t built outside-in, like a concept album. The best albums are collections of songs that begin to speak to one another. The songs help write each other, and the artist is responsible for facilitating the dialogue between songs. As I’ve been writing this summer, I’ve begun to experience this connection between songs, and I’ve also had to put material on the shelf if it didn’t fit in with the body of work I’m currently putting together. I just hope that all these songs will grow into something bigger than any one song on its own.