If popular opinion deems the album dead-a victim of the low-commitment, easy-selling single -- then what of the double album?
A favorite format of titans like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, the double album is a declaration of artistic conviction, of creative bounty -- and of undeniable risk. Pricier for record labels to produce and for consumers to buy, it's a gamble, especially in today's challenging retail landscape.
But as electronic musician M83 and his label, Mute, prepare to release the two-volume, 22-track "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" on Oct. 18, they don't seem worried; they might even be excited. One listen shows why: "Hurry Up" is a generation-defining collection of diary entries from a contemplative 30-something, set in a time capsule of sonic influences that don't usually go together. Confident, grand and outrageously beautiful, it's the kind of album that a music fan has to own -- double or not.
Audio: First Single "Midnight City," M83
"It's Icehouse, Kajagoogoo, Naked Eyes, My Bloody Valentine and a little Simple Minds, in a wall of sound like Sigur Rós. Astonishingly good," tweeted electronic artist BT, who himself released a double album, the Grammy Award-nominated "These Hopeful Machines," in 2010.
"I've been dreaming of doing a double album since I was a teenager," says Anthony Gonzalez, the French songwriter/producer/musician behind M83. "It was just the right moment. I'm more confident with myself and my music. And I had the songs -- a crazy amount of songs. We had enough to pick from."
"I don't believe the album is dead, and presenting a cohesive work like this demonstrates it even more," Mute marketing director Nicole Blonder says. "We can't price this to compete on the single-album playing field, but we feel it's of such a high quality that fans old and new will embrace it as something special."
"Hurry Up" is a follow-up to 2008's critically lauded "Saturdays=Youth," M83's fifth and most successful album. With its thick electronic texture and emotive melodies, the dreamy, '80s-inflected LP helped Gonzalez build a dedicated fan base. It peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart and at No. 107 on the Billboard 200, moving 76,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Gonzalez toured behind the album with a full band, supporting acts like the Killers, Kings of Leon and Depeche Mode on international runs.
Signs indicate that the fans gained during that period are staying on. "Midnight City," the first single off "Hurry Up," hit SoundCloud on July 20, had 100,000 listens by the next day and made M83 a trending topic on Twitter.
"The fan base has grown to the point where we don't need anything super-gimmicky," Blonder says. "That's not to say we're not being creative with our marketing, but we're letting the music lead the way."
After giving "Saturdays" its album of the year distinction in 2008, music-focused downtown-chic clothing chain Urban Outfitters jumped back onboard to support "Hurry Up" in a big way. Starting Oct. 10, the album will be streamed exclusively on the store's blog and promoted in all of its outlets, including its 3.3-million-deep email list, social profiles (about 1 million Facebook and Twitter followers combined) and the store's home page.
The Saturday before release, all 165 Urban Outfitters locations will host a listening event, with each playing the album at the same time. "UO hasn't done anything like this before, and 'Saturday' is their most highly trafficked day," Blonder says. Plus, "Midnight City" was the lead track on the chain's LSTN compilation, released Sept. 6.
M83 is touring North America through the end of the year, again with a four-piece band. "We're going to create some videos, so the shows are visual experiences as well as musical ones," Gonzalez says. "I'm really excited about that."
Beyond the touring cycle, Blonder sees her supersized product as her best asset in terms of getting M83 traction. "A lot of labels might balk at the idea of a double album, but it's actually more marketable," she says. "Fans can come back again and again and find new favorite songs. It just has more depth."