Pop culture is about manufacturing events, promoting the notion that if you aren't paying attention (and bucks) right here, right now, to this crucial content, you'll spend the rest of your life rifling through someone else's nostalgia in a desperate bid to be a part of the constant present. In the business of music, that event is the Album, a platter on a pedestal to be worshipped, scrutinized, and studied like a sacred text. But increasingly nowadays, amidst global uncertainty and a general lack of confidence in society's infrastructure, there is a palpable sense in the music biz that any second, albums will go poof and music audiences will just shrug and go play hacky sack instead. Which, in some instances, leads to an escalation in what some may call desperation on the part of certain albums in their bid to become monolithic Event Albums, like those of rock and pop legend.
At the top of that list would have to be Biophilia, the upcoming magnum opus from Icelandic chanteuse BJÖRK (September 27, Warner Universal). More than a mere record, Biophilia is perhaps the first "app album," where every song is also an interactive app that allows you to interface with the album's theme of the collision of science and nature. Rather than touring, Björk will be doing a series of extended residencies worldwide that will include art installations and lectures. Musically, Biophilia is the same mix of electro-tinged whimsy and eccentricity that has been Björk's calling card since she went solo from the Sugarcubes. But it's the sheer audacity of this album's multimedia assault that is both fascinating and craven. If she pulls it off, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir will succeed in out-pretension-ing Lady Gaga . . . if that's her goal.
Of course, what could be more pretentious than the bloated double-album, right? Except that when done right, the gatefold twin turbo is a sure sign of an artist at their absolute peak. Which is exactly where 2011 finds Anthony Gonzalez, a/k/a M83, who drops the massive Hurry Up We're Dreaming (October 18, Mute) on a musical landscape bereft of the sheer outsize maximalism that we have been so desperately lacking since . . . well, since M83's last, 2008's Saturdays = Youth. That album found Gonzalez filtering his planet-eclipsing, heart-on-sleeve pomp through the sounds of '80s teen drama. Here, all winks and nudges to previous decades are gone, atom-smashed by gargantuan synths and pulsing beats.
That hugeness of feel is perhaps a trend in this fall's offerings, as a smattering of records find ways to soar and expand past previous expectations. First, this past Tuesday saw the release of ST. VINCENT's Strange Mercy (September 13, 4AD), wherein Annie Clark drops the Disney-fied shtick of 2009's Actor and delivers perhaps one of 2011's top guitar albums, slashing and emotive. On the same day, indie supergroup WILD FLAG (ex-Sleater-Kinney, ex-Helium) released their homonymous debut on Merge, combining earnest post-punk with flights of prog-like fancy. And in a couple of weeks, we'll get the full-length debut from Midwestern goth princess ZOLA JESUS, whose Conatus (October 4, Sacred Bones) finds her fulfilling the dark and soaring promise of the staggering EPs she has been dropping regularly in the last few years.
And just a few weeks later, Elizabeth Harper's new-wave dance crew CLASS ACTRESS follows up last year's buoyant Journal of Ardency EP with the flat-out flattening Rapprocher (October 18, Carpark), wherein the spirit of late-'70s Human League wax is melted down and repurposed for a new generation of dance-floor mavens. And all of the aforementioned might be blown out of the water by the clarion call of FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, when Ms. Welch drops her homonymous sophomore record (November 7, Universal/Island) and spirits us all to a world of sheer blinding gorgeousness.