Once upon a time, there was prolific. Your favorite pop artist had a new song or album every year. There was a building turning out tunes, factory-style. And you had your space.
In early January 2011, Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times about the “songorrheic” Ariel Pink. Shorefire Media dissected the word to uncover a portmanteau of “song” and “logorrheic,” or “someone with an excessive flow of songs (by [Shorefire Media’s] definition).” Surely, the term inspires sneers and gags. For one, it’s another rock critic term: throw it in the pile with hypnagogic pop, rockism, witch-house, etc. The mere idea of quantity over an edit-button led the A.V. Club to ask if musicians are making too much music. And the diarrhetic connotation is gut-wrenching.
However, the idea resonates today. “Traditional” artists like Dylan or Springsteen write a lot of music, but leave plenty on the cutting-room floor. The songorrheic artist differs by producing a lot with little discrimination. Fittingly, the trend is being spotted of late as digital media has shortened the distance between a song’s first conception and its final recording; the songorrrheic can embrace this mold and let as much as they want hang out. Sound familiar?
Pareles alluded to other songorrheic artists, like Prince and Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard. While we at Prefix quibble over Prince (he allegedly has a massive back-catalog, but in a private vault), we also smelled a list that spanned generations and genres. While this is hardly exhaustive (apologies to Ben Chasny, John Darnielle, et. al. — there’s only so much we can write), it’s the jump-off for a conversation about our musically ubiquitous friends.
A: “For me writing is not a chore.”
B: “My ambition is strictly artistic.”
A+B=C: Ryan Adams should have been born 10 years later.
The singer-songwriter has both an extensive discography — 15 solo and group (Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals) albums over 15 years — and a larger unreleased catalog. Arguably, much of the latter would be more openly available (outside of the big T) were it not for Adams’ biggest obstacle (aside from himself): the business. Major label recognition made him a star, but that attention soon became a deterrent. His 2002 “album” Demolition was reportedly culled from four unreleased (or unreleasable, depending on whom asked) albums. If Adams were not such a quick writer (he released three albums in 2005), how could he expunge ideas and move on?
In the mid-’00s Adams was like a 10-tours-of-duty vet when he embraced the Internet as an independent means of distributing his music — serious or not. In 2006 he unloaded 11 albums of novelty hip-hop, metal and punk songs on his website under aliases like “DJ Reggie,” “Werewolph” and “The Sh*t.” Now Ryans primarily uses his PAX AM label and site to distribute his music. While still adhering to traditional forms (2010’s Orion was released on vinyl), PAX AM offers him a chance to open his craft to fans in a more immersed way. ~Dan Nishimoto
Bradford Cox is a case study of the highs and lows of being a songorrheic artist. His output is considerable: five full-lengths with his band Deerhunter since its start in 2001; six albums through his solo project Atlas Sound; and allegedly hundreds of home-recorded tapes. His process is a better indicator. He often writes in a stream-of-conscious manner where lyrics are not pre-written and songs are completed in “two or three hours.” He appears to have degrees of deliberation — from narratives in his songs to his desire for “a discography that listens like a schizo mixtape” — his process favors immediacy. Cox likened his blog to a clearinghouse to “just have ideas constantly being put out there.”
Though Cox appears committed to an open process, he has received a share of groin-kicks. His Atlas Sound album Logos was leaked a year in advance. There have been detracting headlines like “Bradford Cox Hates Us.” And in 2010 Sony “mistakenly removed” his four-part Bedroom Databank album. While that last mishap was likely unrelated, it called attention to the full extent of “transparency” in today’s media culture. ~Dan Nishimoto
By now you’ve gathered the breadth of the songorrheic idea — it includes all things BASED. Rapper Lil B, one-fourth of rap group The Pack and self-made Internet deity, defines the idea as “being yourself, being positive, not really worrying too much about what people think about you.” Musically this translates to stream-of-consciousness raps and filter-less editing. Like a juiced-up mixtape culture, Lil B uses all forms of social media (Twitter, YouTube, blogs and over 100 MySpace pages) to promote, no, blanket himself and his 1,500-plus songs. Between 2009 and 2010, he released eight albums/mixtapes that cover everything from viral teen dances to hippy boasts over electro–emo to the plain surreal. Added to this is the constant chatter of him getting punched, hollering at fill-in-the-blank celebrity and calling himself “pretty,” “bitch” or “God.” Lil B’s success in becoming the connection between Soulja Boy and Elliott Smith highlights the marketing aspect of the songorreheic artist. ~Dan Nishimoto
There is no questioning the fact that Lil Wayne has recorded an absolutely massive amount of material since dropping his solo debut in 1999. The eight studio albums under his belt through the end of 2010 are enough to prove his prolific nature. But the dude goes beyond prolific when you factor in that he has nearly 10 mixtapes jam-packed with music; two collaborative albums, with Birdman and Young Money, respectively; and more guest features than you can imagine. Seriously, who else do you think of when assuming a rapper is guest appearing on a track? Even when Weezy was in jail he released more material than most MCs with a proper deal. It might get to the point of absurdity at times – his shit-tacular rock album, Rebirth – but this is a guy who clearly has no off-switch. ~Andrew Martin
Few debuts were as impressive, from a sheer size standpoint, as Jack Logan’s Bulk. The car mechanic and sometime cartoonist made a name around the Athens scene first by creating a comic that starred Peter Buck as a super hero, and then by playing shows comprised of some of the six hundred songs he recorded from 1979 to 1993. Twin/Tone Records, after some backing from Peter Buck, took notice of Logan’s material. Bulk, his initial release, is a contained a whopping forty-two songs. Though the quality varied within the album, and Logan’s post-Bulk output has been uneven at best, Bulk is at once a testament to the creative spirit of one man and the ethic of throwing everything out there to see what sticks. ~Mike Burr
It’s not like Madlib, who goes by more aliases than you really need to know, wasn’t prolific before the year 2010. If he wasn’t recording a jazz album, he was producing beats for other artists or putting together instrumental records. For whatever reason, though, the Oxnard, Calif.-based everything-man went all out in ’10. He could have made this list solely based on the fact he put together a (nearly) monthly album series called Madlib Medicine Show that featured unreleased material and original mixes. Then, he handled the entirety of Strong Arm Steady‘s In Search Of Stoney Jackson and Guilty Simpson‘s O.J. Simpson while producing selection for Erykah Badu, Slum Village, and Vinnie Paz. Oh, and Madlib just so happened to additionally drop two jazz albums, Miles Away and Slave Riot. He’s also made it known that he has more than enough material to do a few more Madlib Medicine Show projects. ~Andrew Martin
Some Stephin Merritt neophytes will end at The Magnetic Fields’ nine albums or their dense 1999 magnum opus, 69 Love Songs, as evidence enough of the bass-baritone’s veritable fount of indie-pop. The truth is that the genre veteran’s imitable handiwork can be witnessed on several soundtracks and records by The 6ths, The Gothic Archives, and Future Bible Heroes. In 2009 and 2010 alone, he penned an off-Broadway stage musical based on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and produced a score for the silent film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The strange power that has proven to be an aesthetical through-line on many Merritt releases is that he easily vaults genre terminuses that would impede lesser musicians. He’s known for his sharp-witted tongue, but the drunken poet’s 20-year career casts a spotlight on his rapacious drive to record all the desperate things we all do. ~Kyle Lemmon
Everyone has an itch they need to scratch, whether literally or figuratively. Robert Pollard’s is the need to write pop songs, and based on his mind-bogglingly prodigious output, that itch is never satisfied. Since forming in the mid-’80s Guided By Voices released 16 studios albums before calling it a day (sort of) in the early 2000s; while Pollard is responsible for nearly all of these songs, these LPs are merely one portion of the man’s constant output. In addition to full-length work with beloved GBV, Pollard–who once allegedly quipped that he can write five songs sitting on the toilet, and three would be good–is also responsible for hundreds of singles, EPs, solo full-lengths, and numerous collaborations, and three gigantic “suitcase” box-sets of outtakes and unreleased material. The end result is like observing the stop-time evolution of a musical universe from the big bang to the singularity, and the primordial soup is beer and cigarettes. ~Nate Knaebel
When Jay Reatard died tragically from an overdose in 2010, there was little question that the 29-year-old, born Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., would quickly join the ranks of other young underground music icons the fruits of whose full potential we can only imagine. Unlike, however, Darby Crash, Ian Curtis, or even Kurt Cobain, Reatard left behind a literal lifetime of music. Lindsey started at the age of 15 with his band the Reatards, and went on to record and release nearly 100 singles, albums, and EPs both as a solo artist and with bands like the Angry Angles, Lost Sounds, and Final Solutions. It’s perhaps most remarkable that, while other prolific artists all suffer from a certain lack of quality control, Jay Reatard was as meticulous as he was productive. Whatever demons may have driven him to an untimely demise, they were presumably held at bay for a time by an unrelenting, seemingly compulsive need to create. ~Nate Knaebel
Mark E. Smith
Dylan has 34 studio albums since 1962. McCartney has 21 since ’70 — not including that other gig. Mark Smith, figurehead for underground post-rockers the Fall, has released almost an album an year since 1979, sometimes twice annually. Additionally, he has about 30 live albums, over 30 compilations, 11 EPs and a handful of solo efforts and collaborations. While Smith beats the rock icons through sheer volume, he earns a spot on this list more for his uncompromising approach. The famous misanthrope consistently writes without filter and commits any thought to record, be it about dilapidated city life, anxiety or shit-observing. Hate the man for his substance swilling or violent outbursts, but the honesty of his releases is undeniable. ~Dan Nishimoto
They Might Be Giants
If you called (718) 387-6962 at any point between 1983 and 2006, you’d be connected to a Record-A-Call 690 answering machine containing one short song recorded by Brooklyn duo They Might Be Giants. If you called back the next day, odds are that the song would be different. And the next, different. And so on. Over 23 years, TMBG recorded almost 8000 songs for this machine before moving the operation to the internet, at Dial-A-Song.com, where it’s still going. Add to this their 15 albums, almost one a year since 1999, their extensive work writing for television, film, and commercials (including 19 new songs, with lyrics, for a series of Dunkin Donuts commercials), their five years of podcasts often containing new musical and video work, and their 21-songs-in-one track “Fingertips” from 1992’s Apollo 18, and one begins to understand that They Might Be Giants is simply unable to stop writing music. Like a lot of songorreheic artists, their ideas are often best when short, so their multitude of tiny songs, like those in a commercial or those for kids, are often as good as anything more complex you’d find on an album. ~Chris Chafin
Additional assistance from Jeremy Gordon and Daniel Kolitz.
Image: mateo ptmd / Flickr