Like my relationship to many things in life, my relationship to music is a complicated one. There is always a push and pull between diving into new and disorienting music or shrinking into the arms of the music I know and love. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to leaning too close to either edge. Constantly pushing myself to listen to what’s inaccessible, circling the drain only on what feels ‘new’, causes me to miss the point of music. I should be engaging with the thoughts and ideas the music is attempting to put forth, allowing it to let me reflect and grow, whether that’s on a fundamental level or a smaller one. I also do the music, its creator(s), and myself a disservice by chasing the high of novelty or inaccessibility (which can often go hand in hand), and this mo’-betta’-blues-way of consuming music doesn’t allow for any appreciation or understanding. Moreover, sticking with music that is too familiar will have a similar effect—I can’t challenge and expand my worldview in an echo chamber of my own greatest hits.
I have started to think of how my relationship with music is no different than my relationship to a lover. There are those that you fall in love with quickly, those that come into your life at exactly the right time, and then there are those that don’t make you feel that certain kind of way when you first meet, but after a while they start to grow on you. So, I tried to make a list, a catalogue of types of relationships and how they relate to both music and people.
There’s the first song that makes you realize that music is more than a collection of sounds, a sequence of notes, a backdrop to school dances and Texas Roadhouses. It takes you by surprise, sweeps you off your feet in a very world-ending fashion, and roots itself somewhere deep inside so you never forget it. Even though you’ve grown older and wiser, armed with new experience and a greater understanding of what life may be about, you feel that slight twinge when this song pops up in your Spotify Wrapped playlist. Full of memories, it just makes you want to cringe at the immature, angsty fool you left behind, but you can’t help but smile at the innocent romantic you wish you still could be.
Then there are albums or artists who you appreciate, but you just can’t seem to connect with them. Maybe you found them during a time in your life where you just aren’t ready to embrace them fully for who they are. Or it could be that you just haven’t gone through what they have in order to truly empathize with what they’re trying to communicate, regardless of the quality of execution—it’s hard to get Taylor Swift’s Red if you haven’t gone through a bad breakup. It’s all a journey; sometimes you can’t get a certain genre or artist until you listen to others. There’s a path you haven’t traveled yet where you may cross the bridge from disconnect to understanding, and you may start to see the merit in a wide array of music. But right now, you appreciate who they are and what their music can be for others, but you’re not ready for them now. You may never be.
My favorite kind of albums are those you end up falling in love with. They enter your life suddenly and unexpectedly, but not by stealing your attention or announcing themselves in a grand fashion. These albums operate with mysterious subtlety, making only gentle, firm first impressions within. On first listen, you recognize there’s something special—an entrancing aesthetic, a unique voice, a few immediate singles—yet after, they vanish from memory for weeks, months, maybe even years. Like shooting stars, you thought they’d exist only in a moment in time, never to return, something fresh but fleeting. However, by some Hollywood miracle, you end up reuniting with them in the depths of that disorganized library of music you meant to listen to but forgot about, and everything suddenly clicks perfectly in a way they didn’t the first time. Every note and lyric seem to impale your gut with an unstoppable force only capable of being produced by that which was made just for you. Each listen uncovers new layers that seem to speak to your unique experience, while also giving you brand-new perspectives to reflect on, and cathartic, emotional wells to drown in. These are defining albums that end up forever shaping who you are, who you want to be, and who you’ll become. Even when you reach the inevitable end, and you stop listening as much as you used to, you never truly move on. You’ll always remember them for who they are, what they meant to you.