Many of us know that feeling when an album hits you just right during a crucial moment in your life. When everything you’re hearing”the sounds, the melodies, the emotions, the lyrics”matches everything you’re feeling. It all just seems to flow directly from the speakers to your heart and back again, as if there is some sort of etherial connection between yourself and the artist. Favorite records like these are what define us as music fans. They help us realize who we are and who our favorite artists or bands are.
But we also know the opposite feeling, when that same artist’s newest release falls flat, just as well. When the effort just does not amount to the previous release(s) that we hold so close to our hearts. As fans, we often form connections to artists and their music that they become a defining aspects of our identity. So, when our favorite musicians go in a new direction, we sometimes feel offended or even cheated, as if they have betrayed us in some way, leaving us alone with the nostalgia of a better time.
However, our relationships with music and musicians are just that: relationships. And like some, they do not always last. People change. Common sense, I know, but what about the way we react to new releases by our favorite artists? Is it fair to take offense or even go on the offensive when a new album does not live up to the standards set by the last? Or is this reaction rooted too deeply in our own subjective expectations? In most cases the artist has moved on and does not feel the same way they did when they wrote your favorite record, but the same can be said for the listener. It is no one’s fault, but we tend to hold the musicians responsible. The important thing is for us to be able to respect an artist’s decision to change while also acknowledging that we have changed as well.
Take Bon Iver, for instance. Many of us know the story behind the creation of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon‘s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago. The story of the musician isolating himself in a cabin deep in the woods of Wisconsin in the dead of winter after a terrible break up, with nothing but his voice and a guitar to purge his sorrow into beautiful and soulful songs, resonated greatly with so many listeners who had felt a similar dejection. In fact, this release is what helped Bon Iver skyrocket to fame far beyond the scope of the indie music scene. But last year, after having picked up so much attention and recognition, Vernon decided to take Bon Iver in a new direction, bringing on many different band members and leaving the solo act behind. The self-titled sophomore follow-up album contained a much more polished production quality with vast landscapes of varying instrumental timbres and songwriting techniques. While the record received fantastic reviews (earning Bon Iver two GRAMMY Awards, including “Best New Artist”), many fans, such as myself, felt a bit disappointed by the new album. It was a record of grandeur and positivity; not the stripped down, low-fi acoustic musings of a broken man with whom we had once empathized. But you see, the problem is that Justin Vernon wasn’t in that place anymore. Why would he be? He was loved by the world, his music career had picked up, and he had a new girlfriend. He wasn’t hiding away in the cold, dark winter anymore. He was blooming into the warm, hopeful spring with a new beginning and a skip in his step. This happened over the course of a few years. That’s when I realized, I too had changed, and looking back, the idea of hoping for another For Emma was in vain. The new album grew on me with time, as I figured out how to assimilate it within my new life, but I eventually realized that all the pieces were still there, just in a different arrangement.
Having an open mind and realizing the humanistic reality of music, when combined with the passage of time, is what allows us to grow and welcome change into our lives. Otherwise, we might be closing ourselves off from a new and valuable musical experience lead by someone we’ve learned to trust.
Last summer, around the same time that Bon Iver was released, Canadian indie folk singer/songwriter Dallas Green was preparing to release the third album for his solo project City And Colour. In an interview with AbsolutePunk.net, he mused over this same quandary with a similar opinion:
“The other thing, too, is that you forget that some records you invest so much emotionally into them. They’re such a big part of your life at that moment in time. Years later, when you’ve moved on from that stage and that band has moved on, they put out a record that just doesn’t connect with you the same. I think people should be a little bit more open-minded and when a record comes out you don’t like just be, like, ‘Yeah, I’m not into it.'”
“There’s tons of bands when I was a kid that I listened to that I was in love with, like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Those two bands when I was 12, 13, 14 years old, those to me were the end of the world when it came to music. I still love the first, earlier records, but I stopped buying Pearl Jam records after Vitalogy. They’ve put out six, seven, eight records since then. I still think they’re a great band, but I don’t listen to them anymore. I don’t blame them. I would never say, ‘Oh, that record’s not as good as Vs. or their first record.’ I just say, ‘They’ve moved on. I’ve moved on.'”
While it may be disheartening to lose touch with your favorite artists, it’s important to remember and appreciate those times when your paths did cross. Regardless of the music they may go on to make, at least you will always have that defining point in your life, a crossroads at which everything seemed to make sense, you felt less alone, you learned a life lesson, you were able to get through trying times, or you just enjoyed hanging out with some friends sitting around and listening to records. While fleeting, those are the moments that truly make music so valuable and timeless.
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