A little over a week ago I stood in the yard, watching while Taylor planted arugula in the beds. I was not in a good mood. It was a little cold, and of course, neither of us knew that it would snow heavily the next day. Mostly, I was not in a good mood because, a few hours later, we would be walking to Pyramid Scheme to see La Dispute play on the Panorama tour, and I had not yet listened to the album that had come out three weeks before.
Mostly, I had been waiting for the limited-edition vinyl to ship, or, mostly, I just hadn’t been ready yet to listen. I and some of my friends had been waiting five years, almost to the day, for Panorama. Of course I was excited, but I would have felt like I was doing a disservice to both the artists and myself if I didn’t find the proper headspace to appreciate it.
Maybe that sounds pedantic or overly precious, but it takes me a long time to get familiar with a new album—familiar enough to remember how all the tracks go, and even more so to get my head around it—more than just one round of forty-five minutes or two. Up to that point, standing out in the yard, I had not yet found that time or that headspace. I was frustrated with myself, I guess, mostly, though I would have rather been inside listening than gardening. Last November, I went to a show for a tour of an album I had not yet listened to, and though it was maybe the best show I have ever been to, I was frustrated with myself that I had not taken the time to prepare, and I swore not to do it again.
Seeds that were soaked in water to aid germination now sitting in the chilly soil, Taylor and I went inside. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but the hour and a half or so before we needed to head to the concert would have to do. I fiddled for about ten minutes with my speakers and record player that didn’t seem to be working. When I finally got sound, it was a murmur. Ten more minutes fiddling, trying different records, and Google searching until I realized that the switch on the built-in preamp of the player, during a year or so of disuse, had gotten bumped from speaker-level to line-level.
I tried to follow along simultaneously with both the lyrics and the notes, interviews, and annotations on writing and recording the band had released, trying to close-read the month’s worth of sitting with the album I had missed out on. Teddy paced the apartment, whining and growling at things he heard outside, as he is doing now while I write.
It was not a good headspace for a first listen, but it was a good show. Some of the newer songs I wasn’t familiar enough with to keep straight in my head, but the setlist leaned mostly towards Wildlife anyway, and those tracks like “a Departure,” “a Letter,” “a Poem,” and “a Broken Jar” still blend together no matter how many times I sit with the album. I’ve listened to Panorama a few more times since, and it continues to grow on me. I know there’s a lot below the surface both thematically and sonically that I’m missing, but I’ll get around to it. Of all my favorite albums, I’m not sure any have totally arrested me at a first listen. For most, it’s a process of growth over many listens over several months.
This holds true for many artists I care about. Earl Sweatshirt is my favorite rapper, and probably my second favorite artist overall (this essay would be more poetic if La Dispute were my first, but that’s not the case). I would put both 2013’s Doris and 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in my top five or six or seven albums. However, I can’t speak to last November’s Some Rap Songs because I still haven’t listened to it.
The past few months and especially weeks have been hard. Earl Sweatshirt’s music, if you’re unfamiliar, is not easy listening, and if not for the concert, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Panorama either, probably not until things got easier, whenever that would be. Right now, Taylor and I are both waiting to see what happens next with regards to some people around us. I can’t say much, mostly because there’s not much I’m at liberty to divulge, but I’m also afraid to speak anything bad into existence even though really sad, frustrating things that should not happen have already begun to. Trivial as it may sound, I can’t afford another thing to spend time with and care about right now, even a twenty-four-minute album.
Most likely, in a little over two years, Taylor and I will be in a different city so she can go to grad school. We both know what city we hope that will be, but more generally speaking, we hope to have a fenced-in yard where Teddy can run and play freely without always bothering us to take him out, and we hope to have a space where we can plant a big garden.
We started to worry about the seeds a little, mostly because of the snow. It would be more poetic if this was just another thing we had to wait for, but I walked outside on Monday, as I was writing this, and saw that our arugula had sprouted. I guess we still have to wait to see how it grows and how our other plants grow, and we still have to wait for so many other things. I think seeing the tiny leaves now, more than anything else, makes me long to see plants growing and Teddy running around in that yard, by which time, some of these things will have passed.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.