Do you remember your first love? The butterflies that filled your stomach, a sense of confusion about what was happening. You’d likely never felt like this before, but it was such an amazing feeling. Years pass and people change, and perhaps down the line you decided that your first love was not the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, for whatever reason. However, no matter what happened, you’ll never forget how you felt the first time you fell in love. It’s a pretty weird thing. Love becomes a recurring trope in our lives, whether it be for a person, a pet, even some object you’ve had since childhood that you hold dear to your heart.
It manifests itself in all shapes and forms, and it’s no different with music. Remember the first time you heard your favorite album? Surely you can remember who recommended it and what made you decide to sit down and listen. Ever since then, though, it has become a recurring album on your playlist, and is something you always talk about with people unfamiliar with the band or the type of music its associated with. This raises an issue that is ultimately two very different sides of the same coin. While that first time was amazing, nothing will ever compare to it, and from that point, the band has to make albums that surpass the one you hold so dear. Often times, this becomes a very disheartening venture. While albums that come after might exceed your favorite album in quality and musicianship, it still doesn’t hold the same effect as the first time you heard your favorite one. Even worse, a band that makes your favorite album early in their career may never live up to the standards you have for them, and can likely lead to disappointment in the long run.
The problem becomes one of association. It’s the same way we can identify certain people as “being in the right place at the right time”. The issue stems from circumstantial events in our first experiences with certain songs or albums. Take Sound Awake by Karnivool for example. In 2009, when the record came out, I was coming off dealing with some major health issues that nearly sidelined my high school career. From the moment I pressed play, to the moment the record ended, something on it spoke to me. The way each song found its rhythm immediately, the way the entire album ended with a massive climax on the final song “Change”, and even the way the instruments played between each other left a significant mark on my brain.
As the band’s discography is relatively short, with only 3 LPs and a couple of EPs, nothing has ever come remotely close to achieving what that album did. Asymmetry, their follow up, was a fantastic record in concept and scale, but it didn’t click with me the same way Sound Awake did. This brings us back to circumstance: what changed between 2009 and 2013 that affected my listening experience? It begs the question of whether or not our current state of life affects our aural perception and triggers certain emotional responses.
When I discovered Sound Awake, I was coming out of a dark tunnel. Countless hospital and doctor visits, no prognosis after nearly a year of tests that pushed my body and my mind to the limit. I was emotionally distressed, without many friends. I had an illness that dictated my life, from the foods I ate to the things I did, and even to this day it affects me, though not to the same degree. This album spoke to me in a language that I could understand, and one that I hadn’t heard in a long time. It was the first thing in months to make me truly smile and be happy, and still does to this day. This speaks volumes about the music itself, but also why nothing has surpassed it: it has an experience connected with it that their other material does not have.
Retreating back to the beginning, let’s talk again about love. If I asked you to name where you met the love of your life, and how you went about striking up a conversation, I bet you could remember. You’d remember how they smelled, maybe what they were wearing. Most importantly, you’d remember what it was that lit a spark inside of you that made you feel the way you did. Maybe it was simply chance that you two were together in the same place, or perhaps it was a planned event. Either way, it’s significant, and it holds its significance in the fact that nobody else shared the exact experience that you had. It has a core uniqueness to it that is unparalleled, and that’s what makes it so special to you.
Perhaps you and your first love decide that now is not the right time for the two of you to be together, and things end. For months, and maybe even years, every other attempt comes up short, and nothing ever feels like that first love. At what point do you decide to say “I must get past it and move on”? It brings up another important note about our experience with music. When we discover something in music so profound, so intense, that we think it will never be surpassed, why would we want it to be? There comes a point where you must accept that things don’t always have to be that intense.
When I began this piece, I did not expect it to be some epiphany-extraction piece, but it seems to have ended up as such. At the end of the day, it’s really unfair to let one particular album, one musical moment, dictate our love for that band’s music, or anything else, for that matter. We’ll always have the moments that pass us by, but the future holds no bounds for what it can bring us, good and bad. Every piece we hear has the ability to make an impact, but only if you let it. Dwelling on an exact moment in the past can you keep from that, forcing you to judge new experiences through the eyes of who you once were.