Strange Days, Indeed

Clearing the decks and getting back in gear.

"Strange days indeed...most peculiar mama" — John Lennon, "Nobody Told Me"

Stranger days are few and far between, it goes without saying. Roughly three weeks ago (or was it two?), the United States went into lockdown over COVID-19, upending all sense of normalcy. On a personal level, my concept of normal was pretty shaky already. As I've mentioned last month, my daughter was rushed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit upon her birth in late January. She stayed there for nearly three weeks, coming home safe and sound toward the middle of February. By early March, some semblance of a new schedule started to fall into place in my world but then the coronavirus pandemic hit, knocking me for a loop along with the rest of the world. 

As March comes to a close, it's impossible to peer far into the future since figuring out the present is enough of a struggle. Everybody is processing the turmoil in their own way and I'm finding a bit of comfort in listening to newer music again, possibly because listening to new albums has provided the backbone of my personal and professional life for as long as I can remember.

It's also true that I may find some solace in listening to new music because I didn't listen to a single new album over the course of February. (I find it amusing that my listening hiatus coincided with #MWE, the Music Writers Exercise spearheaded every February by Gary Suarez.) Having a newborn daughter in the NICU shifted my priorities and I found more sustenance in silence, talk radio and podcasts, or memories of melodies. I didn't miss active listening, which is perhaps no surprise considering my circumstance. I did find some consolation in favorite songs that would drift across my mind as I held my child. Almost all of these tunes were oldies lodged deep in my subconscious: songs that I remembered from childhood or songs that have been part of my regular soundtrack for years. More Elvis than Beatles, more Ray Price than I ever would've imagined. 

Once my baby finally came home, it naturally took a while before returning to work and, along with it, regular listening. Due to my work schedule and obligations, not to mention my predisposition toward omnivorous listening, I still had my eye on the release calendar, but that break of a month did shift how I processed new music—and that's a shift that's only increasing as we collectively settle into an extended period of shelter in place. I started moving slightly slower, savoring the music that I enjoyed but also finding that I didn't have the patience for an album that didn't click for me. Some of this could well be the result of age but it's also true that sitting outside of the regular weekly promo cycle for a while accelerated this tendency.

And then the promo cycle itself started to disappear this past month. There are still remnants of it in place. Sam Hunt will release his long-awaited sophomore set Southside this Friday, the same day Ashley McBryde delivers her terrific second album Never Will. But superstars from Lady Gaga to Sam Smith have moved their new records to an undetermined date in the future, and a bunch of their peers followed suit. Given the amount of money riding on these projects, I can understand the delay, and I find Jason Isbell's reasoning of delaying his album so he can support independent record retail with its release quite persuasive. Nevertheless, their absence does create something of a vacuum in the release cycle, one that will be populated by artists of a lower profile who need the attention, but if this situation extends into late May or June, it's a distinct possibility that listener behavior might change: the allure of New Release Friday will be diminished because listeners will realize they can take their own sweet time to get to whatever music is out there, whether it's new or old.

Certainly, that's where my head is at right now. I'm finding a lot of music absorbing, either emotionally or intellectually or as pure candy, but on a personal level, I'm not attaching as much importance to the release date. Naturally, the industry is still structured so artists and albums get the promotional push around their release date, so I will be following the release schedule for this newsletter (not to mention other outlets where I contribute), but I'm planning to do more spotlights and roundups of music that falls just outside of the release schedule. I not only think there's a need for that, I feel like an audience for music coverage of this fashion may be increasing.

Of course, I may well be wrong! There are so many moving parts at play in the music industry at the moment—set aside the pandemic, and record retail is in bad shape due to clogged distribution and production of new vinyl is in jeopardy due to the fire at Apollo Masters in February—that it's difficult to say what the business will look like in summer, let alone a year from now. All I know is that despite all the turmoil and uncertainty in the world, I'm back in the headspace where I can fully engage with music again, and to write it about it regularly as well.

Thanks for standing by during the hiatus and thanks for reading.