Monday, June 20, 2016

In Appreciation of Good, Old-Fashioned Anticipation

Sometimes, I just have to laugh at myself.

My favorite band, the Avett Brothers, have a new album coming out at the end of this week, June 24. I've known this since March, when Seth Avett wrote a long, lovely letter announcing the new album and the place it marks in the brothers' lives and careers. From March to June seemed like such a long time to wait, but I know how to wait. After all, Christmas comes but once a year, right? And there is something kind of cool about waiting for the release of new material (or for a Christmas present), and that something is the thrill of anticipation. There's the wondering what it will be like, and the hoping it will be something you really like, and the looking for hints about what it's going to be like. That thrill becomes almost unbearable the closer the release day (or Christmas) comes, but the day finally arrives, and there you sit with the present or the new album in your hands, ready to tear into it and savor the fruition of all your waiting.

Except....that's not how the Brothers are doing it this time. About a month after the original news about the album release, there was a Facebook post offering pre-orders of the album along with an instant download of one of the songs on the album, "Ain't No Man." Now, I know there's no need to pre-order digital music (I mean, it's not like they are going to run out of copies), but hey, I was going to buy it anyway - might as well get an early little taste of the album at the same time, right? So I hit the "pre-order" button, downloaded the single, and listened to it right away. It was sort of like getting permission to peel up a corner of the wrapping paper and take a little peek at the box holding the present. It makes the waiting a little easier, I guess.

But then two weeks later, I got an email that my order of another single from the album had been processed. And two weeks later, there was another email with yet another single. Apparently the Brothers (or someone on their management team) decided to lead up to the release date by releasing the album a little at a time. There are 12 tracks on the album, and four of them have already been officially released. Also, there have been videos on YouTube of at least two more of the songs, not including the footage from concert performances. About a week or so ago, the Brothers released a YouTube video by their official videographer of yet another song on the album, meaning more than half the songs on the album are already out there for listening.

I'm a little torn about this. On the one hand, I'm glad to have the music to listen to (and I really like a couple of the songs). On the other hand, I feel a little cheated out of that thrill of anticipation and the moment when I could finally sit down with the album and listen to it, start to finish, for the first time. I guess I'll still get that moment to hear the whole album together (and I do think the album as a whole is not just an assembly of singles - I believe the Brothers not only tell stories with the individual songs, but that they are mindful about how those songs come together on the album to create or enhance a larger story). But it's not going to be the same, because I am already very familiar with at least four of the songs. Through force of will, ha ha, I have resisted listening to the YouTube videos of the other songs (more than once, anyway) because I thought that was a way to reserve some of the thrill.

This morning, though, there was another post on Facebook, announcing the new album is featured on NPR's First Listen. In other words, I could hear the entire album now, instead of waiting four more days. And here's what makes me laugh at myself. For all my blathering about the "thrill of anticipation" and the purity of that first listening experience, I still went to the NPR site to "preview" each song - only to preview, mind you, not to listen to the whole thing.

But the joke is on me - our internet service is SOOOOO bad out here in the country that I could only hear a couple of seconds of the song at a time before the computer had to stop and buffer. After a couple of efforts, I gave it up. Not because of the frustration of waiting for buffering, oh, no; I've decided (once again!) to wait, so I can have that moment when I can download the remaining songs, find a quiet spot, and listen mindfully to see how all these pieces fit together into the theme or story I am certain is there on the album as a whole.

Just in case I made you curious, here's a little peek inside the wrapping paper....(I couldn't resist....)