One of the more interesting things about constantly collecting, listening to, and checking out new music is that I rarely spend much time waiting for or anticipating any given new release. Since I end up with new artists, records, and sounds to try out each month (at least), most release dates escape my notice, and I am rarely in any hurry to obtain a given record. To put this into context, despite all the new sounds I’ve fallen in love with since, the last time I anxious awaited a release before this year was when the Counting Crows announced their latest record back in 2014.
I began thinking about these patterns in my own experience with music, and the ways anticipation may play out in the music lives of others earlier this year when I read an announcement noting that Brandy Clark would be releasing the followup to her 2013 debut (12 Stories) in June of this year. For the first time in a while, I felt anticipation well up inside me like some kind of fountain, and spent the early part of the year counting down the days until I could get hold of the record and – most likely – play it on repeat for hours and days. This is exactly what I have been doing the last two weeks.
This experience led me to consider two things. First, Clark’s first album was so damn good to my ears that I became an instant fan. The stories of small town life, the witty jokes blended into the stories, the classic meets modern Americana instrumentation, and the power of her voice shook me to my bones. I honestly didn’t think she could top that record, but I still wanted more no matter the quality. While I did not get that record when it first came out – instead I stumbled across it 2 years later one day at a record store where it was playing – I automatically made plans to get the next one – Big Day in a Small Town – the moment it was available. Truth be told, it is somehow even better than the first one, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys small town storytelling, a blend of humor and tragedy in lyrics, and Americana – or even standard mainstream country – music in general.
Second, this made me wonder about the ways people experience engagement with new artists. What is it like when an artist captures a piece of you or an emotional reaction? What role does anticipation play in the experience of music and other forms of art? I feel like Interactionist and other approaches to the sociology of emotions could have a lot to learn and say about these questions. Last year, Brandy Clark was only one of about 200 artists I tried out for the first time, and yet, the reaction to her work was much different than any of the others. What makes such a difference? What emotional reactions transform an unknown artistic form into an “I gotta have it” artistic form? How might we go about studying such a thing? What might scientific studies of anticipation – in relation to music, arts, or anything else really – look like in practice, and what might they tell us about our own emotional selves, patterns, and experiences?
As is often the case, I cannot pretend to have any good answers to these questions at present, but I plan to continue thinking about them as I enjoy a Big Day in a Small Town on repeat for a little while longer.