With Headphones On, You Won’t Hear That Much

In one of the least surprising developments of the year, I have become utterly obsessed with Blur’s new album, The Ballad of Darren. It’s a new Damon Albarn project, it’s a new Blur project, and it’s a melancholic album about aging and loss and regret; it’s absolutely catnip for this particular droog, which feels entirely appropriate on several levels.

I’m telling you this not to exhort you to give it a listen yourself — although you should, of course; it’s a genuinely lovely, gentle middle-aged album, for want of a better way to put it — or to pick apart the ways in which it both sounds like and unlike Blur as they’ve traditionally presented themselves. I’m not even writing this to point out the really odd, unexpected influence of late-era Bowie on the album even though I’m very curious where that’s coming from and who’s bringing it. (Albarn? Graham Coxon, maybe?)

Instead, I’m sharing this because I heard this album for the first time during San Diego Comic-Con. It was released on the Friday of the show, and I first heard it wandering through the San Diego streets walking to and from the show, and I wonder if there’s something about that experience that’s changed the way I heard it, and will always think about it from now on.

It’s not simply that it was an odd show that for many reasons — primarily, the emotional state of those around me, and my own aging and aching — left me at times in a melancholy mood of my own that echoed the album’s tone and left me receptive to everything it’s all about, although that counts, of course. It’s that there’s something about hearing music almost ambiently initially before you have a chance to really pay attention to it is a strangely, wonderfully hypnotic experience. I didn’t have a chance to properly listen to The Ballad of Darren until I got back from the show, by which point I already had memories and experiences attached to it: “This sounds like that moment I was turning onto Fifth Avenue, and the crowds started picking up,” or “This is the walk back to the hotel at midnight, when the streets started transforming into local party people instead of nerds up late,” or whatever.

There’s something about this feeling, the immediate nostalgia that feels at once authentic and lived-in that I’m trying to fully understand with as I listen to the album over and over right now. The feeling that it’s at once brand new and already part of my personal history.

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