There are certain bands and musicians that I cycle back to on an irregular basis, as if they’re a planetary body that I orbit around continuously; while it’s been a surprisingly long time since I’ve returned to my Elliott Smith phase, I’ve recently gone back through Big Star’s back catalog in recent memory, and I’ve returned in the past week or so to the Beatles, thanks to the cursed song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” propping up my head for no immediately apparent reason. (Not the least of which being, it’s a terrible song so it didn’t get there through sheer quality, sadly.)
What’s particularly enjoyable about these nostalgic musical mystery tours is the potent combination of getting to revisit the familiar and discovering something new along the way — whether it’s hearing a particular arrangement differently (There’s a version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that strips away the crowd noise and orchestration, and just hearing the band be a band completely changed the way I heard that song from that point forward, for the better), or finally making out something in the mix that’s been frustratingly unclear for years to that point. The best music, or at least the music I find myself coming back to over and over again, is the music where I find new spaces even after I think that I know something as intimately and completely as anything in my life.
That’s not to say that there’s not a joy in listening to something and it being exactly what you expect, I should add: there are songs where everything is just as I remember, and there’s a joy in that, as well — getting the ba ba ba baaaaas right in your head, or remembering the impossible notes that they reach every single time. Imagining the sounds as shapes inside your head and seeing them in every detail as they play out in front of you.
It’s possible that I just really, really like music, of course.