To forgive, to release the bitterness, to understand that sometimes having a person in your life is worth the awkwardness and the heartbreak that seeing them may cause. It is, in its own way, lighting out for unknown territory, opening yourself up, again, to the possibility of loss but on terms bruised and sanded off by reality. Anger, sadness, grief—they don’t have to be forever. We can forgive, because we’re human beings, and it’s what we do. But somewhere, in the back of the head, in the middle of the night, in old scents and sounds and sights, we can never forget.
Todd VanDerWerff, on Challengers by The New Pornographers
This excerpt is from a beautiful exegesis of Challengers by the A.V. Club’s TVDW, perhaps better known for his feature-length Community episode reviews. Yet despite the piece being undeniably well-written, it fails for me as a piece of music criticism for reasons that I am trying to puzzle out. I think it has to do with Todd’s emphasis on lyrical summary, a tendency perhaps imported from his TV-reviewing gig. This reliance on lyric-based explanation does not serve the album (or, to my thinking, most albums) particularly well, which becomes even more clear at the end of the piece. That is when the obvious emotional connection that Todd has to the record finally bleeds through into the unadorned yet wonderfully limpid conclusion I have quoted above.