There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld bit about the hazards of choosing a cold medicine. “This one’s quick acting, but this one’s long lasting,” he notes. “When do I need to feel good, now or later?”
Weirdly, this is not so different from some of the listening choices that we make. Some albums use shortcuts to jump right to the pleasure center of your brain so that you’re hooked immediately; they make you feel good now. We most commonly associate this tactic with traditional pop music but the reality is that every sub-genre has these “pop” shortcuts in its language. (If we’re being honest, Saosin is just pop music for hardcore kids, right?) None of which is meant as a knock on pop music, either. Good pop music is fucking awesome.
Comparatively, there are albums that don’t necessarily hook you right away or fully reveal themselves on first listen; they make you feel good later. These albums, these slow-burners, often inspire tremendous fan attachment but within a smaller populous. They take time and effort because their initial impenetrability satisfies a different and inherently more marginal musical desire than the instant gratification of what we’ve deemed “pop.” These albums, by chance or design, require listeners who value commitment and persistence over ephemerality and accessibility.
The unspoken punchline of Seinfeld’s joke is that we actually don’t want to have to choose between feeling good now or feeling good later. We want both. And that’s what makes albums that grab you immediately but also have the depth to hold up over time so special. Even though it’s early in the album’s life cycle, it sure feels like Artifex Pereo’s Passengers belongs in that category.
Passengers knows its audience and hits in all the shorthand, instantly gratifying ways that an album like this should: there are violent breakdowns, frenetic riffing and wailing vocals. But there’s also depth lurking underneath it all, with complex structures, exploratory lyrics and hidden instrumentation waiting to be discovered through repeated listening and the passage of time.
I won’t pretend that Passengers is for everyone. Admitting that genres are becoming increasingly irrelevant, let’s throw some modifiers at this: Passengers is for fans of experimental, forward-thinking prog or post-rock. But if you find any of those elements appealing, then this album is worth a listen because it sure feels like Artifex Pereo have made a record that you’ll be able to enjoy right now and for a long time to come.