Top Tracks: (You) On My Arm, I Just Don’t Think That You Like Me Anymore and We’ll Never Have Sex
Leith Ross’ short and quaint discography has been occupying a comfortable space in our radio station’s studio for some time now. Just last week, “(You) On My Arm” sat sandwiched between “Running My Luck” by Lawn and Momma’s “Speeding 72” on my own radio show for a summery and sprightly trifecta.
This week, Leith Ross’ latest album To Learn sits in my hands, still as water, waiting for me to obscure my own reflection in its puddle and plunge into twelve new tracks. Reluctantly, I do it. Reluctantly, I press play. Reluctantly– and unbeknownst to me– I allow myself to be unstitched at the seams with every strike of a chord.
Reluctantly, I listen.
My hesitation does not stem from lack of expectation, but rather fear. To Learn doesn’t exist in the shallow depths of singles and online previews where we can allow a singular song to unearth purposefully discarded feelings from the dirt and place them back in their resting place until the next listen. Instead, To Learn overtly confronts what we lost, what we tried to lose, what we fear losing. Yet, it begins with something guaranteed, a given.
It begins with “5am”.
The perfect introduction to the day serves similarly as the perfect introduction to the album, sounding soft and familiar yet new. It eases from second to second, lulling you in and out of the sleep you’d undoubtedly be in at that hour. It feels almost childlike, evoking that secure feeling of being carried from the car to your room by your parents after a dinner party as a kid, but the innocence lasts only as long as our own youth did as “5am” quickly departs to the following (and my second favorite) track, “I Just Don’t Think That You Like Me Anymore”.
Whether whispered to a sleeping lover or typed in an empty text bubble, it’s a line we’ve all thought once, what we all might think now reading this or listening to Leith. “I Just Don’t Think That You Like Me Anymore” toys with the conflict of wanting to be liked and accepting that you aren’t– maybe never were, or that’s what you’ll convince yourself at least.
The lyricism Ross has made themself known for expertly crafts the story on this track, evoking Leonard Cohen’s famous Chelsea Hotel No. 2 lyric: “That’s all I don’t think of you that often” with their own: “You stopped calling first, not that I’m keeping track”.
It’s the first glimpse of a dismissal of devotion that functions as a throughline which connects each song. From “To Me” to “Interlude” to “Orlando”, the idea of unwavering commitment and equally unwavering indifference remains in lines like “If I’d do anything for you that means you know you could do anything to me” and “What was the day you ceased to think of me that way?”.
It’s “We’ll Never Have Sex” that provides the first sight of hopeful optimism as far as relationships are concerned. It’s “We’ll Never Have Sex” which makes me shy away from my reflection against the untouched pool of water in my hands that this album once was. Most importantly, and most touchingly, “We’ll Never Have Sex” is a wish. Its placement before “Guts” feels the furthest from accidental, simultaneously proving that the wish for delicacy is rarely ever granted and signifying a fundamental shift in the album.
What begins as blinding rage on “Guts” transforms into grief on “Ask First” as Ross describes the treacherous travels through the ruins of a friendship.
It begins a ripple effect (a drop in the water which still rests in my hands) through the tail end of the album with “Everything Ends” concocting Nietzsche-esque comfort in the embrace of nothing and “To Learn” suggesting the shedding of innocence for growth— be it painful or not.
Collectively, To Learn sounds like a voicemail from the ex you always wish would call; reads like the “what ifs” you scrawled on your journal and kicked under your bed for secrecy; but more than anything, it serves as a masterclass in the delicate translation from intimate thoughts to confessional lyrics: a feat only Leith Ross could surmount.