TW: Discussions of sexual assault
In an overcrowded sea of albums, most of which seek to steal five minutes of virality, one can yearn for the truly transformative. Leith Ross’s debut album, To Learn, released on May 19, fulfills this quota perfectly, and if people are not careful, they just might miss its understated excellence.
Ross, like most other up-and-coming artists these days, first found fame on TikTok with their song “We’ll Never Have Sex,” but they distinguished themselves early on by proving they are worthy of the spectacle. The short, simple song, with no double meaning despite people continuously trying to cling to tragedy, chronicles feelings of total surrender to a lover without any sense of obligation, earning Ross just over 450,000 followers.
However, Ross, being a multifaceted and flawed human being, sometimes flirts with obligation as well, and “To Me” is the anthem to end all anthems for chronic people pleasers everywhere. Verses are backed by a simple guitar and then a piercing bell– replicating a Pavlov’s dog situation— cuts through the mix. The bell, a simple sigh, and the retrospective bridge reveal how strategic and intentional Ross’s craft is. This song is perfect for wallowing in self-pity but also provides light at the end of the tunnel for those who hope to live for themselves and not others.
Ross further showcases their mastery of subtle songwriting by magnifying even the most miniscule emotions in every nook and cranny of the album. “I Just Don’t Think That You Like Me That Much Anymore,” the second track, mimics the babblings of a child, creating a cognitive dissonance as the listener remembers Ross is in their mid-twenties. In particular, the lines “Watch me I learned this for you/Look at the things I can do” help to drive home Ross’s commentary on how one’s inner child emerges, and often makes one look foolish, when love is on the line. In this way, Ross reminds the listener maturity is usually the first thing to be thrown out the window when trying to win back an indifferent love interest.
Unafraid to tread dangerous, possibly triggering waters, Ross’s seventh track, “Guts,” harnesses courage to finally release their spite, anger, and eventual exhaustion towards the perpetrator of their sexual assault. Here, honesty is the name of the game. Hot off the heels of “We’ll Never Have Sex,” Ross sends the listener careening in the opposite direction, just as this injustice was committed unexpectedly. There are parts of this song so deeply personal I find myself not singing or mouthing along because it feels like this is Ross’s story to tell, not mine. Through this track, Ross creates a listening experience like no other, effectively forming a megaphone for the feelings they have been burdened with since this violation, and the listener has no choice but to empathize through five minutes of heartbreaking lyricism.
To add to their songwriting resume, Ross is also no stranger to writing songs of contentment, a topic often unexplored in modern penmanship. “To Learn,” the title and penultimate track, beautifully memorializes Ross’s mistakes, many of which are universal. They’re “learning when winning is just not worth the sport” while others try over and over to achieve the unattainable. Ross knows when to cut their losses and when to hold fast. Many artists and their work today unintentionally advocate for listeners to settle into a life of loathing, but, while marinating in feelings of resentment is necessary in the healing process, this illustration of growth kills two birds with one stone by setting To Learn apart from other Indie titles and normalizing a healthy, healed writing persona.
Along with the album, Ross released a YouTube video series depicting their friends cutting their hair. I always say hair holds memory, and it seems like Ross believes this too as they shed the weight of the feelings encompassed in their debut album, and begin a new era of life, once and for all. With guitar, Ross’s principal instrument, accompanying the entire body of work, Ross has truly created a cohesive listening experience full of intimate lessons everyone will learn eventually without compromising their unique experiences. Ross is living proof that TikTok can be a catalyst for uncovering hidden genius in a world full of noise.
I cannot wait for what they do next.
Written by: kadencemakenna