I was a little late in the game when it comes to Matthew Ryan. My first exposure to his music was last year's "Dear Lover" (Released digitally in 2009 but on CD in February of 2010), and it went on to become one of my Top Five of 2010. That has left me with a lot of catching up to do with his back catalog, but I am happy to put that on the back burner as Ryan has returned with a new album that cements his place as one of the finest songwriters working today.
"I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall" is a departure from the exploration of intimate personal relationships explored on "Dear Lover", and also a departure musically from that album. Many songs here boast electronic beats and flourishes and there are a lot less acoustic based tracks, but the extra waves of production do not take away from the brilliance of Ryan's lyrics or his message. After an album about various stages of relationships, Ryan is taking on the shitstorm that all of us, no matter where we live these days, is dealing with. Wars, social unrest, political gridlock and a political system in America that no longer works, natural disasters, financial disasters and on and on. As he writes on his blog, "we're all living it. And no matter how hard you wanna tune out, it just keeps coming in waves of cold static."
So with this album, Ryan says "I wrote an album in defense of our humanity amid the modern conflict and its constant blizzardly assault." His ultimate message? "Tomorrow will be exactly what we allow it to be." In spite of all the wrong that is going on, it is an empowering and ultimately hopeful call out to all of us.
Ryan's cool rasp is part of the charm of his music. I almost think his music wouldn't have the same emotional power without it. A song like opener "The Sea" with its relaxed beat and melody gains beauty from Ryan's raspy delivery. "Hey Kid" is a call, perhaps to the younger generation, to not give up in light of all that is wrong. "All Of That Means Nothing Now" is one of the heavier tracks on the album, with searing guitar work.
As much as Ryan features electronic beats and more fleshed out tracks on this album, the more stripped down moments still carry the same wallop they did on "Dear Lover". The sparse, acoustic "I Don't Want A Third World War" rips at your heart as Ryan sadly sings 'our darkness is catching up with us' before asking, "Look a child in the eye and say what were you hoping for? You shouldn't expect too much'. It's an indictment of how we are failing not just ourselves, but our future. It's hard to do this type of material and not come across heavy handed, but Ryan has the gift to avoid that. At this point, I doubt there is a topic he can't tackle in a mature, intelligent fashion.
Also stunning is the performance on "I Still Believe In You", featuring Olly Knights of Turin Brakes. Musically the song is little more than a soft, lone drum beat, atmospheric keyboards and a somber piano that comes in at times, but the delicate vocal work delivers another message of hope and belief. There is little to interpret as far as the message to "I Want Peace" but Ryan envelopes it in anger, with a combo of heavy drums and foreboding keyboard. Album closer "All Hail The Kings of Trash" is a straight up rocker that Ryan snarls through from start to finish, with the title becoming a chant I'd love to hear a crowd bellow in unison someday at a show.
Although the majority of the album deals with larger issues, Ryan leaves a reminder of his prowess when it comes to songs about personal relationships with the remarkable "Song For A Friend". Lamenting an old friendship that has drifted apart and how quickly the years pass, he sings 'Oh my friend, I'm worried. Time's a shark, and in a hurry.' The song closes with the heartbreaking 'On nights like this, I drink my share of whiskey/And wade in the flood of loneliness that was so foreign when you were with me.' This is another of Ryan's spare arrangements, primarily piano with some strings added near the end and it's lovely.
If you are like I was, and are new to the music of Matthew Ryan, that needs to change. He tackles some heady subject matter on "I Recall Standing..." and it is an album that is needed in these times. It's music that moves, inspires, questions and calls you to act and, just like "Dear Lover", is essential.
"I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall" was released as a download June 22,2011. It will be released on CD August 23, 2011 on the Dear Future Collective label.