I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall
Over his past few releases, singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan has been experimenting with setting his intimate songs with folk-tronic arrangements and the spare music accompaniment works well with Ryan’s raw lyrics. While I Recall retains his earlier records’ moody, melancholic vibe, his songs here feel a bit more observational than the highly personal offerings on his last disc, Dear Lover.
Ryan’s elliptical lyrics, suggesting grabbed snippets of conversations done in bedrooms, bar rooms, parking lots and city streets, reveal characters who often seem to be searching for connections. In his opening song, “The Sea,” he sings “I took the stage/to talk to you/but you weren’t there” and in “Song For A Friend” he reminisces about a faded friendship while he now wades “in the flood of loneliness.” Several songs also address troubled relationships – “My Darker Side,” “I Still Believe In You,” and “All Of That Means Nothing Now” (which creates an evocative scene of a disintegrating couple outside of a supermarket), although he offers a bit of hopefulness (at least in Ryan’s world) in “Summer In The South,” where he admits that “I wanna to know what it’s like to live with you.” The moving “I Don’t Want A Third World War,” moreover, could be seen as a relationship tune but it’s more a political plea; a plea made more explicit in “I Want Peace.”
There is a hypnotic effect to Ryan’s combination of hushed vocals, understated electronic beats and repeated lyrics that amplifies the songs’ haunted qualities. However, this approach also lends itself to creating a certain sameness to the songs, with the programmed drum beats linking one muted tune to the next. One reason the “Harmonium Song” stands out is that the stripped-down track features just Ryan playing a harmonium. It also contains truly heartbreaking lyrics – spoken by a man about his now-dead brother – which makes a strong impact on the listeners. Another memorable tune, “Here Comes The Snow,” projects a warm, organic tone that somewhat recalls Dylan’s “Vision of Johanna.”
The tensions that he builds in the music simmer a little too long without enough release points. While an engaging synth line percolates through “Hey Kid” and an electric guitar punctuates the romantic ruins of “All Of That Means Nothing Now,” it is only on the closing track, “All Hail The Kings of Trash,” that Ryan raises his voice above a whisper and generates some energy accompanying himself on guitar.
While Ryan’s bedroom laptop-folk music can get claustrophobic, his fractured tales of troubled souls hold a dark allure.