A labor of love from an artist unsure of how to navigate modern life.
All hail the age of the bedroom musician, the indie artist with an appreciation for the songwriter’s craft, and the perseverance to throw their own hat into the ring. Matthew Ryan is one such artist who has been glued to his sampler and mixing console for a few years now. A resident stable of the Nashville music scene, his new creation exemplifies the dangers and rewards of the age of the bedroom musician. Listening to his new project, I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall, it is not hard to imagine a haggard Matthew Ryan slumped over his tools late into the night, patching together various vibes and painstakingly arranging his lyrical quilt. There is no doubt that I Recall is a labor of love from an artist unsure of how to navigate modern life and fragmented relationships. It is easy to believe Ryan when he says, “Dear Lord, I’m worried...”, on “Song for a Friend”.
There are some some obvious influences exhibited throughout the musical stylings: U2, The Wallflowers, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan, to name a few. His vocal phrasing is most often reminiscent of Jacob Dylan and his father -- the track “Here Comes the Snow” borders on an outright impersonation of Bob Dylan. But Ryan’s quivering vocals are unsure and lack the growling edge that compels fans of the Dylan family.
This album does posses some strengths, but is outweighed by what it lacks.The selection and arrangement of drum loops are often a nice contribution to the ambient mood of the album. And Ryan experiments with some promising musical ideas, like the repetitive piano line in “I Don’t Want a Third World War” and the guitar lick in “All of that Means Nothing Now”. I applaud the consistent mood and aesthetic that Ryan is asking the listener to enter and experience, and it is the mood that holds this album together. A dark vulnerability that borders on self-loathing. But self loathing can get old, and that is why “Hey Kid” serves as the stand-out track, as Ryan attempts to directly connect his pain to the pain of others.
The rest of the album struggles in this regard. And while it may be hard to criticize vulnerability, he is no Elliot Smith. While we may be able to feel sorry for himself as an individual, the listener is never quite able to connect the longing in I Recall to their own experience. Matthew Ryan is a singer-songwriter, but there is just too much Matthew Ryan on this album. Too many direct, yet uninspired lyrics coupled with a sound that is too epic for the production and musical limits this album exudes.
Even though he's working in a genre that thrives on repetition, his repetition doesn't build, so it feels both lyrically and musically monotonous. This kind of music needs to develop -- either by repetition that builds dynamically or melodically. I Recall falls right in between: it is melodic, but without any hooks; it is repetitive, but the repetition doesn't bring us anywhere new.
Maybe next time Matthew Ryan should grab some new band-mates for collaboration? His previous collaborations, and more consistent vocal conviction, are what makes his last album, Dear Lover, better than this one. Matthew Ryan has done some touring since the release of Dear Lover, and maybe that accounts for the scattered quality of I Recall. I am convinced that a return to the smooth poetics found in Dear Lover, and exemplified in tracks like “Some Streets Lead Nowhere” and “We Were Snowmen”, would be welcome on his next project.
Would I give this album a spin while preparing dinner? Yes. Would I sit my dinner guests down and force them to listen to a couple of tracks? No.