Music

Bill Ryder-Jones Brings You into a Late-night Conversation with 'Yawn'

Photo: Ki Price / Courtesy of Domino Records

Bill Ryder-Jones creates a dynamic sonic landscape for a personal invitation and dialogue just on the precipice of sleep with his latest album, Yawn.

Yawn
Bill Ryder-Jones

Domino

2 November 2018

Sonically, Bill Ryder-Jones's Yawn sounds like a quiet storm rolling in. Not the sound of thunder or destruction, but of constant, pounding rain. It's an unrelenting quality, rooted in softness, acoustic guitars, and extended orchestral arrangements. Yawn is a series of tracks lamenting loss and seeking recovery, and deals with deep themes of family, closeness, and death.

Indeed, Ryder-Jones' fourth solo album presents a distant and atmospheric resonance that builds a sense of community around personal lyrics and outspoken musical motifs offered by subdued guitar solos. With Yawn, you are listening to Ryder-Jones in the room and simultaneously drifting outside this environment, which is crafted by sharp songwriting and tight arrangements.

Ryder-Jones' career in the last decade is best understood as experimentation and pursuing music at ease. From the conceptual and orchestral If…, written as a soundtrack to Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, to the folksy and personal A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart, and the heavier West Kirby County Primary, Ryder-Jones has dedicated his solo output toward music that both pleases listeners and represents his personal motivations. The closeness rings across the performances, and Ryder-Jones excels at bringing his audience into the room with him to explore the musical landscape. Yawn is a late-night conversation held over a recording and performance, the lyrics offering landscapes and the music composing the dialogue.

Opener "There's Something on Your Mind" directly introduces overarching structure and thematic links for Yawn. The song opens the album with strong instrumentation, and then Ryder-Jones' lyrics complement an inviting arrangement by pleading for what the song title conveys. Admitting no response and shrugging off a realization of the plea, a fuzzy guitar coupled with deft electric riffs carries the mood to conclusion.

"Time Will Be the Only Saviour" continues this dual approach, with a mid-song guitar solo acting opposite a closing verse and refrain before the guitar takes off toward a two-minute conclusion with the phrase, "What do you remember?", acting as a drowsy, repeated question, before the arrangement slows down and the music drifts away. Ryder-Jones confronts abandonment and loss in "Recover", thematically following the first two tracks.

Ellipse by David Zydd (CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay)

The first single from the album, "Mither", was written about his mother, a fitting tribute ,given his past use of her home as a recording studio. Here's a song about the love shown and affection continued from parent-to-child, and it additionally features odes to growing up in Merseyside: "Is Right". It's a long track and its structure continues Ryder-Jones' approach across the album, emotional lyrics about heartbreak and the familial nature of Yawn. A lengthy instrumental overture fits in the middle of the track nicely and demonstrates his musical proficiency.

The strength of Ryder-Jones' writing on this album is the closeness he generates with each track and the seamlessness created as the album plays out. Each song offers unique instrumental breaks and focuses, often with the guitar and orchestral taking turns, and bass and drums providing a solid backdrop for the sonic shifts and explorations. "And Then There's You" plays out with this dynamic, an extended guitar solo breaks the verses and then accompanies the repeated verses before the song begins to fade out -- and then ends abruptly.

The next song, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", carries the musical momentum before shifting dramatically into a quiet refrain and Ryder-Jones opens with soft and thoughtful lyrics. The song shifts to build up to the guitar riffs and emphasize the bass, overshadowing the vocals. These patterns are not jolting but work to tell a musical story and build upon the emotional motifs of his lyrics.

Later tracks highlight stylistic elements about the album, too. There's a definite grungy take presented by the fuzzy guitar and ambient backgrounds created across Yawn. The musical overture that dominates the second half of "Mither" plays with the style prominently, while "John" echoes a Velvet Underground-style directed at a reversal of the "Dear John" letter. The final two tracks on Yawn, "No One Is Trying to Kill You" and "Happy Song" complete the personal and familial touch of the album. If the album provides a late-night conversation, these tracks provide the relief just prior to falling into the drowsiness performed on Yawn.

The songs on Yawn excel at a connection between musician, music, and listener. Each song carries the effect of sitting with Ryder-Jones and hearing the dialogue created. He struggles some to disconnect the album title, Yawn, with a drowsy or bored effect. He doesn't sound too bored, but the slip into boredom by the listener may be too easy. Still, the music is strong and confident, but never precisely wakes up to the effects of a late-night conversation. And upon conclusion, the drowsy effects wear off.

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