On his fourth album, last year’s Yawn, multi-instrumentalist Bill Ryder-Jones crafted a sonically dynamic album with sharp songwriting and tight arrangements. My review nearly a year ago applauded the effects of Yawn in its building connections between Ryder-Jones as a musician, his music, and listening to the album. It’s an album immersive in the dialogue created through both lyrics and music. In its success, Ryder-Jones has released on a new take on Yawn with only piano and vocals version titled Yawny Yawn. The new version doesn’t sway too far from the style or mood of the first version, but its minimalist approach intensifies the intimacy and connections Yawn offered between musician, music, and listener. Yawny Yawn is additionally measurably quieter, requiring new efforts to explore and engage the unchanged lyrics and mood.
In reviewing Yawny Yawn as divergent from Yawn, the relevant distinction comes from its reveal of Ryder-Jones’s care for his performance and perfecting his songs. Yawn operated as a late-night conversation where his recording and performance created landscapes that composed the dialogue, and Yawny Yawn reveals the care and generosity Ryder-Jones imbued in his writing. He spotlights those elements by a consistency only available in a solitary, minimalist performance on piano.
The absence of instrumentation and arrangements beyond Ryder-Jones’s lyrics and piano makes Yawny Yawn noticeably different from the original versions of the album’s tracks. This is distinctive in offering a new listening experience focused on a direct and consistent style. Where Yawn offered instrumental breaks that illustrated a necessary focus on the guitar or orchestral overdubs, Yawny Yawn incorporates atmospheric overtures that both retain those elements and enhance the minimal approach created by his piano performances. Take “And Then There’s You”, a song that featured an extended guitar solo between verses and a repeated set of verses fading into an abrupt halt on Yawn. In its Yawny Yawn performance the song is quieter without that solo and its fade-out reliant upon sound effects that artificially extend the piano’s structure.
The track with a drastic change on Yawny Yawn is “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, which offered both louder momentum and quiet refrain on Yawn. Here, the song is entirely subdued and focused on Ryder-Jones vocal delivery. It builds more expressively upon the emotional motifs Ryder-Jones created and signals the overall impact available through his performances using only piano. The feeling continues through the album’s single “Don’t Be Scared, I Love You”, although the piano performance is sharper and intense on the song. Ryder-Jones isn’t banging on the keys, but you can hear the impact of his hands on the keys and his lyrics are more pronounced as a result.
Yawny Yawn maintains sensibilities lamenting loss and searching for recovery in conversation. Its cover art keeps with Ryder-Jones themes of family, death, and closeness – featuring him on a keyboard behind his aunt (and with a noticeable age difference between the child Ryder-Jones and elderly aunt). The cover picture also hints at a sense of experimentation in performing Yawn with just piano and vocals. Thematically, this aspect is referenced in the album’s title, an homage to the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile as a revisioning of Smile, albeit without the original version “available” for its follow-up to revise when released. It’s a nice pop music reference, too.
Ultimately, the background for Yawny Yawn continues Ryder-Jones’s career over the last decade as much as Yawn did. In reviewing Yawn I noted that he dedicated his solo career with music cultivated from his personal motivations. The piano and vocals only Yawny Yawn exemplify that inspiration precisely and furthers a closeness available as you listen to the album. Where you were brought into the room for Yawn, you are on the piano bench with Ryder-Jones on Yawny Yawn. It’s hard to get any closer.