Music

Matthew Ryan: From a Late Night High Rise

A very personal album from a great singer-songwriter yields surprisingly placid results.


Matthew Ryan

From a Late Night High Rise

Label: 2:59
US Release Date: 2006-12-05
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

From his early incarnations as a Springsteenesque songwriter to his string of stripped, acoustic albums to a more recent venture with Neilson Hubbard as the electronic tinged Strays Don’t Sleep, Matthew Ryan is clearly not a singer-songwriter content with a repetitive sonic template. Sure, Regret Over Wires and Strays Don’t Sleep aren’t exactly ground-breaking or even particularly inventive in their musical strivings, but the pursuit of new sounds and arrangements is admirable.

Or is it?

Throughout his varied musical efforts, Ryan’s lyrics have never suffered, and I am happy to say that they are still poignant offerings here. But what seems to be missing in his electronic tinged songs is, essentially, the grain of his voice. The frantic desperation of songs like “Watch Your Step” and “Sadly Love” is gone, as is the quieter desperation of songs like “Devastation”. In place of the desperation, we find moods.

Moods can be pathologically convicting, no doubt. On the album’s gently-soaring opening track, “Follow the Leader”, Ryan intones “let’s follow the leader baby/that’s how its gonna be/if you ever really wanna get lost/then follow me” to a repetitive piano figure and swirling electronic winds. But most of the time, however, the production serves as not a distraction (except on the trite “Everbody Always Leaves”) but as a failed alternative; that is, different for the sake of being different.

For example, “And Never Looked Back”, the album’s second track, is not improved by having a drum machine; in fact, it lessens the emotional resonance of the otherwise strong track. Same goes for the treated vocals on the album’s only all-out rocker, “Love Is a Silencer”. “Babybird”, perhaps the album’s strongest track, is classic early Ryan, with some drum machine embellishments and a shoegazer-ish droning distorted electric guitar. The song would have been more acute, more poignant, more immediate with acoustic drums. In other words, the mood play of From a Late Night High Rise softens the emotional punch.

“The Complete Family”, the album’s spoken word with cinematic musical apparatus closing track, is an incredibly personal song. Having recently suffered the death of a close friend and the sentencing of his brother to 30 years in prison, we can hear Ryan coping with these turns of events in this song (as well as in “Gone for Good” and “Victory Waltz”). But for such incredibly sad and private events, these songs are surprisingly polished, his voice restrained.

I miss the rawness.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image