Three years have passed since Australian-born, Los Angeles-based musician Ry Cuming (RY X) offered up his exquisite debut Dawn. The widespread acclaim that followed both the Berlin EP and subsequent LP was entirely fitting. This is an artist whose brief body of work — sans a misguided, self-titled album in 2010 — seems to exist as a vessel for some sort of fragile sensuality, a feeling of fire-lit, hushed devotion. Regardless of the setting in which his chamber folk and alt-R&B is played, Cuming’s ethereal tenor is always striking. With Unfurl, RY X avoids the pitfalls of the dreaded sophomore slump, offering up a hypnotic collection of quiet, indigo-hued tracks, perfectly suited for cold, wintry nights teetering on the cusp of spring.
Those expecting an album of widescreen anthems like “Corners of the Earth”, his recent effort with dance duo ODESZA, or any of the innovative, synth-driven offerings found within his alter-ego records of the Acid and Howling, might be disappointed with this latest outing. Save for the sensual, Burial-esque “Untold”, or the pounding tail-end of “The Water”, these 13 tracks pick up where Dawn and standalone single “Bad Love” left off. It is all so well executed, that it matters little how similar this occasionally feels in mood to its predecessor.
The album begins with “Body (Ambient)”, a cut that seems lifted from the soundtrack of a Max Richter film score. Draped in strings and featuring a tender piano passage, it sets the mood for everything that follows. On third track “Bound”, RY sings, “Peel it off / Let me go / Hold our heart out / Let this feeling show” against a whispered, metronomic beat, his warm voice layered like a lush choir. It feels like what a collaboration with Faroese-Icelandic duo Kiasmos might conjure up. The mood painting continues with the haunting, percussive “Body Sun”, the swirling mantra of “Yayayaya”, the moody, melancholic “Hounds”, and stellar third single “Foreign Tides”, which brings to mind a jam session between Fleet Foxes and Sting.
Although undeniably lovely, “Coven” and “Mallorca” drift by without making much of an impression, the latter more of a gossamer sketch than a full-fledged artistic statement. “The Water” disappoints more than any of its sister tracks, mostly because it skirts the edge of its climax with frenzied, spiky synths, and then doesn’t take that musical thought and build upon it, simply choosing to fade away in the outro. It seems like a missed opportunity for something sprawling and epic, along the lines of Dawn’s ambitious track “Deliverance”.
Save for a few meandering missteps throughout its 52-minute running time Unfurl will undoubtedly prove to be a successful follow-up for RY X if his upcoming sold-out tour dates are any indication. The gorgeous singles that have preceded the album’s campaign might appear to be cut from the same cloth as his debut, but Unfurl seems infinitely more meditative, vulnerable, and dare I say, spiritual than Dawn. On the stunning, Sigur Ros-like closer “Fumbling Prayer”, Cuming’s plaintive voice soars over the reverential, pipe organ, as if it is pleading to the darkness for answers in a world full of irrational distractions. Surrounded by moments of glacial beauty, it is a powerful reminder of the old adage, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”