'Round the Dial: Late night music
Wednesday 29 November @ 13:44:37
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I think we’re going to have to forget about the radio and just go back to word of mouth.” – Joe Strummer
SONG OF THE WEEK: “5-22-’02” – Golden Smog
I’m gonna just keep on truckin’ with the reviews this week, gang—lots more to go before the official end of Review-Land ‘06, and only a few short weeks ‘til I lay out my annual Best-Of Picks. Sounds like I best dive in headfirst this time out ...
From A Late Night High Rise
From the very first song (“Guilty”) on the very first Matthew Ryan album (Mayday) I ever heard right up to the last note that rings out on his latest, From A Late Night High Rise, I’ve been convinced that this guy has one ear to some untouchable, yet universal emanation of mystical sadness that most of us either can’t (or refuse to) hear.
Thing is, most people who can find the harsh beauty of true sadness—and express it to others so keenly—usually don’t stick around on this plane of existence long enough to even begin to explain the how, why and wherefore of it all. In other words, ya don’t see Nick Drake or Sylvia Plath doing the late-night TV talk show circuit.
Ryan’s music (and the vibes therein, and the lyrics that accompany them) reaches places most people are actually afraid to go—his gorgeous, intelligent, spot-on takes on loneliness, tragedy, pain and the human condition in general are so poignant and visceral it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone with even a shredded, blackened splinter of a heart left not FEELING it.
That being said, there’s also a reason why a lot of people don’t know who the hell Nick Drake is, and probably wouldn’t read much more than a few lines written by Sylvia Plath without shuddering in abject horror and throwing the tome aside. One of the biggest differences between artists like those and Ryan is that, even at his lowest and most cynical, he never feels sorry for himself; he always throws at least a tiny grain of hope into the mix, and you’d just never imagine, no matter how bad things got, this guy offing himself. Like most people, he may have thought of it from time to time, but Matthew’s heaviest burden is also his saving grace.
On From A Late Night High Rise, he makes this point clearer than he ever has before, and here it really sinks in. Ryan’s gift/curse is the ability to musically and lyrically channel the emotions you and I and most of the rest of this planet fight to hide away and deny—he’s like an inner AM radio that plays only his songs, but they’re all songs you feel you already know and like, and they might be (probably are) about you. His saving grace, of course, is that he has the ability to pass on those frightening, all-encompassing brushes with melancholy without letting them consume him.
Kicking off with “Follow The Leader,” FALNHR immediately finds Ryan in excellent voice (a voice that is so unique and MEANT to sing the songs it does. I’m honestly amazed and get goose-flesh every time I hear it—when Mayday first came out, my young son asked me, “Daddy, what’s that guy got stuck in his throat?” referring to Ryan’s gritty, smoky delivery—and I could only reply, “His heart, little buddy. I think it’s his heart.”) and backed by a positively smoking band.
THAT’S how powerful this guy’s voice is—this song is a perfect opener and sets the pace for the dozen excellent additions to his catalog that make up this release. An eerie, chuffing background is augmented by heartbreak-beat keyboards and a dire warning for a possible lover-to-be: “It’s follow the leader baby / That’s how it’s gonna be / If you ever really wanna get lost / Then follow me ...”
The press kit describes this effort as somewhat of a concept album, and I guess that might be true in a sense, but it’s no over-blown, selfish slice of mediocrity—on the contrary, this collection does about as good a job running through an intimate personal musical journal as any I’ve heard in a while with none of the pomp and circumstance.
“And Never Look Back” jumps in with almost cheesy, ’80s-style keys, then morphs immediately from a kiss-off into a search for True Love/happiness you instinctively know won’t work. He’ll still feel this way tomorrow, and so will you. But maybe by writing it down (or listening to it), you/he/I can make it through one more today without letting yesterday or an endless stream of same-y tomorrows bring it all crashing down: “Now I’ll say goodbye to all that ... and never look back,” he lies with an almost palpable sigh.
“Babybird” is almost upbeat (for Ryan), and touches on such various subjects as lost youth, the (terrible) state of the world today, and personal responsibility: “Baby, baby please / Get up off your knees / This ain’t the time or place to grieve ... I’m declaring war on arrogance / It’s always been the worst sin, the fall of man / Just look at Rome, just look at the Old South, it’s the oppressed that show you ...”
Frankly, there’s not a bad track on this album, but other highlights include the bruised, sharp cry of “All Lit Up,” the almost furious (for Ryan, anyway) rock blast of “Love Is The Silencer,” and, of course, the album’s crowning moment, “The Complete Family.”
Ryan’s brother was recently imprisoned for 30 years (you can read the complete story on his website, matthewryanonline.com), and he recently lost a lifelong friend. “The Complete Family” is a song about that experience, but is also as timeless, classic and soul-touching as Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” or Drake’s “Which Will” or anything Elliot Smith ever wrote.
The pain, desperation, and near-hopelessness Ryan touches throughout his catalog—as well as that tiny grain of hope, despite all the odds and the bad luck and the shit—is perfectly encapsulated on this track. Ryan doesn’t excuse his brother’s crime, or wallow in self-pity at the state of his life, he just shakes his head, lights a smoke and tells the story like a guy in a bar or a late-night cabbie.
The music starts—it’s like a melancholy indie film soundtrack—then Ryan simply speaks, and basically recalls not only a lost innocence and the death of a thousand dreams, but leaves even himself hanging, not sure where this tale will end: “We walked down the block through the dead trees,” he recalls, “... you were smiling, and I was smiling too / From the time we were little you were always taller, thinner ... I loved music and so did you / But you loved those loud guitars, venom ... while I lived in the sadness ...”
His recollections are so clear, so full of loss and sorrow, you almost feel like you’re in the room with him. “Your best friend’s name was Ray / He’s in jail now / A few weeks ago, you were sentenced as well .... I sat, thinking, thirty years—it’s been thirty years / And you’re gonna be in there for thirty years ...” A must-hear, have-to-own epic of an album that should be required listening for every songwriter—and music lover—in the world. Street date is Dec. 5, keep an eye on the webpage for tour dates close to you.
We Couldn’t Think Of A Title!
Rock Ridge Music
Huh. Huh. Hey, Beavis—I couldn’t think of a review! Ya know, I really, really wanted to just leave this review at that—like shooting fish in a barrel, ya might say. But the honest truth is, though I’m many, many decades past the point where I find penis jokes amusing (yes, there’s a track on here called “Scrotal Torment”), apart from the fact that their band name is horrible, the artwork is atrocious, and the subject matter is, mostly, sub-juvenile, these guys’ actual sound isn’t much different from the “hits” making it on hard rock radio these days. Think Shinedown, Fuel or Seether, and you’re on the right track. I guess somebody somewhere likes this stuff, ‘cause I get endless requests for this kind of music at my weekly pub DJ gig. My best advice to these cats would be to lose the high school humor schtick, tour like motherfuckers, and THINK OF A FUCKING TITLE for your next album. Check it out for yourself at rockridgemusic.com.
OK boogie chillun—I best head out an’ feed the huskies ... stay warm and I’ll see you on the other side. Until we meet again—make your own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/CDs/events you’d like to see mentioned in this here space, or you’d just like to ding a ling a ling my dang a long ling long, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||