Bill Ryder-Jones’ last solo album, West Kirby County Primary, was a low-key, unassuming, occasionally disturbing masterpiece. Packaged in a sleeve featuring a blurry photo of its maker in the bath, its most melodically beguiling track was Daniel, a lyrically shattering exploration of his older brother’s accidental death aged nine, and its after-effects on Ryder-Jones’ mental health. The mood of its followup is similarly brooding. The songs shuffle along languorously. The arrangements are stark: acoustic guitar, cello and obliterating clouds of distortion or a guitar-bass-drums band that sometimes sounds like Dinosaur Jr or Pavement in forlorn mood, while Ryder-Jones’ vocals are miked in a way that makes it feel like he’s singing directly into your ear, as if quietly passing on a secret.
Which is how the lyrics often feel: There’s Something on Your Mind is about a loss of sex drive resulting from taking antidepressants; another untimely death seems to have happened in the background of John; something dark is clearly powering the argument depicted on Don’t Be Scared, I Love You. But the emotional weight is balanced by Ryder-Jones’ light melodic touch. It’s not just that he writes beautiful tunes, it’s that they seem effortless, as if they’re spilling out of him on the spot, his weariness matched by mordant wit: “There’s a fortune to be had from telling people that you’re sad,” he notes at one juncture, while There Are Worse Things I Could Do takes as its starting point Rizzo’s tears-of-a-tough-girl song from Grease.
The end result is an album that you sink into, which gradually envelops you: moving, painful and elating in equal measure.
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