I have to tell you right now that I love this guy. It may not be a universal quality, but there’s certainly something in me that can’t (and will never want to) resist music that’s unflinchingly earnest as Matthew Ryan’s. Here’s a guy who makes every longing and addiction beautiful and does it in the simplest way. There’s little in his decade long career that hints at much experimentation–through and through Ryan has been a roots rocker with a little bit of swagger, a good dose of recklessness, and a whole lot of passion and longing.
Silver State, by comparison, is sedate and tired. Its songs are written in the third person, with Ryan singing awkwardly-stated, distanced songs about figures from his past set to music that’s too aware of its own quiet competence. Ryan howled, “Cause most things are meaningless/The more you get to know them/Daddy your love’s the only gun I trust” on East Autumn Grin’s “Me and My Lover,” but here (on “It Could’ve Been Worse” ) he settles for “Where you come from/You learn to disappear/To cover up your fear/With punk rock and stuff.” Nothing on Silver State is quite B-side material, but most of the songs here don’t carry the shine of his past work or the enthusiasm for doing something new so evident on last year’s pop/rock opus From a Late Night High Rise.
There are some improvements to the Ryan formula here: the good songs are aided by clear, clean production, and a heightened emphasis on what each band member has to offer elevates songs like “Dulce Et Decorum Est” (which showcases both the violin and the mandolin) and the almost haunting, bouncy Band of Horses-esque number “Killing the Ghost.” But ultimately there’s little here to argue that, unlike East Autumn Grin or High Rise, Silver State is anything more than just another decent album for the prolific Ryan.
An extended sense of staleness that stalls the album mid-way through only helps to show that, while Ryan is far from off his game here, he’s essentially put out a set of songs that he could have almost nearly written and recorded in his sleep. “They Were Wrong” (which gets the characteristic Irish flavoring Ryan’s been known to give his protest songs) is little more than vague complaints against anything (take your pick— the government, a lack of social justice, etc.) It’s more accomplished musically than Regret Over the Wires‘ “I Hope Your God Has Mercy on Mine” but is, at this point in the game, far more irrelevant. “I Only Want To Be the Man You Want,” one of two hushed love songs, is all stock performance— it’s stripped and somber, but not even the beautiful, romantic quality of lines like “maybe you should land, my hummingbird” can save the song from the fact that Ryan’s written far better, lasting love songs before. The other on this album, “Jane I Still Feel the Same,” is admittedly lovely, with Ryan stretching out the word of his lover (in this case, Jane) into blissful nothingness.
Silver State is a decent album that deserves more attention than it’ll get. It just proves that Ryan isn’t after the flashy, exciting experimentation that earns independent musicians a lot of attention these days (and, sooner or later, a nasty backlash.) Which means that this record, as well as the rest of Ryan’s back catalog may ultimately hold up better against time than a lot of overly-lauded music that’s constantly being released. One thing’s for sure though, and it’s that Matthew Ryan will continue making good music and I, for one, will continue to pay attention.
Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.
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