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Published on December 10th, 2018 | by voxx

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Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawn

The former Coral guitarist stretches out on his fourth solo album…

It’s a strange, self-deprecating title that Bill Ryder-Jones has given this album: a dubious promise of boredom, repetition, something to be shrugged off from overfamiliarity. Yet despite its marked interest in grunge-era US rock, Yawn’s name isn’t just a bit of retro-slacker attitude. For all its loveliness – ‘Mither’, for example, is as heartbreaking as anything on Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over, while ‘Recover’ has an Elliott Smith grain to it – this is a record that understands the chasms that can suddenly open up beneath life: loss, loneliness, mental illness, relationship collapse.

There has always been darkness in Ryder-Jones’s work: his second, Smog-influenced album was called A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, while the clear bright songwriting of 2015’s West Kirby County Primary was clouded with trauma and loss.

While it’s not entirely unfair to say that without the existence of Here from Pavement’s Slanted And Enchanted (1992), or the back catalogue of Red House Painters, Yawn might just have been a tracklisting and a sleeve, novelty isn’t really the point of this music. Instead, what Ryder-Jones aims for – and achieves – is simple but valuable: beautiful, expressive songs that touch on pain without succumbing to it.

Despite its expansiveness – volatile guitars, a heavy undertow of cello, occasional meandering – Yawn is rich in detail. There are sheets for curtains on the bitter ‘Time Will Be The Only Saviour’; a reported conversational snippet from Michael Head on Mither; the words spoken at a moment of crisis recorded on ‘Don’t Be Scared, I Love You’. Ryder-Jones’s vocals here are gentle, introspective: he might give a lot away, but not everything. As a result, these songs are translucent rather than transparent. ‘John’, presented as a letter, is a devastating depiction of grief and its aftermath – “I want to say I’m still wearing your T-shirts most days” – but the central relationship remains hauntingly ambiguous. ‘There’s Something On Your Mind’ is brilliantly slanted and disenchanted, Ryder-Jones’s impeccable phrasing slipping between the gaps in the music. More playfully, but just as poignantly, ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ (“than go with a boy or two”) lifts its first two lines from its Grease namesake, before drowsily echoing Pixies and making a stand of its own: “Don’t I look good, babe, in these pearls of mine?” Such defiance is important on Yawn. As ‘No One’s Trying To Kill You’ and the slowly unravelled Malkmus of ‘Happy Song’ emphasise, the world described here is not easy or kind. Yet, for all its vulnerability – rising exhaustion, flashes of anger, lurking terrors – Yawn is a sublime show of songwriting strength. Ryder-Jones’s gifts, world-weary as they are, are showing no sign of running down or out.

- By Jake White


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