Bill Ryder-Jones isn’t exactly a huge household name, but his credentials are far more impressive than most 35-old-guitarists. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he was a founding member of Liverpool pop band The Coral, a recent touring member of Arctic Monkeys and a producer for groups like The Wytches, Our Girl and Hooton Tennis Club. His quiet, new acoustic album and fourth for Domino Records, Yawn, definitely vouches for his experience as a seasoned guitarist and a self-effacing, sneakily strong songwriter.
Yawn is consistently sagacious and low-key when you want it and heavy when you don’t. The strengths of the album lie within his warm voice, sage lyrics, expressive, haunting guitars and attention to detail. The cello on “Mither” elevates the track from something vulnerable and touching to grand and spacious while the strings on “Recover” increase the volume of his emotional outpouring.
It’s one of the least chest-beating albums you’ll hear, which is essential when making a ruminative, largely acoustic record like this. The album is sprinkled with melancholy, melodic guitar motifs and themes of mortality, nostalgia and the sour side of love, especially on “Time Will Be The Only Savior,” which addresses relationships muddied by time. If you listen to this record without reading the lyrics closely, you might think Ryder-Jones was miserable beyond the point of return, but close observers will uncover his sharp, dark wit. While this is still a perfect record for unloading pent up tears, there’s also flashes of his charm with lines like “I remember what we did and when and the smell of your breath and even all the names of your dickhead friends” and “I’m seeing faces in the trees / And the seas they only seem to spit at me.” And what musician could do a take on Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John without a bit of irony and a good-hearted chuckle (“John”)?
Ryder-Jones has a keen eye for storytelling and his hushed vocals and candid personal revelations feel like he’s whispering a secret in your ear. At times, his vocal inflection trails off at the end of a line, as if he’s out of breath or his emotions have become too much, which add intrigue and an even more impactful sadness. “There’s Something On Your Mind” is one of the strongest instrumental moments as its hovering, leisurely folk-tinged pop gradually shapeshifts into a raucous storm of bleeding guitars. “And Then There’s You” is one of his best lyrical moments and easily the best chorus (which are few and far between) with the clever poetic wordplay of “My mistrust / My mistress / Take me home again.”
Since much of this record is emotionally taxing, five or six-minute track lengths sometimes prove difficult to wallow that long. However, Ryder-Jones’ ability to dig deep and his vision for a clear-headed, heart-wrenching record frequently connects. Though the LP would benefit from some instrumental and vocal variation as his faint vocals, acoustic and electric guitar and cello feel a bit tired after 40 minutes or so. The album title alludes to its sleep-inducing quality and nine times out of 10, that soothing nature works to his advantage. He’s a humble, thoughtful character and an even more engaging guitar player—drawing dense textures and perhaps even more sulking anguish from his guitar than his confessional lyrics. Ryder-Jones is trying to put himself back together throughout the lines of Yawn, but his affecting songs, nostalgia-swathed observations and unabashed vulnerability will inadvertently help you heal too.