Friday, January 30, 2015

Heart String Soul by Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms (Album Preview)

Ryan Allen's been singing and shredding out pure indie-pop songs for nearly ten years with bands like Friendly Foes, Destroy This Place and his solo set Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms... 

Before that, though, he was a young turk tumbling into the Detroit scene during the early 00's just as "garage-rock" branding was becoming passe and he started specializing in what Pitchfork would call "spaz-punk..." That, namely, was Thunderbirds Are Now, a rock quartet that cut the breaklines of their tempos and sped up the snarl and frazzle-fits of punk until it crashed into the guitar-splattered wall of indie-rock, essentially a more noodly-legged remedy reacting against the static-stance of new-millennial shoegaze-types like Interpol.

I can't help getting that vision of Ryan and his brother Scott and TAN from a show I foggily recall, ten years ago, on the outskirts of Michigan State's campus, the pair of them in constant motion as if their recital were a game of freeze-tag they were intent on winning. Oh, and it was loud. Lots of feedback too...

But this is Ryan Allen's all-grown-up-now record...the record he couldn't have made without all the wild, senseless, exciting, stressful, wonderful experiences of the last 15 years, many of which are lyrically recounted on the songs of Heart String Soul.

Some songs are softer, minimalist vocal-pop settlers for the contemplative evenings while others are aerobic blare-outs for showcasing his sustained abilities for a great guitar solo. Richly resonant acoustic guitars strum and unspool under sentimental folk-pop lyrics charmed with a wry self-deprecation dropping dates and venues, offsetting events and licked wounds from lessons-learned. Other jams, meanwhile, continue the surfy tempos and jangly guitars that all but punch their hooky riffs into you under his characteristically high and hazy singing voice.

But this time, not only are those electric guitar "freakouts" displaying a more focused aggression in their crescendos, his lyrics are some of the most manifestly autobiographical & heart-on-the-sleeve I've heard in a while... Ryan sings both to the defiant youths who are now coming up behind him as well as appealing to his reflective nostalgics who remember music magazines and cassette tapes, a meditation on how those exciting and hot-headed days are long gone that seeks to emboss the self-actualizing work it hath wrought upon him, now that he's on the "wrong side of" 30 with a life and a family... The lyrics, sung straight from the heart and seeming plucked from his happiest emotions to his most nerve-wracking anxieties, come straight from the heart...(all puns intended, re: album title).

There's honesty here that was lacking in his past songs; whereas he might've penned lyrics with a cryptic wink encoded with scenster slang in the past, he's looking the listener straight in the eye now, telling him in plain English his thoughts and revelations, still cadenced, of course, to a buoyantly catchy melody and belted out with breathless passion.

Perhaps the much-younger Ryan would roll his eyes and consider some of these songs overly sentimental... But that doesn't seem to matter to present-day Ryan. There's a new kinda comfort and coolness here that doesn't seem to care about quips from the comment bin.

There's a song for his parents (and by extension, a song for his brother), a song for his young son and, streaming below, a song for his wife. Not only is he honest and, by extension, more confident in his words, he's also unafraid to take jabs at himself and that's achieved best by his self-referential "Should Be Me," (also streaming).

Songs (Heart String Soul)

The songs feel right, and they come straight from my heart. --Ryan Allen on Heart String Soul

Andy Reed (Verve Pipe) mixed and mastered the album on analog equipment and it will be released via Allen's own Two Brains Records. The album comes out physically (CD) and digitally on March 25.


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