Matthew Ryan’s twelfth album, Dear Lover, is part prayer, part confession; a whispered recitation of the things that often go unsaid between people. This may sound dour, but Ryan has always been adept at infusing his hymns with more than enough hope to lift them above any sorrow and melancholy that may be contained therein. This – along with an uncanny gift for melody – is what makes Matthew Ryan one of the most challenging, and satisfying, songwriters alive.
Sonically, Dear Lover follows slightly more in the footsteps of Ryan’s From A Late Night High Rise than it does his previous release, Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State. Those longing for jangly guitars and easily classified “Americana” songs will have to dig awfully hard to find that here, but those who crave labels and simplification probably don’t dig Matthew Ryan to begin with. Listening to Dear Lover is an abject lesson in the strength of the song. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what these songs sound like – where there’s a mandolin here or a Hammond B3 there – they’re carried by the strength of the emotions conveyed and the manner in which Ryan portrays them. Whether Ryan is howling out for fear and freedom – or freedom from fear – (“The Wilderness”), perpetually wandering the halls of houses long abandoned (“Your Museum”), or stumbling towards the light at the end of those same halls over a twitching Trance beat (“Spark”), there is a grace to Ryan’s lyricism that penetrates the sonic cloud cover he envelopes these songs in.
Which brings me to the recording. As mentioned previously in the Ninebullets interview with Matthew Ryan, Dear Lover was recorded at Ryan’s home, almost entirely by Ryan himself (DJ Preach contributes the beat to “Spark” and assorted friends lent a hand here and there), not as some sort of budgetary maneuver or to capitalize on the immense auto-tuning aspects of ProTools, but because Ryan had always wanted to challenge himself by making an album entirely by his own hand; failure and success would be his responsibility alone this time, no fall guy, no finger to point. As such, Dear Lover has also been released by Ryan’s own label. After a shuffling between six labels, Matthew Ryan decided simply to take his career into his own hands. With no label’s schedule to adhere to, Ryan elected to release Dear Lover digitally and via mailorder October 27, with a full-scale physical release scheduled for February 16, 2010.
My hunch is Dear Lover will be an overwhelming success for Ryan, critically and otherwise. Not because every Underdog has his day (though I hope that’s true) or Matthew Ryan has some karmic cache to cash in (he likely does), but because the record is too good not to succeed. Songs this visceral, this chilling, this beautiful, shouldn’t be ignored.
So don’t ignore them.