Ryan Power :: I Don't Want to Die (NNA Tapes) LP
Ryan Power :: I Don't Want to Die (NNA Tapes) LP
NNA044: Ryan Power “I Don’t Want To Die” LP
After self-releasing four previous full-length albums, it’s finally time for the long-overdue debut vinyl offering from Burlington, VT songwriter and producer Ryan Power. “I Don’t Want To Die” is a collection of constantly shifting, well-constructed and unique pop songs, teeming with existentialism and groove. Content-wise, this is perhaps not your average pop record. Ryan’s candidly personal lyrics meditate on the fear of death, hypochondria, soul discrepancies, depression, and the lustful mind, while still remaining remarkably emotional, accessible, and catchy. His silvery vocals meld fluidly with imaginative electronic production, evoking elements of late-70′s soft pop, disco, prog and art rock, synth pop, and smooth r&b funk. Power’s talent for songwriting works perfectly in conjunction with the depth of his knowledge of music – “I Don’t Want To Die” is complex and technical, yet so charming that you only notice it almost as an afterthought, when you’re trying to wrap your head around the song that’s been bouncing around inside it all day. These songs are strange and personal, but they’re also universal. They sound sexy and lonesome, like a dying light bulb flickering on the greatest love-making session of your life. People with problems, shake your bum-bum.
Time moves slowly for Burlington, Vt., singer-songwriter Ryan Power. Anyone picking up a copy of I Don't Want to Die, his debut vinyl offering for NNA Tapes, is tumbling into his mindset from over two years ago, when this set of songs was originally released. So it's taken the world some time to catch up with Power, but he's probably okay with that. "I'm a slow burner when it comes to writing songs", he said, in an interview earlier this year. This new album finds him refining his gentle pop vision, while splashing it with touches of New Age pensiveness and moments that topple over into dissonance. In that interview, Power talks of a fondness for Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout, and it's not hard to see their influence seeping into I Don't Want to Die. Often his music is glossed over with the same kind of plastic sheen as the two most barefaced pop statements from those acts (Cupid & Psyche 85 and From Langley Park to Memphis, respectively).
But the roots of I Don't Want to Die clearly sprout from lo-fi origins, and this is a far more inward-looking work than anything Green Gartside or Paddy McAloon were striving for when they decided to max out their pop potential. Naturally, Power is working on a much smaller budget than those artists, but it's to his credit that the joints rarely show. Occasionally a drum machine might sound too tinny ("The Knowhow") or the production may feel unnecessarily strangulated ("The Way It's Always Been"), but mostly he's able to paper over those cracks. Power's biggest strengths are in his voice, which can shift from sullen to sparkling in a heartbeat without sounding remotely like a stretch for him; and the dexterous way he can manipulate song structure to suit his whims, often managing to squash jazz-funk, pop, and rock impulses into a tiny space where they all bounce off one another.
When it works, it's a delight. "Mondo Rush", the standout track here, is a finely carved slice of utopian pop, shot through with the promise of a better world somewhere around the bend. It's similar to the kind of bittersweet feeling that edges into the 1980s Brat Pack staple"Tenderness" by General Public, and the high-cheese-factor keyboard sounds Power deploys also strongly mirror that era. But he's too restless to settle on a single, definable style. After "Mondo Rush" he's channeling wistful Bill Withers moves on the title track, then heading into the muted Ariel Pink-isms of "Transition Possible" and "You Wanna Seltzer". Like Pink onBefore Today, Power is keen to explore the tension that occurs when you throw a brilliant sheen over angular rock. But when he's sticking a fork in the leg of pop ("Rag Rug") his vision starts to feel flabby, heading close to a kind of unnecessary antagonism that he successfully rinsed out of sublime tracks like album opener "Don't Care".
That disconnect in the direction in which Power takes I Don't Want to Die is where it splinters. It feels like too many whims are being indulged, too many chances are being taken just to see where they lead him. It's unlikely Power would be satisfied being a straight-down-the-line singer-songwriter, but nothing else here comes remotely close to the angelic calm corkscrewing through "Mondo Rush" and "Don't Care". The Ariel Pink comparison will most likely irk him after a while, but he's undeniably trailing in his wake here, and with umpteen Pink albums readily available, it's difficult to see what the oblique work on I Don't Want to Die offers that isn't already out there. That's a problem many musicians face when they draw inspiration from artists whose aesthetics are so fully formed: How do you immerse yourself in that other world and then escape from it into a space that's discernibly your own?
Tiny Mix Tapes:
I don’t want you to die either, dogg, not after hearing this. Vermont pop recluse Ryan Power has been stealthily releasing solo albums as CD-Rs and downloads for the past handful of years, refining an approach to synth-pop as realized by Todd Rundgren, but channeled through a strict diet of progressive rock, particularly where it met AOR in the late ‘70s. You get the sense that, musically, had Daryl Hall been afforded more opportunities to work with Robert Fripp, these are the sort of songs they might have created, but while they might have focused on Aleister Crowley, Power focuses on his own condition, over-informed and knotted with hypochondria, and he aims to tell us all about that over the course of these eight songs.
The guy’s got an excellent, clear voice and handles the reams of witty lyrics belonging to each song with deft precision. You could dance, or at least work out, to most of what’s here, even as the songs push clashing, difficult rhythms and time sigs against the familiar bed of warm tones generated by his outboard equipment, and light, supple arrangements that are kind to this approach. He performs as a student of recent musical history (as in the last 50 years) and his skill as an arranger makes the final product all the more odd and compelling in taking the listener through a tour of his issues. There have probably been at least a few songs about the fear of a condom breaking during sex, but Power’s is the most articulate, the most revealing.
I’m not sure if I’d want to spend any real time in this guy’s head, but the record he’s made here has given me a good deal to think about and celebrate.
By Doug Mosurock