Former Coral Guitarist and Songwriter Bill Ryder Jones has produced quietly satisfying solo records for about a decade now. And there’s little on ‘Yawn‘, his fourth and latest release, to upset that. Fans will remain fans, but few others will join the congregation.
That’s not to say that Jones’s career has been boring. His work has included scores for short films and work with Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, while each of his solo albums has tilted in a slightly different direction. According to Jones, the reason for this is simple: he’s influenced by whatever he happens to be listening to at the time. On the basis of ‘Yawn’, that’s been a lot of Shoegazey, trippy, spaced-out Indie.
Opener ‘There’s Something on Your Mind’ sets the tone, especially with its discordant freak-out ending. Jones’s muted vocal delivery often recalls The National, and he shows admirable restraint despite his extended toolbox. The Cello, for instance, makes brief appearances, never overwhelming the overall mood. Similarly, the core ‘Rock band’ present on most songs is held in check and swathed in a cloud of distortion. At its best, the effect can be intoxicating.
Jones’s lyrics also deserve commendation. He’s long been open about his mental health, and tracks like ‘Happy Song’ address it with just the right dose of wry humour. ‘There’s a fortune to be had’, he croons, ‘in telling people you’re sad’. Ain’t that the truth. Luckily, ‘Yawn’ steers between the twin rocks of indulging these impulses on the one hand, and torturing them with too much meta-commentary on the other.
At the same time, parts of this album struggle to connect. With songs like ‘Mither’ (not a typo, but directed to his mother) and a photo of Jones’s late brother on the front, it’s strange that ‘Yawn’ doesn’t spend more time exploring family. Similarly, the conscious flatness of much of the music seems counterintuitive. Yes, Jones is clearly aiming for intimacy. But when even squalls and storms of sound don’t rise above the level of a whimper, there’s something wrong.
Ultimately, it’s all too easy to come away from ‘Yawn’ wishing it had been a slightly different, more dynamic record.