“But there’s a fortune to be had” said Bill Ryder Jones on the opening track of Yawn “From telling people you’re sad.” But Bill won’t be ordering gold taps for his bathroom on your tear-ducts anytime soon, simply because there’s nothing mawkish or insincere going on in here. Yawn is an album that looks for understanding —down the back of life’s sofa. Comfort is always close at hand, searched for: the album lives and breathes it —but there’s something stopping you from grasping it, as if comfort itself has become an imprint of a fond moment shared upon that very sofa. These are everyday stories about situations we all fall from and into, out of, and back up against the wall again—and they are sung to us, up close, by a voice still in hock to a few uncomfortable truths.
“I had a go at writing ‘Get Lucky’ and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out” was the droll sentence that made me spit coffee on my kecks 10 minutes after meeting Bill in West Kirby. And gallows’ humour is never far away from forming a sentence or two in his mouth; a parental coping mechanism and a prism with which he views those inevitable shit-happens moments. The song in question was the album’s closer ‘Happy Song’ and between it and the opening note is his purest work to date. It all hangs together. It is An Album in the age of playlists. A buckle-up and knuckle-down listen that rewards the listeners’ attention with motifs and melodies that play hide and seek but never fail to deliver on those between-the-lines verities. This musical belief of delayed gratification is something Bill learnt from classical music as a child, from Elgar and Debussy in particular –and over the long hall of his short life, you can hear these riches being polished on Yawn. Most of the 10 songs clock-in over the 5 minute mark and this wide-angle lens affords us time to interpret and translate meaning –or just to revel in it. It’ll go the distance with a loyal audience that already holds him dear.
“I’m twice as much theirs because I’m relatively unknown” said Bill. Like a good secret, I thought to myself, that’s how they see him. “I’d probably make Domino a fortune if I died tomorrow.” Note to reader: the penultimate track is called ‘No One’s Trying To Kill You’
Sonically the album picks up from where ‘Satellites’ left off from West Kirby County Primary. It is expansive and robust, musical qualities that imbue lyrics with the confidence to be fragile. It is indebted to a curiosity about the historical usage of sound waves to manipulate and ameliorate, as much as it is to the San Jose garage where Duster formed their first album. There are landscapes here too, but this is a body of work less about rugged coastlines and more about what grows inside if we leave it to brew. “I didn’t want to write another song about the sea” he proclaimed just before we took a walk to the shore to look at his beloved over-the-water Welsh hills. The arrangement and sonics on ‘Don’t be Scared, I Love You’ grow thunderous and lend to the song the tension of being told those very words by someone experiencing the same storm, under the same sky, in need of the same comfort. And this is true of much of Bill’s song-writing; there’s little concrete reassurance –but look up from the listen and he’s there, putting down the guitar and handing you a shovel to make a start on new foundations once the shitstorm has passed.
These taut, brooding, powerful sonics perhaps find their most poignant lyrical foil on one of the album’s stand out tracks ‘And Then There’s You’. It is as emotionally accountable song as I can recall, a flick-book of failed hopes underpinned with a guitar riff that goes for the gut and succeeds, only to end-up coiled around your ears for hours and hours after. It features his stock-in-trade wordplay: “My mistrust, my mistress, takes me home again, my mistress, my mistrust, we’re alone again.” Such is the song’s majesty, it’s very probably the only one written since 1989 that would improve upon the Stone Roses debut.
It is as a multi-instrumentalist musician, as opposed to a songwriter, that Bill exclusively identifies. Well, a musician and Betty Rizzo from Grease. After an intro that musically hints at what’s to come by shaking-the-fuck-out-the-crockery, it is Rizzo’s fabled lines that open another album high point ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. It is tender, raucous, confused and sublime: guilty, not guilty at all. Delivered, like the entire album, without the slightest touch of reverb. And there is a glorious friction that arrives when he pronounces what he writes with such stoic elegance, a vocal style that feels like he’s delivering you a raw truth. You can’t help be feel up-close to him, until the next line arrives and you realise the need to tell was the need to extricate himself from the situation, to move on from the moment. Move along, dear listener; stop looking at me over my garden fence.
Sitting on life’s sofa, sifting through thoughts is a process that will eventually involve family: ‘John’ and ‘Mither’ do just that. As a song ‘John’ is a subversion of a Dear John letter, a paean to someone you still want around, a measure of fondness holding true over time because of a willingness to compromise. Musically, it begins metallic and tough, a train pulling out from its sidings before revealing views of passing lives and bucolic green fields. A cello (one of the only instruments Bill didn’t play on the album) lends pathos to ‘Mither’ —one of the greatest words to walk the North of England. Or so it seems. It’s a song about his mother, who he talks about in a timbre warm as milky tea, worrying about her guinea pigs instead of Bill (for once.) The same song also features the words of someone in Bill’s musical lineage, Mick Head, and features the expression few who live by the river Mersey leave home without: Is Right.
And so to ‘Recover’ Bill’s favourite song on the album, the story of unwilling neglect and self-preservation, simply told with an acoustic guitar strummed by an arm full of scars. Grief tourism is big business in troubled times, but Bill doesn’t want it to be West Kirby’s biggest export. I’ve a strong feeling that this album will be just that.
A. W. Wilde, August 2018