Review Summary: A debut that impressively crowns the sound of well executed folk-R&B.
There’s no doubt now that crossover genres are quickly becoming established genres in themselves, as we get further and further into the decade. Deafheaven are already three records into their death-metal post-rock expose, while bands like Turnover and Title Fight are blending their punk roots with shoe-gaze elaborations. Still, some would find it difficult to throw away genre distinctions even in an age of genre-saturation and a still
-innovative Radiohead. Nor will it provide an end for heated arguments about any band’s ‘default’ genre, considering the idea of genre being a starting point for a way an artist might want to market themselves. However, genres can never be approached as pure, rigid barriers anymore, even with staple genres such as folk and R&B. It’s in this context RY X enters, the latest in a line of broad-rimmed hatted folk singers dabbling with R&B’s reverbed expanses.
is a calculated debut – it’s a glossy, well-produced project that doesn’t break a sweat in establishing a striking sound. Trading in the pop-balladry and his last name for an ‘X,’ Cuming deliberately narrows the borders between high-fidelity production and loosely strung folk songs. While composer Ry Cuming has no qualms about stylistically borrowing from songwriters of the same ilk, most of the songs here do follow a similar pattern, cascading in with an emphatic gusto for soft crooning over decorative percussion and sprawling ambient arrangements. It makes for a fairly even listen; songs are strung together by minimal acoustic passages and return often to the delicate falsetto that is perhaps most distinct of Cuming’s sound.
Lyrics hold particular weight within this record, considering the sparsely distributed sonic background and the foreground casting of Ry Cuming’s voice. Its success is in its particular attention to bringing poetry to a musical setting, with just enough transparency (“I was only falling in love”) for audiences to take solace in. Lyrically, Cuming plays companion to the record’s obvious cinematic reachings:
Under the shadow
Chemical Ashes Fall
Lips to my Veins.
Elsewhere he ponies up deliberate reflections on love and it’s idiosyncratic trappings. “Haste” paints a charming version of romantic frustration, Cuming pleading, "take it all if you feed me now / but you’re asking me to wait?” “Beacon” idyllically reiterates the bodily urgency for pleasure - “hold onto your wine / beacon of a god divine / leads in your thighs / bleeds into my hearts design.” While “Deliverance” continues the theme with anecdotal insistence - “we didn’t have before what might have got us stung / tonight we roll, we lock, we lunge.”
It’s easy to forget the records folk origins – these songs are after all built upon fickle strums and plucked acoustics. However the production on these tracks is considerable arresting. Reverb isn’t an easy thing to master, from a sonic point of view – too little of it and it sounds empty, too much of it and it sounds messy. Here it’s balanced beautifully - there are snare and tom reflections, Cuming’s voice has considerable ‘verbed tails and there appear orchestral drones that do nothing but amplify the stereo field dramatically. Impressively, none of these take up more space than they need to, while adding up to a substantially filled out sound. In essence, it’s a gorgeous representation of where 2016’s sonic possibilities lie. Case in point is the incredible closer, "Lean," which comes close to overshadowing the entirety of the rest of the record. Here, Cuming doesn’t use his voice to break into a climatic crescendo; no, the music already does that for him, its drum fills and scorched guitar flashes building a gorgeous rift of sound. Cuming doesn’t need to add much to the mix than mutter “to come back,” atop oscillating choral arrangements and that bring to mind Foal’s Spanish Sahara. It’s a fitting conclusion to a consistent sound.
’s bare-threaded approach might not be an aesthetic for fans of more busy sounding genres. Cuming’s voice maybe perhaps a little too fragile, or the simple, steady kick groove might not be enough for listeners to sink their teeth into. However, Dawn
’s successful marriage of folk and R&B does deserve some sort of recognition, however much one could want to simply ascribe it to alt-radio stations and/or tumblr demographics.