Ruston Kelly
Shape and Destroy


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
September 4th, 2020 | 19 replies


Release Date: 08/28/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Brighter days still to come.

Ruston Kelly has been through hell. It may not be obvious amid Shape & Destroy’s weightless atmosphere and sun stained acoustic chords, but that’s because his latest album is more about where he is than where he’s been. Right now, he’s recovering from years of cocaine and amphetamine abuse, including an overdose that nearly ended his life. He’s trying to heal from a painful (although amicable) split with his former wife, Kacey Musgraves, with whom he has shared music and parts of his soul. Sober and single, Ruston has been presented with a fresh canvas upon which to paint a new life. Shape & Destroy sees Kelly splashing it with the brightest of colors and most hopeful of hues.

Such optimism is evident from the opening strums. ‘In the Blue’ soars above wispy clouds as Kelly triumphantly sings “I was born to the freest wind.” It’s a “through agony, hope is born” sort of moment – he even leans extra hard into the verse “In the blood of an unholy thing / I'm still gonna sing with the angels” – in direct defiance of his checkered past. On ‘Radio Cloud’ he half-jokingly likens himself to Moses, as he’s completed an exodus of his own (from drugs and from a failing marriage, into this fresh uncertainty). Musical transcendence is a rare thing, but you can literally feel the weights being lifted on this album. It’s all so lush, airy, and pristine; a soundtrack for second chances.

Even when the clouds are tinted with shades of gray – for example, the struggle to spike or not spike his coffee on ‘Mid Morning Lament’, or the unintentionally heartbreaking references to Musgraves cooking and singing John Prine in their kitchen while they were still married – Ruston keeps his visions fixed on the promise held by tomorrow. That sounds cliché, but it’s not something taken for granted by someone who’s recently seen his life flash before his eyes. Kelly allows himself to be human here – to have these flawed moments where he relapses or recalls a painful memory from his marriage – and it’s okay, because transparency is crucial to recovery. It’s just as much about knowing your weaknesses as it is about celebrating your strengths.

The beauty of Shape & Destroy lies in Kelly’s will to change. It’s not reluctantly embraced, but pursued like a grand mystery of the universe. On the uplifting and chime-laden ‘Jubilee’, he compares himself to a flower growing towards the sun, gazing skyward for a remedy to cure his thirst. The final verse is perhaps the most illuminating, as he sings “I've looked under the stone, looked in my neighbor's home/ Walked through the hills alone, trying to find it / Maybe it's drawing near, maybe it's always been here / It's just so invisibly clear, you gotta wanna see it.” It feels like a revelation occurring in real time: the answers and cures will not simply rain down from the sky. It’s an elusive thing to find oneself, and the definition is always changing. You just have to be willing to look inward and reflect honestly on a constant basis.

Life is a constant cycle of building our lives into what we think we need, and then tearing down those structures to make room for new, and hopefully healthier, realities. It’s shape, destroy, and repeat – the album’s titular adage. Kelly is aware of this, and that’s why Shape & Destroy opts to celebrate a clean slate rather than dwell on the demons of the past, even going so far as to write, “When I go, if I see my soul sink below and down into the flames…Hallelujah anyway.” Kelly can’t help but exude the unbridled joy of a man who has already been through hell, and has been given another opportunity to live. On the penultimate ‘Under the Sun’ – one of the album’s defining moments of grit and passion – Kelly sings of letting go of the past and dreaming about the future: “If it hurts either way, what's the point in dragging it out? / Brighter days still will come.” That’s the magic of this cruel and endless cycle of pain that we’re all trapped in. Even within the depths of our own personal hells, nobody can take away our spirit, our hope…our fervent desire to climb out of the dark and into the light. One of Ruston’s parting verses from Shape & Destroy goes like this: “I know you believe you won't figure this out…But I'm here to say, ’What if you could?’" From anyone, these words may not mean much. Coming from Kelly, though – after all of his tribulations – it means the world.



s
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user ratings (51)
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
Mathias CONTRIBUTOR (5)
Dirt emo, a new life, and a reason to sing "Hallelujah Anyway"....

related reviews

Halloween


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
September 4th 2020


35892 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Finally finished this review...Not sure how much it adds to what dmathias already wrote, if anything at all, but I'm just so hooked on this album that I couldn't keep my thoughts a secret. Still falls shy of Halloween to me, but this guy is easily my new favorite singer/songwriter in the country/rock arena.

Digging: Deftones - Ohms

Atari
Staff Reviewer
September 6th 2020


26039 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m with you, Sowing! Always dig your passion

Digging: Uada - Djinn

CookieFactory79
September 6th 2020


136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

inteeresting um sometimes the voice sound strange but sometim very gud

SymbolicInTime
September 10th 2020


6556 Comments


Really enjoy the track Changes. Love the emotion in his voice.

Feather
September 14th 2020


6088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

In the Blue is absolutely gorgeous. Added this to a heavy rotation playlist. Getting lots of Jason Isbell vibes here.

Colton
September 17th 2020


3326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

who's the staff member who 1'd this lol

Digging: Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues

SowingSeason
Moderator
September 17th 2020


35892 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

acad only rates in 1's and 5's

Feather
September 17th 2020


6088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My gf pointed this out and I am a little disappointed about it:



This album really sounds like Christian Rock. Hate to admit it. It is true, but I still love it for some reason.

Romulus
September 17th 2020


8884 Comments


^ i was gonna say something to this effect. really like this dude and i'm not hating on the album at all, bc plenty of radio rock bangs, but it does sound a lot more radio rock than 'halloween' did

Colton
September 17th 2020


3326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

yeah songs like Radio Cloud are painfully generic

alamo
September 17th 2020


3220 Comments


is this R. Kelly

Digging: Lidio Mateus - Determination

WalrusTusk
September 17th 2020


194 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, I like the chill atmosphere. The generic stuff doesn't bother me as much as it must some other people because I came into it expecting that, but I still am not sure it will make my year end list.



Also, I shamelessly enjoy "Radio Cloud".

Clumseee
September 17th 2020


1625 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ruston Kelly screams Wal-Mart CD bin. And that's okay.

WalrusTusk
September 17th 2020


194 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

^Got me good with this one.

SowingSeason
Moderator
September 17th 2020


35892 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

def sounds like christian rock at times lmao

but that doesn't bother me as long as it sounds good, which this does

Clumseee
September 17th 2020


1625 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Totally. There’s a lot to like on every record of his (I think the opener here is one his very best tracks), but there are a ton of cringe moments on each too. Radio Cloud is definitely one of the very worst offenders, as mentioned above.



His signature breathy vocals are used a bit too often which doesn’t help.



Still, this slaps the shit out of typical bro-country so that’s good.

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
September 21st 2020


1449 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I really don't disagree with any of these critiques lol. It's not musically the best thing in the world or most unique, but damn it's earnests and hits me and for that reason I'll return to it more than a lot of stuff that's musically "superior". Most of my 5s are more emotionally based like that, figured if it's a "Classic" it's gonna be stuff I return to all the time. But yeah I totally get why folks wouldn't dig this.

Although "Radio Cloud" slaps and that's the truth

Digging: Bendrix Littleton - Deep Dark South

SowingSeason
Moderator
September 21st 2020


35892 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah I love Radio Cloud

Feather
September 22nd 2020


6088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is already possibly my most spun album of 2020, alongside Bright Eyes probably.



Really surprised how much I took to this. It is just so sunny and I think my music doesn't tend to bend that direction.



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