Never have I reviewed a mostly instrumental album, and admittedly I thought this would be a difficult task. However, growing up with much instrumental classical music being played in our house, it occurred to me that, unlike other pieces of music which can be dissected in terms of vocal style and lyrics, orchestral music of the kind found on Bill Ryder-Jones’ solo debut If … would be best explained to others by not only describing the sound, but how it makes you feel when you listen to it.
If … was composed by Englishman Ryder-Jones as a musical interpretation of Italo Calvino’s postmodernist novel ‘If on a Winters Night a Traveler’ and is put together as a film soundtrack. At only 28 years of age, this achievement alone I find impressive. Ryder-Jones had his musical beginnings in 1996 when he was lead guitarist for The Coral, until he decided to carve out a solo career for himself. He has composed musical scores for a few short films such as ‘Leave Taking’ (2009), ‘It’s Natural to Be Afraid’ (2010) and ‘Bed’ (2011). If … was no doubt influenced by an eclectic range of sources, much like those that helped produce the album; we’re talking musicians, family and friends, and the Liverpool Philharmonic who helped make Ryder-Jones’ compositions come alive.
Ryder-Jones explains his inspiration for If …:
“The book was given to me at an important part of my life and really sums up a period for me.“
“With music it’s the way a song hits you first time that’s important and how once you learn the chords, then it loses its magic. The hardest part is learning how to maintain that ambiguity in something that has to have a definite ending.” (Domino Publishing Co, 2011).
Leaning (Star of Sweden) is the first time we hear some vocals on the album. The track starts with the slow, hopeful sound of piano keys leading into a calming river of violin and eventually soft, floaty vocals. The track has a melancholy edge, without the grandness of the orchestral sound of the first two tracks If and The Reader (Malbork).
By the Church of Appolonia has a very ominous feel to it; the menacing, slow-paced drumming, haunting melody and vocal accompaniment takes you to a dark, spine-chilling place. The complete sound of this track is stunning, especially as all these elements culminate to take the composition in a more urgent direction. It’s the emotion you feel whilst listening to this track that makes it my favorite. Le Grande Desordre is missing the orchestral nature of other tracks, Ryder-Jones opting for the more simplistic folk sound of acoustic guitar and soft, somber vocals.
If … shows the amazing transformation of Bill Ryder-Jones from lead guitarist to solo composer of simply beautiful, pure music. The ambiguity of the instrumental tracks in particular allows listeners to imagine and interpret their own sentiments based on the music alone, something we cannot normally attempt when listening to music where lyrics lay an artists’ meaning bare for us to simply consume. Listening to If … in its entirety pushes and pulls you through many emotions and feelings created by its sound. If this is what Bill Ryder-Jones has to offer on his debut solo effort, I simply cannot wait to hear what he will be conjuring up next!
Listen: Listen: Bill Ryder-Jones – If… Exclusive Full Album Stream