Matthew Ryan’s In the Dusk of Everything marks a distilled reclamation of his more primal Americana/Folk roots. With the bluntness of punk and the evocative rhythm of poetry his lyricism shines amongst these twelve deceptively simple songs of perseverance and closure via a clarity that operates in layers amid a world of struggle, beauty and sublime epiphany. The timelessly modern and spare qualities of these songs move with an earthy cinema with Ryan’s vocals front and center, while the music ebbs and flows like stark scenery in a grainy but saturated film.
In the Dusk of Everything is the final part of a trilogy that started in 2010 with Dear Lover. That album was the singer-songwriter’s exploration of some very private events that cracked him wide open and served as a catalyst to change how he viewed the world and himself. He offers, “I’ve always believed that the further in you go, the more universal things get. There are only so many plots when it comes to our stories, our struggles together and alone. I committed to write about those emotions as honestly as I could.” That journey continued with I Recall Standing as Though Nothing Could Fall which unloaded an epic and unflinching look at the world outside. And now, with In the Dusk of Everything, Ryan offers a profoundly quiet and cinematic sense of closure where listeners are invited to step into a filmic collection of vignettes that lean towards redemptive unity. “I wanted to make a modern folk record,” Ryan says, “I wanted it to feel like an autumnal film where each song waltzed into the next, where the story unfolded without any bluster other than what happens in the story. The songs were all written from different perspectives, from male to female, sometimes in the same verse. It was the only way that I felt I could really get to the root of what happens between men and women in their wrestling with mortality, the mortality of dreams, intimacy, despair and trust. Again, together and alone, there’s a responsibility we have to the future and real love with all its darkness at times. I feel a bigger story is being told through this seemingly small lens.”
Over the years Ryan has been celebrated for his poetic lyricism. But as his career has continued to progress it’s become increasingly clear that there’s a stubborn compass at play here as well. His work challenges listeners in so many ways, always cutting to the bone with a rare honesty that isn’t prone to offer easy answers. And sonically, his production choices have followed suit, it’s as if his voice and words offers the scene while the music offers the weather. But you never get the sense that these are acts of boredom, he seems to be constantly searching for something, trying to define the shape of his elusive muse. After 2000’s East Autumn Grin (A love letter to his mutual affection of The Replacements and The Waterboys), he moved into a space that might best be described as folktronica with 2003’s Regret Over the Wires and 2005’s Strays Don’t Sleep (a collaboration with Neilson Hubbard that contained the Ryan penned For Blue Skies, his closest thing to a “hit”). These records were intoxicating blends of genre with an emotionally complex interplay between slick beats, layered soundscapes and the gruff confessions of Ryan’s voice and lyrics. Later he followed with Dear Lover (a standout among his more experimental efforts) and its accompanying acoustic version where the songs were stripped down and presented in their bare form without the embellishments of big guitars, drum machines and dense atmospherics. That nakedness and vulnerability of Dear Lover (The Acoustic Version) is now revisited and improved upon with the analog 2 inch tape recording of the minimalist folk on In the Dusk of Everything. It’s a brave move to offer something so damned intimate, so direct and raw after all the noise he’s been generating. The spare keyboards in the arrangements are a perfect and moody grey like the East Berlin skies of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire and the pacing is so beautifully purposeful it feels like the aural cousin of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. Pianos, organs, strings, and other instruments make appearances throughout, but the overwhelming sense of the record is that the singer went to the studio, sat down with a guitar, and just opened a vein.
It’s almost as if too much ornamentation might overshadow the words, and it’s so important to Ryan that we hear what he’s saying. And those words have such a weight to them. Ryan can turn a clever phrase as well as anyone, but some of his most profound moments come when he’s just trying to cut through all the noise to find a distilled truth. As in “Stupid World” where he concludes:
“Some suffer a blindness … Of wild disappointment … Despite good intentions
I showed her my scars then … She showed me her bruises … You’re someone’s salvation … In a stupid world”
In many ways, In the Dusk of Everything brings Matthew Ryan to a moment of fully realized vision. He has returned to his creative origin by collaborating again with Producer David Ricketts, who was behind the board for his debut May Day. Ryan offers, “We were looking to create a very wide but honest music here. Sonically, I wanted to define a space between American Folk Music, Neil Young and say the ambient minimalism of Brian Eno and Arvo Part.” What Dusk is is a folky mood record that distills the universal story of two people seeking redemptive shelter amid the violence, beauty and uncertainty that life brings. Filmic and spare it moves with that always fascinating voice that just keeps imploring listeners to walk with him into ever stranger and more compellingly honest spaces. It’s not as brawling and bruising on In the Dusk of Everything as it was on May Day. The air on this 2012 release is more sublime, but inevitably these songs bear witness to an artist that continues to evolve, search and deliver stories that become more articulate and focused with each passing year.