Charles Ryan Davis – Four – Album Review
The uniqueness in the music of Charles Ryan Davis is something you’ll notice right away when it comes to his new record Four. As “Cymbal + Kick” started up, you can hear all kinds of telling elements in the music & songwriting that’ll tell ya you’re in for much more than the average Pop song here. There are progressive tendencies with jazzy infusions, an acoustic vibe & melodically innovative ideas, skilled musicianship, theatrical inclinations, and inventive results that end up revealing right away in the very first tune that, Charles Ryan isn’t out there to simply do what the rest out there have already done. I loved the curious way that “Cymbal + Kick” starts…Davis sings this with a dramatic flair that suits the music very well, providing the acoustic-based background with even more of an anti-typical sound that entices you in. As he spreads out around the 1:45 mark and then storms into the bold tones & technically-proficient music in the moments to follow, you can hear the magnificent capabilities this dude has for creating songs that take you on a sincere journey. Sure there’s a verse & chorus for ya in there…but structurally, it already seems like Davis is prepared to deviate from standard songwriting in many ways…and as a result, you’ll find songs like “Cymbal + Kick,” in addition to the rest, are like their own experiences from beginning to end, while still contributing to one remarkably cohesive sound. Loved the bass-lines & vocals in the final moments…he ends up in a nearly R.E.M.-like atmosphere towards the last thirty-seconds or so of “Cymbal + Kick,” which you all know, is A-OK with me, yessir.
When I hear a song like “Y.I:Try,” I wouldn’t be the least surprised if someone told me that Charles Ryan has spent a lifetime immersed in the arts…anywhere from theater to making music. You’ll hear a dramatic & theatrical flair creep into many of the songs on the lineup of Four – and you’ll hear just how naturally that suits him. I’d go as far as to say, it’s a huge part of what pulls us in to listen to his music. Loved the bass in this tune as well…sounds like some of that good-good stand-up bass if you ask me. “Y.I:Try” ends up establishing a highly cool & enticing sound from the very get-go, retaining our attention easily through a slick & sleek design through the first minute-forty, before finding a few rambunctious moments to make sure you’re not slipping away into the vibe to be lost forever. And I mean that in the best ways of course…there’s a hypnotic rhythm & groove that you ride right along with through the smooth sounds of “Y.I:Try.” You’ll find brilliant lyricism in Davis’ music if you’re listening up close to his words too – like “Icing on the cake you’ll never eat…and still I save for you, the corner piece” – that’s a highlight example of the innovative & imaginative way this dude expresses himself in words right there is what that is. “And then some,” as he says.
“A.O.S.4:L” – dude sure has just about as much fun with the titles of his songs as he does with his music. The shortest track on Four, “A.O.S.4:L” is also one of the cuts most likely to stand-out quickly to listeners on those first sets of spins through the record. While only two-twenty in length, Charles Ryan brightens-up the sound & injects a bit more energy into the movement through “A.O.S.4:L” that amps-up the enticement, hooks, and pull towards this tune. Not much of his music is ever going to be described as typical…and there’s an inherent complexity that’s just as beautiful as it is challenging that exists on the material you’ll find throughout Four…but if you’re listening for something unique, ideas that genuinely reveal a different facet of music, or songs that could very well find their way to being included in a stage play one day…this dude’s got a whole lot for ya. Davis is really doing a lot of things that make an impact & impression…while it might not always be music you could easily sing-along with, the amount of artistic design & stunning execution, commitment, and passion you’ll find on display balances that part out. Songs like “A.O.S.4:L” show just how interesting his music, words, and vocals can be combined, but also individually as well – if you break each part of this tune down to its roots, you’ll find each element has its own redeeming & strong qualities that end up complementing what the others contribute to this track.
Lyrically, I really dig the words & imagery he’s put into “Haaaaanging On The Wall” – even though he’s counting through the verses, a method I’ve railed against just about a million times on these pages of ours. That being said, it’s because 99.9% of the artists & bands out there don’t even attempt to use numbers in their words in any kind of insightful way…which is the precise reason it works here with this Charles Ryan tune. “Haaaaanging On The Wall” utilizes his storyteller & songwriter’s gift…those numbers almost serve as chapters in the story, while telling it to us at the same time. I’m not 100% in-love with the main verses of the song vocal-melody-wise, but I absolutely dig what he’s got going on with the power he finds in the chorus of this cut. Ultimately, I think you’ll find he gets a highlight performance from himself on this song and a huge win by the end…that chorus alone shows, proves, and fully reveals he’s a force on the mic when he wants to pull that switch & kick-in to that gear. I dig his more fragile & melodic moments as well in many of these tunes too…like how he sings all of “Ballooooon” to follow, is freakin’ awesome – but as far as any one individual moment stands-out for strength & confidence, “Haaaaanging On The Wall” supplies the winner. LOVE the way he plays his guitar on this track as well…for real y’all, make sure you’re listening closely here…because what’ll appear so inviting & welcoming on the surface in its sparkling & sweet melody is actually much, much more complex than you’d expect it would be when sounding so blissfully accessible.
“Ballooooon” is freakin’ fantastic…chances are, it’s likely my favorite cut from the record overall. Charles Ryan reminds me of like…something between rad off-mainstream acts like Cool For August and Eskimo Joe with this tune. And ultimately, that’s what you’ve gotta recognize you’re in-store for with his music…something that’s a lil’ beat off the beaten path of the norm. “Ballooooon” is probably arguably a little closer to what people typically recognize in the music & songwriting they listen to…the hooks are a bit more tangible & accessible here, and the storytelling-sound of Davis’ voice is a perfect match to the whole vibe, mood, atmosphere, and tone of this song, spot-on. My ears seriously appreciate a track with as much depth as you’ll find on this track – I’m sure yours will as well…it’s like he’s got the down-note melodic & spacey-acoustic vibes of a Bowie song fused with the enchanting Pop writing of an Elton John track at times…whatever the comparison you make might be, the bottom line is you’ll find every reason to listen to “Ballooooon” and one of the real highlights of Four. Lyrically, vocally, musically – from melody to composition, performance to production, Charles Ryan sounds spectacular on this slow-burning gem from his new record…even though it’s a slow-tune, it’s completely gripping and sure to be one of the songs that listeners out there both notice immediately, and appreciate for its versatile style. The longest song on the record at just shy of four & a half minutes in length – I’d have welcomed it just as much at twice its size – “Ballooooon” is without question one of Four’s most fascinating moments.
Everything brightens-up significantly with “B:O.K.” following “Ballooooon” – almost incorporating a bit of Roy Orbison or the Righteous Brothers eventually into the melody & tones, while also putting a more playful vibe into the main hooks at the same time along the way. Which…I get it…strange comparison perhaps when you hear the edge & gruffness Davis will apply to his vocals at time…but writing-wise, melody-wise, you’ll likely hear what I’m talking about; as to whether or not the balance between the two worlds of sound fully works here…that might be more up for debate. Like all-things-Charles-Ryan, it’s sure played extremely well & tight from all angles…his attention to detail is nothing short of remarkable at all times when it comes to performance & production…but yeah, I’m honestly not sure what the reaction to a song like “B:O.K.” will be from listeners out there. I suspect a track like this is one where the people get split down the middle a lil’ with each part of this song being so defined, they’re likely bound to like a piece perhaps more than the other…whereas you’ll find the majority of the songs on Four seem to flow like one big experience from beginning to end. Loving the bass-lines here once again – I think the background vocals play an essential role as well – and there’s a great chance that the quirkiness of this quaint & charming tune’s contrast & hooks will also stick with people long after the song is finished. It might not be the first cut that’ll come to mind as your favorite, but there’s so much about this track that’ll stick with you that it could very well be the song you first recall in your memory.
“Y.I:Cry” dials it back in favor of a more stripped-down sound for its first minute, exploring thoughts, feelings, emotions, and questioning what’s got Davis in the mood he’s in. “Y.I:Cry” has a wonderful array of intricate musicianship and bold moments you’ll remember…there’s a folksiness in this song that’s as welcoming as it is entertaining & adventurous. Arguably, there’s also a lullaby-like sound to much of “Y.I:Cry” as well, which also really suits the mood as Davis laments his own feelings & does his best to explain why he’s feelin’em on this tune from Four. Noteworthy versatility & energy from the drums on this track, and in the structure overall, dividing its time between the sleepy & slow verses and the more energetic pace applied to the chorus. Transitioning with an impressive smoothness that bonds each of these two gears together tightly, “Y.I:Cry” amps itself up & draws back its intensity as it plays on, always presenting an alluring sound & noteworthy chops while it switches between sounds. Davis creates compelling & interesting music to listen to…again, it might not exactly be the sing-along type for the majority of folks out there, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be willing to stick with these songs. It’s just a different kind of value that comes with music like this…hard to define as anything other than artistically-satisfying really. As a self-defined ‘recluse’ of sorts…in listening to this record, you’d almost have to wonder if Charles Ryan Davis has turned on a radio at all in the past decade…or ever. These songs break those typical confines of convention in almost every way, replacing easy-to-digest hooks with material that has authenticity and genuine substance that’s organic and truly unique. You’re all welcome to choose what you wanna listen to of course…I’m just sayin,’ – I know what side of the fence I lean on when it comes to what I’m looking for in the music I’m listening to…my ears always appreciate something different, and Davis is definitely that.
What I really appreciate about Four…genuinely…perhaps much more than so many records I’ve heard throughout the years honestly…is the sheer amount of cohesion and identity you can hear in the music of Charles Ryan Davis. I make no illusions about it…I get that there’s a complexity that exists that’s going to make him a tougher sell to the masses, sure – but by that same token, recognize that unique identity in music leads to a completely loyal fan-base. The people that get it, the people that really dig what Davis is up to, are bound to stick with him and seek more of his diverse, emotionally-twisted, acoustic-based tunes out for years & years to come. There’s no question about whether or not he does what he does well – it’s just a matter of how open the people are to accepting an experience in music that’s unafraid to deviate from the norm in a sincere effort to reveal a different side of what music can actually BE. And if you were to ask if I could pick this guy’s music out of a lineup of thousands of other songs on a massive playlist blindfolded, my answer would be 100% YES…and the value in that identity cannot be expressed enough…artists & bands can work years & years to establish that…some never do. Ending on “Leaves + Limbs” – Davis gives you one final dose of his vibrantly adventurous melodies before Four is over, flexing the finesse in his lyricism and the uniqueness in his vocals from the lead to the background. The bass continues to stand-out as it has throughout the whole record, bringing additional bounce & an uplifting rhythm to “Leaves + Limbs” – the guitars retain their curious style & approach that supplies even more depth to the song, setting the stage for Davis to switch between energies when it comes to the verse & chorus of this final cut. Leaving us on a brilliant last dose of the uniqueness & enchanting melodies & compositions you’ll find throughout Four’s lineup, “Leaves + Limbs” puts a lil’ pep in the steps of this records ending, getting one more inspired performance from Charles Ryan onto the album and finishing it off in style with a creative tune that’ll provoke ya to push play to spin it all over again.
Find music by Charles Ryan Davis at his page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4lbfyPlAs3DMBcWeiUXZzS