Ryan Helman – That’s The Girl – Album Review
Proving that good songs are always worth promoting, always worth drawing attention to and that they can potentially live many lives post-release, we’re taking you back to the year 2010 today for a previous release from Ryan Helman of the UK…an album from roughly 5.5 years ago called That’s The Girl. Do I fault him for wanting to take these pop-tinged rock-tunes for another ride here in 2015? No! I fully agree with the move actually…I think there’s actually no time that I can recall that would NOT be a good time to promote music you’re proud of!
Do I fault him for not having one master ‘play’ button for the seventeen-songs on the album? 100%. You’re killing me here Ryan…I’m drowning in this epic first-world problem of having to repeatedly click more buttons while I’m trying to type this out at the same time!
And no joke…Ryan nearly turned me from the pale-white complexion of my no-sun/natural-light diet to a complete ghost-white of fear when he started out the album with “That’s The Girl I’m After.” It has nothing to do with skill I assure you…Ryan will demonstrate himself as extremely capable as a musician & song-writer almost immediately; but that being said…if That’s The Girl was to sound like this…well…on a personal-level I’d have to be looking for another date! With it’s big-band-esque additions to the music – even if I wanted to ignore my own instincts that told me I was listening to something that sounded like it could be the Brian Setzer Orchestra (and to RUN) – well…it becomes impossible to ignore the comparison when my wife shouted from the next room ‘oh heyyyyyyy, lucky YOU – you LOVE things that sound like the Brian Setzer Orchestra’ dripping in our familiar & comfortable sarcasm. But I can’t fault a guy for my own personal taste…he’s opened his album well with a great amount of energy and musicianship on display right in these first moments…and even though it’s not my style, genre or preference – I’d be the last to say that Ryan hasn’t done very well with this sound; it works.
Mind you…when you read through Helman’s bio, it makes no mention of the BSO as an influence – but it does mention Elvis Costello, The Beatles, other classics…and somehow Sum 41 made their way onto that list as well. Sounds and atmosphere change instantly, providing instant-relief from my fears of a BSO reincarnation on “Erica’s Garden.” With great pop-instincts filling the vibe of this gentle-rock tune, it’s like a more melodic Tom Petty…or perhaps that cross between someone like Petty and Costello. Really dig the innocent sound to the vocals & lyrics, great guitars and overall, “Erica’s Garden” is a sweet melody that’s pretty damn hard not to fall in love with. It has that mid-90’s sound that bands like Soul Asylum and The LA’s managed to capture so well and translate the sweetness into the rock without anything sounding forced.
With fun-filters and vocal-effects lightening up the album a step further – I loved the guitar melody in this song and how well it matches the energy, sentiment and sound of the vocals. These two elements complement each other perfectly in “Federica,” which drifts perfectly from its verse to its chorus in a flawless transition through the writing that really pops-out. To think that only about maybe a year after this album is released, maybe two-years…Owl City will go on to make a huge thing out of the exact style of vocal-sound that Ryan is using so effectively on “Federica” – it’s almost surprising to only be finding this song now here on this 2010 album in 2015. Definitely enough hooks and melody to have found its way to many stereos and sets of ears out there.
“Telephone Connection” – again, I’d mentioned The LA’s…and if this beginning doesn’t remind you of “There She Goes” and the overall sound of that band throughout this song – you either didn’t know The LA’s at all/have never seen So I Married An Axe Murderer, or you’re somehow missing it. It’s a great rip through an uplifting pop/rock sound…everything from Ryan seems to have a professional’s touch and real grip on control…nothing’s too wild and everything sits in a very comfortable space & sound for Helman that plays to his strengths in song-writing. He doesn’t overdo anything…he keeps the songs short and the hooks concise, delivered pro-style and with a vibe that leaves you wanting more.
“You Must Be Crazy” is a lot more like an update rock-twister from The Beatles side of life. While it certainly has an updated sound – at its core are melodies that feel quite comfortable and familiar…and while it’s up-tempo jive-rock is a little less appealing to my own ears personally – again, you can’t ever seem to put the fault on Helman himself who manages to deliver time & again with quality. I just prefer sounds like I’ve found from him on “Erica’s Garden,” “Federica” and “Anna’s Been Letting You Down” a little more; main reason being there is a lot more focus on the melodic-side of Helman’s nature rather than the rock. He does both very well and definitely manages to keep the entertainment-value up on both these sides of his musical-persona…but it’s the more melodically-edged material like on “Anna’s Been Letting You Down” that seem to resonate more with me personally. Sounding sweet & sincere…I dig what Ryan’s come up with on this song – it’s exceptionally blissful in sound and the guitar-work in general, whether on “You Must Be Crazy” or “Anna’s Been Letting You Down” or any others really…continues to be outstanding.
With a very impressive beginning to “Another Heartbeat” the drums pick-up in a darker beginning that breaks way to the true-wildness of pop/rock as this song builds. Allowing the accent to come-out into the vocal sound just a little more than the rest – the result is a little more a charming sound to their overall tone and delivery…”Another Heartbeat” is a lot of fun for its short-length of less than two-minutes & thirty-seconds. Layering vocals from the front to the back, it builds upon itself with frantic-pop instincts and delivers a solid-punch in the middle of this record. “Blame It On The Aliens” was a tougher one; while many of the rhythms, melodies and grooves of Ryan have that comfortable & familiar feel to them…the only real innovation here in this particular track is through the lyrics themselves. Musically…it’s played perfectly once again…but I felt like this was the kind of song that Helman could play in his sleep – it brings the rock-standard chords right out front & center and sounds a little easy for him by comparison to what else he’s recorded throughout That’s The Girl.
“Desert Of Lies” attempts to right the ship and send the album back on course. A gently punked-out track…it feels both laid-back and aggressive at the same time. Good progressions and movement to the song…a few rougher-edges on Helman’s vocals in this one than in others, particular in the chorus, but overall another solid tune that provides more diversity within the scope of this record’s sound. I almost want to say it’s a little out of place within the line-up between the two preceding songs and the following track, “Fun” but it does manage to break-up the overall sound and keep the ears attentive at the same time…so it’s a toss-up on that decision I suppose. BUT…”Fun” sure as hell IS. A great melody once again fully-realized by Helman…solid vocals that absolutely bring the best out of his ability and onto the record…great harmonies and overall-vibe on “Fun.” After listening to That’s The Girl…I’d have to conclude that our friend Ryan here must know a thing or three about fun – you can hear him having that very feeling multiple-times upon this record.
“Fun” also fits & flows perfectly into “Gem And Candice Dot Com,” which actually reminds me quite a bit of the Canadian pop/punk act known as The Killjoys, for those that remember that brilliant band. With his signature flash of brilliant guitar-sounds roaming and soaring throughout this fast-paced melody – the sweetness-infused-rock of Ryan Helman finds a highlight-worthy moment on “Gem And Candice Dot Com” with its gripping, electrified-performance and bright-sound sparkling on every second.
Again referring back to the listed influences and comparisons to other bands & artists listed on Ryan’s social-media & website – I’d have to say the best reflection of all of that impact rolled into one is on “Let The Girl Dance.” A great mixture of sounds and styles…there’s truly a little something in this particular song for everyone…though whether or not it will be your favourite overall, that’s another question. I think “Let The Girl Dance” has some really solid moments and grooves…but overall there was something about this one that felt a little less involved or like Helman himself was a little less connected to this one. But cut the guy some slack – he’s made a truly entertaining record and at seventeen-tracks long, it’s hard for some to not stand-out boldly in comparison to the rest. I almost felt similarly towards “Lisa Is A Headbanger” but I have to admit that this latter-tune really turned me around quickly within my first listen to it. With a hypnotic chorus that is delivered with perfect attitude, energy & tone from Helman…again, it’d be a hard sound not to digest – this is music that wants to worm its way right into your brain and have you singing its hooks while you make breakfast, lunch & dinner throughout the following weeks to come.
I liked the complexity in the opening structure of “One Day At A Time” and how it managed to retain the magic in the music and style of Helman, but once again offers a sound that slightly varies from the overall vibes of That’s The Girl without drifting so far that it would feel out of place. “One Day At A Time” also reminded me of another similar Canadian band, The Doughboys; they were also right in the mid-90’s and had a great pop/punk edge on their brand of alternative rock. They also wrote some really sincere melodies on their albums…and “One Day At A Time” reminds me of that band at their very best…or at least, the songs that I loved on those records. Much of this sounds like it was based about twenty-years ago, or upon the sounds Ryan connected with himself growing up…but I’d have to say, it’s certainly a welcome sound here at sleepingbagstudios.
“Red Bus” is a great example of Ryan’s ability to turn something older into something new. Many of the riffs and tones might sound familiar to you, but the way that he twists and turns the melody of “Red Bus” will head in many directions you wouldn’t expect. Overall, I actually think that despite some similarities in sounds – this track actually might hint more at the artist finding their sound than many of the others on this record. I think he’s really found something that works well here for him…reminds me a lot of The Fountains Of Wayne on this one, which was certainly another band to borrow from the classic-sounds of rock and update them with, smart, melodic & alternative rhythms and ideas. I think “Red Bus” would qualify for the unsung hero of this album…I can hear that it might not be one that immediately would grab everyone – but I do think that what he’s done here on this track employs a method and delivery that leads to longevity.
That quality and standard still manages to rise-up another level if you ask me – “Taken Away The View” is a fantastic melody and a real highlight of the lyricism upon this record. If you listen closely to the unbelievably-wonderful chorus of this song…you’ll hear one of the most genius switches in lyrics you might ever have your ears stumble across. It’s seriously brilliant…without dropping a beat, changing up the sound or revealing anything at all other than a slight break in the phrasing that reveals there are actually completely different lyrics through what sounds like they’re repeating…hats off to you on this one Ryan…that’s wickedly-brilliant…as a wordsmith of sorts myself, I absolutely love hearing built-in cleverness like this. Just so happens that “Taken Away The View” also has some of my favourite music to accompany the brilliant lyrics and vocals…definitely a highlight on That’s The Girl as far as my ears were concerned! A song like this really communicates the sincerity of Ryan’s music…he’s not overtly trying to impress; that’s just something that happens naturally as we experience him in the moment, doing what he loves most…and ya gotta love that.
“Pressure Life” takes the energy back up once more to end the album off with a solid-impact on you. Almost like a sped-up version of something The Police would write in today’s day & age…there’s a great bounce to the bass in this song, drums to match and the signature harmonies and effect-laden smoothness from the vocals we’ve come to love and expect from Ryan on That’s The Girl. Complete with a final standout guitar-solo and the most pronounced breakdown/bring-back on the record as it plays “Pressure Life” like its truly the finale…this last-cut really caps off a wonderful experience with Ryan Helman’s music. There’s a ton of crossover appeal in his rhythms & grooves, and his music is approached with a lot of fun, a lot of heart, a lot of passion…all leading to a captivating set of charming pop/rock tunes that find innovative ways to re-invent the familiar to make it sound new and keep you listening closely throughout.
Find out more from his official page at: http://ryanhelman.com/
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