“…my new record Yawn comes out today. I’m not stupid, I’m aware it’s not an enjoyable listen, it almost certainly won’t be something you stick on before you go out but I needed to make it and in all honesty this whole thing is about me after all.”
As opening gambits to promote an album go, this from Bill Ryder-Jones’s Instagram on the day of Yawn’s release is right up there. “…Whether I’ve pulled it off or not I’m not quite sure”, he continues, “but I hope you’ll understand why it was important for me to try and push myself in someway.” It takes a few listens of Yawn before some of these questions present themselves with answers. No, it is not something you’d stick on before a night out. Has he pulled it off? For the most part, yes. Is it an enjoyable listen? Yawn is many things, but it is never exactly enjoyable. It is melancholic and affecting, sentimental at times to a fault. However, that it is not enjoyable in the traditional sense is a feature of design rather than flaw: Bill has set his stall out a little further than simply ‘enjoyable’ this time around.
“There’s a fortune to be had from telling people you’re sad” promises Ryder-Jones on opener ‘There’s Something On Your Mind’, as Yawn exhibits some of its trademarks early doors; guitar tracks stacked on top of one another, a vocal low down in the mix, a shoegaze-coloured instrumental breakdown in the final minutes. The National meet My Bloody Valentine on lead single ‘Mither’, one of the sonic highpoints of the album, as Ryder-Jones namechecks another Liverpool songwriting institution, Shack’s Michael Head, in the chorus.
‘And Then There’s You’, follows along similar lines, Ryder-Jones addressing a loved one whom he implores to “tell me again what I’m worth / when everything hurts”. It’s one of many unabashedly romantic lyrics on the album, a newly earnest and straightforward approach replacing the allusions and metaphors of previous albums. ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ boasts the strongest opening flourish on Yawn, a forty-second long guitar riff as heavy as anything on the record, disappearing as quickly as it came, replaced by soft chords and a gentle vocal. Ryder-Jones certainly isn’t afraid to use the loud-quiet juxtaposition wherever possible, but songwriting and execution as strong as this more than justifies it.
There’s something unrelenting about the sonic quality of the record, a constant wash of sound as wave after wave of fuzzy electric guitar submerges Ryder-Jones’ slightly distant vocal. The effect is an ease of transition between each song, a seamlessness to the songwriting that lends Yawn a coherence and a maturity not quite possessed by previous offerings. Only on occasion does it spill over into consummate, shimmering brilliance: the ethereal and unashamedly emotional ‘Don’t Be Scared, I Love You’; the effortless grasp of melody showcased in the epistolary ‘John’; most of all, the beautifully world-weary ‘No One’s Trying To Kill You’, an understated, quietly majestic paean to mental self-reassurance.
At times Yawn feels a little too much like hard work; the lyric a little one-paced in its poignancy, the tone too close to sickliness, the boundary between sentimentality and mawkishness pushed a little further than necessary. At times the strict avoidance of anything resembling a catchy or faintly indie-rock melody can be frustrating from a man who has proved he can produce them near enough at will. But therein lies the point; Ryder-Jones knows he can write those songs, knows that he has written them. He has been playing them for people since his days in The Coral, up until 2016’s West Kirby County Primary. He’ll write them and play them again. Yawn proves that Bill Ryder-Jones has one of the rarest gifts in music, especially from white, male, northern indie songwriters – the ability to change the record. Bill was right; Yawn is not an enjoyable listen, but it is a rewarding one; a record that might not grab the attention, but more than deserves it.
Yawn is available now in physical form here, as well as on Spotify and Apple Music.