Ryan Yoker has come along way in the past few years. Several years ago, he was a brash and cocky upstart who lead the BritPop/Oasis style band Stratus. While the boy clearly had the chops, sometimes his personality got in the way (much like his heroes, the Gallagher brothers). Sometimes his words off the stage made more impact than those he was saying on-stage. And while Stratus had some good songs (“Empty Noise” might be the best Oasis song they never wrote), there was a level of maturity missing from those songs to really make Yoker and his musical voice distinct enough to shine through.
He regrouped and relocated to Toronto where he formed another BritPop inspired outfit Bombs (which he still plays with, despite having returned home to Windsor and bringing his Bombs bassist, Adam “Oz” Osborne, with him). Bombs came across as Yoker’s maturation project. Still somewhat Oasis inspired, it also drew on Kinks songwriting and touched on sounds like Starsailor, Super Furry Animals and other similar bands stereotyped in the BritPop sound (which is often just a conglomeration of similarly localized bands with differing sounds lumped together by the lazy media, similar to the “grunge movement”). Two EPs – Bombs in 2009 (which featured old favourite “Empty Noise” and the incredibly catchy sing-a-long “All and All and All”) and last year’s These Trains Run On Time (which featured the swaggering single “Windsor”, an ode to Yoker’s hometown, and the song “Patch on my Parka”, which appeared on the January 2011 Windsor Zene sampler) – were released on U.S. indie label Mint 400 records, which Bombs promoted with countless shows in the U.S. and Canada.
It’s on the same New Jersey based label that Yoker has unleashed his debut solo record, self-titled under the mysterious moniker R.Y.E. (Yoker insists the letters stand for nothing in particular, though several hilarious interpretations have been overheard by both Yoker and Oz). And it might be on this record that we’ve finally discovered the true voice of Ryan Yoker. He’s no longer that brash 20-year old trying to clone a Gallagher; he’s no longer that angry misguided troubadour trying to sound like his heroes. He’s finally become his own unique voice, complimenting his heroes rather than emulating them.
The opening track, “93”, starts off with another swagger-ific lick that could almost be a Bombs throw away, simply because it almost feels like it could be what “Sweet Emotion” would have sounded like if a British band had written it instead of an American blues rock band. It has a bounce to it that just begs to start off a set, energizing a crowd ripe with bellies full of gin and cocaine. Yoker also showcases a more experimental tone with his guitar sounds than on previous releases, sometimes pulling back more – the less is more theory.
“Chemical Spill” slows down the hallucinogen a bit with a track that sounds like it could be a collab between Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher. Melodic yet simple, it conveys a simpler tone than the previous layered rocker. It almost sounds like an atonement for his past attempts at rock and roll redemption – “it’s hard to tell when you’re under a chemical spill” – the kind of not-quite-apology-apology, but said with a devilish smirk that hints that although he’s recognized his previous short comings, he’s not about to change it all quite yet.
The military marching drums that start off “Can You Feel” lead into an almost hypnotic series of verses that swerve from almost early Pink Floydian to a sweeping epic chorus, with the delicate piano of producer Stuart Ireland dancing throughout the choruses like rain drops, accentuating the rising storm of melodic epicness that the chorus’ swarm up into.
“Back Nine (Could You Believe)?” which segways from “Can You Feel” almost feels like the little sister of the previous song. Almost a similar structure into sweeping majestic choruses, but there’s an electronic element that takes it to different clouds, and Yoker’s voice almost conveys a frailty that he hasn’t shown before. It compliments “Can You Feel”, and helps to continue the album as a storybook, rather than simply a collection of short stories.
“So Oh No Now” brings the beat back up to another stomper. It’s by no means a rocker, but it’s got a feel good stomp to it that definitely lightens the mood from the two previously huge tracks. Again, the song at first listen comes across as a simple Gallagher knock-off but further listens bring out some layering and sound experiments Oasis wouldn’t have dreamed of incorporating.
He brings it all down again for the heavy weight of “Karma Beneath Me” – a song that starts with the feel of a sleepy ballad but ends with some emotional thunder. Yoker’s voice has matured and it shows on this one. It still has that liquor and Newcastle growl in it, but he’s learned to restrain the beast when necessary.
By the time “Something Better Than Nothing” hits, it’s clear that the thing that stands out with this R.Y.E. album is that there is no clear single. There’s no one song that jumps out as the clear cut “hit” radio single. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is a song that would be considered a bona fide radio hit – it might even be that Bombs is better suited for mainstream commercial radio for that aspect. But R.Y.E. is a superior album. Each song is a well written chapter, creating a tapestry of sonic emotion, that needs to be appreciated fully by reading (or in this case listening) to the whole story.
“You Might Find” continues to show Yoker’s musical growth, incorporating the East Indian sounds of the tabla (without falling into the cliche of Kula Shaker). And while it may be the least anthemic of the songs, it’s got an undeniable groove that only picks up with each section until it’s become perhaps the albums best locked in set of rhythms.
Considering that so many of the songs have a slower feel, the album still works. “Married Without Children” – the album’s penultimate track – is a lazy backyard drift away kind of song. The kind of song that could either be a testament of love after a few joints or a lament to a tired love after a long night of drinking and the sun creeping up.
The album’s final track, “Folk Face”, resonate as Yoker’s ultimate confession. “Should I love you or leave you it’s so hard to tell/Especially when things have been going so well/But it’s hard when you’re me/And it’s hard when you’re with me”. It’s a two minute half apology, half warning that could become a sleeper B-side down the road.
This is Yoker’s strongest, most coherent and polished release to date. And it’s clearly his most personal. It’s the tale of a tortured songwriter torn between living the expected life of a rock and roller, but completely devoted to his craft of trying to write the perfect rock and roll album. And while it may not be perfect, it’s one hell of an emotional roller coaster, that shows that Yoker is indeed human, but one that refuses to let these emotions burden down his dream of singing to a sea of potentially broken hearts. Whether he’s there to fix them or is the cause of them is another story – and perhaps another album.
RYE is available nationwide on Tuesday September 13th on Mint 400 Records.