(Behind Glass Records, 2016)
Now’s the time where pretty much everything could be better for everyone. Look, I’m not going to get too into it, but it’s pretty cruddy out there. We got a lot of anger and aggression for some reason, a lot of bitterness, a lot of angst. I’m tensing up as I write this even, just thinking about all the nonsense going on in the world. Blood pressure’s up, breathing’s short. What’s the solution? Who’s got the antidote, who’s going to help us recenter, regroup, and revitalize? Anybody?
Fortunately, out of the hallowed halls of Cleveland, Ohio, a savior comes – or, uh, maybe just somebody with a good record that’s gonna lend a hand in a time of crisis. (Yeah, that’s better.) Enter Matthew Ryals, electronic artist extraordinaire, master of Logic Pro, and eternal optimist. His debut album, We Could Make the Ride Better for Everyone, released on his own Behind Glass Records label, is a warm embrace of synthesizers and lo-fi electronica, landing somewhere between old Caribou (read: Manitoba) records and the soft IDM of Boards of Canada. I’d suggest the album cover is very Markus Popp–esque, but that might bring Oval into the mix, and I’m not hearing a lot of Oval. (I’m not ruling out an Oval influence, though – I wouldn’t not be influenced by Oval if I were making electronic music.) At any rate, the geometric layout and colorful, almost prismatic design gives the cover a modern artistic yet strangely inviting look.
But before you start making up your mind about this record by looking at it, I’m going to spoil the surprise and tell you that the music is just like the cover: modern, artistic, strangely (and wildly) inviting. So, uh, yeah, go ahead and judge it by its visual appearance – this is one time the practice actually works. We Could Make the Ride Better for Everyone is the antidote I mentioned above, the cure for what ails ya in the midst of this present and stupid summer. Every melody is handcrafted for maximum wonderment and nostalgia, a feel-good song cycle that embraces the sadness and points us toward a better future. (So what if I just watched Inside Out – I don’t feel bad about referencing it.) Ryals somehow channels in wordless sonics (except for “Long Term Casual,” of course, which has vocals reminiscent of Dan Snaith’s) the exact feeling of reconciliation and, indeed, healing needed to, you guessed it, Make the Ride Better for Everyone.
I’m not going to mess around with you – this record is filled chockablock with earworms. Even the more ambient passages – “Observing the Systems We Design for Each Other” and “Existing Not Thinking” – ping around your head and stuck in your subconscious, surfacing at opportune moments. And pretty much every moment is an opportune one for Ryals, who does not let up for one second on the idea that this whole record is made for the express purpose of social improvement. Even though he doesn’t use a single analog instrument on We Could Make the Ride, the digital landscape he frolics in is just as organic and accessible as one created by physical instruments. It’s a record you can put in your pocket, so to speak (although don’t you dare sleep on the limited vinyl), and whip out whenever you need to cheer somebody up. I’ve just listened to this thing like three times in a row right now, and I’m smiling from ear to ear. Maybe it’s not so bad out there after all – maybe all I have to do is remove myself from all the negative feedback loops and plug myself into a positive one. That’s the answer – that’s the antidote. See? My breathing’s more normal already.