Ryan James Brewer: Tender (Amphion) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 27th, 2021  

Ryan James Brewer



Sep 23, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The dramatically transitional nature of this newborn decade, coupled with that of the reality that numerous genres and subgenres of popular music have inevitably, and quite literally, exhausted themselves over the past decade or so has left some listeners wondering exactly what may lie ahead in terms of a “post-pandemic” sound. Apparently, such development has already begun and we have heard its stirrings on recent releases such as Lorde’s Solar Power, which, understandably, caught unsuspecting listeners off guard.

Accordingly, the striking genre-mash heralded by newcomer Ryan James Brewer on his debut album Tender may be more indicative of where we are headed than where we have been. Brewer offers the same eclectically-textured post-pop intricacy as the aforementioned Solar Power, experimenting with various genre influences in concocting an intriguing brand of indie songwriting. For a record of only 10 tracks, five of which are instrumentals, there is a world’s worth of heavy contemplation and introspection present, allowing Tender to successfully transcend genre conventions.

Opening track and lead single “End of a Life” finds the Nashville-by-way-of-Australia singer/songwriter wasting no time in addressing headier topics, discussing here the nature of depression and the suicidal ideations resulting from such a struggle. For Brewer, it is a personal topic, revealed by a short essay he penned regarding the track’s inspirations (he was particularly moved by Sparklehorse’s late, great Mark Linkous) and motivations (to break down archaic social barriers and hold a frank, no bullshit dialogue on the subjects at hand).

Brewer’s intentions are elucidated through his juxtaposition of a delirious breakup narrative and a splendidly sunny melody, saturated in funky synth notes with an ice-melting indie pop base. The narrative, providing the telling line, “Even though she doesn’t know who I am anymore/I hold onto her,” is relatable, realistic, and eloquent in its vulnerability. Brewer possesses the voice for such an outing, crisp and amiable, while maintaining a certain command, eschewing the gaudy sentimentality of the prototypical “sensitive singer/songwriter.”

The dusky mystique of “One Another” continues Brewer’s emotional journey, setting itself up, one might think, for potential radio rotation. Standout track “Just Don’t Let Me Go” is a sleekly accessible follow up to its predecessor, although carrying far more weight, and an indication to the listener that Brewer must be, at least to some extent, a Beatles fan. Here, he drops some of the album’s finest lines, such as, “The severed centuries don’t drift us away/Every day/How sweet the fear feels to me now.” This confession proves that beneath its glistening exterior, Tender remains host to a blossoming abundance of deeper thoughts.

Elsewhere, “The Ministry of Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Algorithm” suggests that Brewer may be on the right side of things in his satirical critique of social media and its undeniably mind-warping influence. Cleverly, he proves himself a well-deserving up-and-comer, his songwriting process quite obviously organic, his vision articulated by a sort of emotive intelligence, and his delivery elegantly inspired.

“Limits of the Heart,” the album’s final non-instrumental, is a powerful culmination of Tender’s central themes. Delivered in a shimmering wash of synth-driven ’80s dance pop and New Wave glee, the track also highlights Brewer’s own unique sense of indie coolness and stylish melancholia. Given that Brewer had cited Tears for Fears as a primary influence, “Limits of the Heart” feels entirely natural for him. What places him alongside contemporaries such as singer/songwriter Yola is his ability to mold the best of the previous generations’ sounds into a solid, honest homage, managing to exist independent of any era.

The album’s five instrumentals, essentially serving as interludes between each song, puts the “avant” in avant pop. Perhaps just as personal to Brewer, titles such as “The One With the Long Hair” and “You’re Not from Around Here” indicate some degree of personal experience within these phrases. An abundance of genre influences are present on each track—jazz, art pop, dance, etc.—collectively adding an air of intrigue to the entire Tender experience.
Already a strong year in music, 2021 has seen some of the finest releases since the mid-2010s, with Tender being no exception. Ryan James Brewer is a thoughtful lyricist and skilled pop composer with much to offer, especially considering that the well-crafted Tender is his first outing. What emerges, perhaps more than anything else, is a sly sense of humor, effectively warming the album’s otherwise dour subject matter. He explores these topics as only a serious artist will, leaving the listener with much to enjoy and even more to ponder. The world of music had better watch out, as there is most certainly a new star on the rise. (www.ryanjamesbrewer.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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