Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawny Yawn

Bill Ryder-Jones returns with a tender, sobering and strikingly intimate piano re-work of his last studio record, Yawn

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 25 Jul 2019
  • Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawny Yawn
Album title: Yawny Yawn
Artist: Bill Ryder-Jones
Label: Domino
Release date: 26 Jul

Dozens of Soccer AM fans were left enraged earlier this year after Bill Ryder-Jones performed a tender, stripped-back rendition of Don’t Be Scared, I Love You live on the show. The song, taken from 2018’s Yawn, was dubbed the “most depressing shite ever” by one viewer, while another simply responded with “zzzzzzzzzzz.” These two gentle souls will no doubt be overcome with joy to learn that Ryder-Jones has recorded an entire album of hushed, melancholic re-imaginations of the songs originally compiled on Yawn.

Yawn, Ryder-Jones’ fourth studio album, was named after his concern that it would be “one big yawn… am I really doing this again? Moaning about myself again?”. His vulnerability was, in spite of his understandable hesitation, welcomed with open arms by listeners new and old, and found him blending his distinct and firmly established sound (perhaps best represented by 2015’s sublime West Kirby County Primary) with murkier, alt-rock guitars that recalled the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Red House Painters

Yawny Yawn finds Ryder-Jones parting ways with every instrument that, on Yawn, did more than simply accentuate the trauma, resignation, fondness and care colouring his vocals. For the most part, this is an incredibly rewarding endeavour, as Ryder-Jones' painful words are brought, emotively, to the forefront, though the deceptively similar pace and ambience of a few songs may frustrate those who aren't listening intently.

Stormy bursts of shoegaze guitar accompany Ryder-Jones' piano throughout the record, but on John, he performs entirely alone, and the silence in between notes is arrestingly poignant given the subject matter: absence. ‘I miss you / More than they do’, the West Kirby songwriter quietly admits. The original version of the song was undeniably beautiful, but on Yawny Yawn, John becomes one of Ryder-Jones’ finest and warmest offerings to date.

There’s Something on Your Mind gains new intensity and grandeur here, while Happy Song is stripped of all the instrumentation that previously eased the weight of a gentle yet harrowing confession: ‘Boy breaks skin / The people want another win / Before it gets too much.’ Yawn often followed pain with a cathartic outburst of distortion; relief in Yawny Yawn arrives in moments of stillness, when the guitar bows out entirely, as it does in the first chorus of lead single Don’t Be Scared, I Love You, before returning as dependably as the clouds over Ryder-Jones’ head as he sings ‘Can it really be worth it? / All the stinging and wincing.’ 

There’s a lot of comfort to be found in There Are Worse Things I Could Do. ‘There are worse things in this world / Than some make-up and some pearls / Not that I care what people say / I just don’t feel myself today’ Ryder-Jones sings. In an increasingly fast-paced world in which many have become so quick to make assessments of strangers and friends online without full context, Ryder-Jones’ call for empathy is a necessary one. 

Listen to: John, Don't Be Scared, I Love You, Happy Song