Sunday, July 19, 2009


You knew it had to be coming. I held out as long as I could. Run for the hills if you must.

Since three years ago, I have a new favorite CD, and it's never far from my car or house radio. Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State (MRVSS). This one's gold. If you haven't heard Matthew Ryan, as one reviewer comes close to nailing his rasped voice and incredible music, "Think: Leonard Cohen meets The Clash, Bruce Springsteen meets Nick Drake." For this one, I'm just going to jot down the song titles, a lyric or two from each one, and then perhaps make a note about the song. So, without further ado:

1) Dulce Et Decorum Est

I think

I am

heroic in a failing way

for some of us it goes that way

The title of this song comes from a famous WWI poem by Wilfred Owen. The translated Latin is, for the song's purposes, "it's sweet, it's right". I think I might blog on Owen's poem one day soon.

2) American Dirt

Honey, I swear it's not my fault,

they shut us down, the big door was locked,

the bigger the dream, the bigger the trap,

the bigger the black and disappointment...


I've been spitting out American dirt, all that money can buy, all that money can buy


I wish I done something with my life,

Something safe and sort of useless...

When I analyze the autos, toys, the Wiis, every new technology that comes along, the furniture... how lavish I live compared to the rest of the world, I get what Matthew Ryan is talking about here.

3) Meet Me by the River

But I recall watching you walk down the aisle,

and I recall the way flower girls made your mother smile.

We used to smile

4) It Could've Been Worse

Your love in a car, you promised her everything

not knowing what everything really was.

She's the first girl you kissed, she's the first girl you miss,

when you're feeling like this

broke and in the dark.

Her blonde hair was a setting sun;

her mascara was born to run.

You got scared when she started to show,

one more thing you'd have to let go.


...but i'll never believe, that you jumped and just ended there,

the note you left read "look everywhere", "you'll never bury me"

This song follows a tragic young life to it's tragic end. It's an awesome song. I'd say it's a high point on the CD, except I'd be saying that about so many of these tunes, it would just be pointless.

5) Hold on Firefly

The rotten apple of her eye, talks junk on weekends,

at a dump called the Firefly, he's laughing with his friends


Sugar gets bitter, she knows to watch her tongue

that bastard never hit her in front of anyone.

Hold on to me, hold on to me,

you're going to feel better, you're just afraid to leave.

The characters in a lot of Ryan's songs are similar this girl, tragic figures. Here, this one's caught in an abusive relationship that she doesn't know how to end.

6) Jane, I Still Feel the Same

You wore my shirt beside the ocean, your eyes were serious the air was blue,

and I've relived that simple notion when you're young does it make it any less true?

'Cause, Jane i still feel the same.

You were a good thing, you were a good thing, in a world gone wrong.

7) Killing the Ghost

Sleeping like a machine gun,

your bedroom was no fun.

Falling down hard on my head was shooting black stars,

never knew who you were now I know what you are.

I will carve from you my life

I couldn't care less, it feels all right.

I'm cutting it close, I'm cutting it close, I'm cutting it close,

I'm killing the ghost.

Unrepentant and hard-edged, if you've been in a bad relationship for a long time, this is just about the perfect break-up, separation, divorce song. The repetitive and driving lyric "I will carve you from my life, couldn't care less, feels alright. I'm cutting it close, cutting it close, cutting it close, killing the ghost" leaves one wondering whether he's getting it done or not, but there's no doubt what the sentiment is.

8) They Were Wrong

Here's the saddest song you never heard,

these Catholic kids get what they deserve.

We were in the front row at the sad last goodbye,

you were so pissed off you were trembling inside.

Why would you ever live to wish and wait by the front door,

that your daddy never answered and your momma won't any more?

They were wrong, they were wrong, they were wrong, they were wrong,

the day is never too long, when it's gone it's gone.

They were wrong.

My God, they're still wrong.

I haven't totally figured this song out yet, but if I guess, it sounds like a girl at a Catholic school for girls met up with a boy from a parochial school, one thing led to another, and she got prego. Her friends abandoned her as did her parents.

9) I Only Want to be the Man You Want

I only want to be the man you want,

the ring that you twist, the song you hum.

I only want to be the man you want.

Don't say it, don't say it, your thoughts are loud your worry heard.

You'll wave goodbye beside the things you think will get you by,

when you should land my hummingbird.

Maybe you should land my hummingbird.

Beautiful song that fills the mind with pictures.

10) Drunk and Disappointed

He parked his Lincoln underneath the trees,

about a quarter to nine, he walked inside the Applebee's.

And nothing was moving not even the sky,

Johnny wanted a lot of things, but Johnny didn't want to die.

How did you get so drunk and disappointed?

Ain't nothing here to pull you through.

How did you get so drunk and disappointed?

The worst you'd fear is coming true, it's coming true. It's coming true.

Another song about a character who has hit rock bottom, but he doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want to kill himself, but he's not sure how to live either.

11) Closing In

You put your hand in mine as the plane took off,

you said, "You don't know how lucky you are." Now I know I was.

Maybe I'll go for a walk, maybe I'll go to hell.

Maybe it's just that we're the only ones that save us from ourselves.

Step by step now, day by day, from where you been,

the hits come on still, one by one, maybe we'll never win,

but we're closing in, we're closing in, we're closing in.

Just a perfect closing song for a CD like this one - tinged with a little hope after the mess of life that's gone before with a little forgiveness and the feel of redemption mixed in.


I suppose that if your music is all shiny, happy people or pick-up trucks or Marvin Gaye, you may want to steer clear of Matthew Ryan. However, if you enjoy thoughtful, intelligent, rock music with some pop sensibility, you might want to give MRVSS a try. In my car and home, I have quite a few CDs, and many that I love and listen to a lot. None, though, have come close to being played like Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State.

Trust me on this one. ;)


DugALug said...

I might have to check this one out.

BTW, IMHO REM is pretty thoughtful (though most liberal) music... So it Marvin Gaye. You might want to listen to some of their lyrics closer. Not that I agree with much of what they say doesn't mean that they haven't thought about them.

God Bless

Anonymous said...


You know my feelings on MRVSS. Staggeringly good. It's great on the first listen and it's also a total grower (as the Pitchfork-reading indie kids and the music critics like to say). Great, great stuff.

How do you pick a high point? Dulce Et Decorum is a great opener - it goes on forever and ever (it's kind of a long song) and keeps getting better - hitting it's pinnacle as MR attempts his feeble falsetto toward the end.

It Could Have Been Worse is MR at his beatdown poetic best. Really evocative lyrically, and the song has a low-key killer hook, to boot.

Hold On, Firefly is a personal favorite and, I think, a song Paul Westerberg would have been proud to have written in the '80's (and this is high praise, considering my adoration of the Replacements - one of the 3 greatest bands of the '80's).

Jane is a perfect little song.

Killing the Ghost, to me, is just one of those songs. It's tough and defiant and angry. (I think this is a song with two stories - the first verse is 4 guys getting revenge on a bully; the second verse details a romantic kiss off.) "Unrepentant and hard-edged" is a perfect description. So, hat's off, Rich. I love this song.

And it just doesn't get any better than They Were Wrong. Whatever the backstory is (and one of the fun things about the way Ryan is writing a lot lately is that he provides a great framework for a short story and we get to fill in the blanks with people we know or characters we imagine), the song is a knockout. If I had to pick on indispensible track from MRVSS, it would probably be this one.

And Closing In is the best album-closing track of Ryan's career.

One of the best albums of the decade, I think. Doug - If you take the plunge, you won't regret it. Check it out.

Oh, and Rich, a silly project I've been torturing myself with in my spare time this week is trying to determine the 10 best songs (or my 10 favorite, anyway) of '00's. A blog post on this subject might be enough to make Ken's head explode?

Rich said...

Oh, and Rich, a silly project I've been torturing myself with in my spare time this week is trying to determine the 10 best songs (or my 10 favorite, anyway) of '00's. A blog post on this subject might be enough to make Ken's head explode?

I think I can speak for the entire Realm when I say, "We'd all love to see Ken's head explode." I'm thinking of that movie Scanners with Ken being the guy sitting up there. Just joking, Ken!

Write a list with your commentary and send it to OR YOU could just e-mail it to me, and I'll post it as yours.

Anonymous said...

BTW, Rich, I threw out a 'Mats reference earlier with respect to Hold On, Firefly. I think that's fair enough.

But I think you'll agree with me that "Livin' on Jupiter / Couldn't feel stupider" from Jane, I Still Feel the Same is a straight-up Westerberg rip. It's a great line in a really good song, but it should have been in a Replacements song.

semcdonald said...

I listened to MRVSS for the first time in a while on a long drive down to NYC to see Matthew Ryan perform. I was again, amazed at how good an album it is. Both song-by-song, and as a whole, it is really powerful, beautiful, masterful; both big and small at the same time. If he was more of a fan of touring I think he could have toured behind this for a long, long time, and increased people's exposure and appreciation of it. It really is superb, and deserves way more attention than it has garnered so far.

Rich said...

I listened to MRVSS for the first time in a while on a long drive down to NYC to see Matthew Ryan perform.

If you got to see him, that makes one of us. Was that the July 23rd show at The Living Room? Whether it was or not, how was the show? I think he lives just outside of Nashville, TN, which is only a couple of hours from Huntsville. He probably makes some surprise appearances there, but I'm not in-the-know enough to know when those would be. I think he's supposed to announce a tour coming up, but I haven't heard.

Both song-by-song, and as a whole, it is really powerful, beautiful, masterful; both big and small at the same time.

Totally agree on both fronts. That's a good way to put it.

It really is superb, and deserves way more attention than it has garnered so far.

Absolutely. I hate it that so many of the artists I appreciate receive the critical acclaim but lack the exposure for whatever reason. Maybe thru XM radio, Pandora or some of the music sites, he can grow a larger audience.

One day, I'd like to walk up to someone I work with, go to church with, or play basketball with and say, "I was listening to Matthew Ryan earlier..." and they'd have some inkling of what the heck I was talking about. They'll know U2, Pink, any American Idol contestant, or Kenny Chesney, but if I mention Matthew Ryan, I receive the dog watching television stare.

Hey! Thanks for coming to the blog and commenting. Much appreciated!

semcdonald said...

It was the 7/23 show at The Living Room, and it was great. I was somewhat determined to see Matthew Ryan perform, as I really enjoy his music, but had never seen him live. He was even better than I thought he would be, and worth the long drive. See him if you can--with a new album coming out I imagine he will be touring.

The way we are exposed to new music these days is so random. You're kind of on your own, and there is just so much talent out there. It's wonderful to come across people you really appreciate, and I'm thankful I "discovered" Matthew Ryan. I guess my wish for him would be that he achieve whatever level of success is most meaningful for him, and my wish for us is that we get to keep appreciating his stuff.

Thanks for the discussion! I agree with many of the comments above me. There is nothing on MRVSS I skip or don't like, and that's rare. I also was lucky enough to hear two new songs when I saw him perform, and those made me feel very optimistic about his new record. Very beautiful in simple acoustic form and I look forward to hearing them in a fuller arrangement.

Rich said...

You've got me pumped about the new record, but any Matthew Ryan that comes out now immediately goes to the top of my list. Thanks for the comments on his show!

I guess my wish for him would be that he achieve whatever level of success is most meaningful for him, and my wish for us is that we get to keep appreciating his stuff.

Excellent sentiment. I'm sure it's implied, but the only caveat I'd add is that he can make it all work financially and family-wise, when and if he has/gets one. He's been pretty prolific, so whatever life/music formula he's using has worked thus far. But I think that kind of stuff is important to both your wishes, at least as far as career longevity goes.

I was reading awhile back about one of The Derailers co-founders, Tony Villanueva, and how the touring grind had made him miss so much of his children's lives. His leaving that band at the height of their popularity also had to do with some other stuff -- his drinking, his faith, etc. -- but each individual musician has to find their own balance there, and that just seems like such a hard thing to do... at least from my POV. And then, also, some of my favorite musicians that are now without labels seem to be making their art in poverty, and that has an effect, too. Hopefully, Matthew Ryan gets exactly what you said - success on his terms which will in turn take care of your second wish.
Just as far as my own discovering of Matthew Ryan, I really just lucked out. My brother (who was the Anonymous second comment on this post - and he's always more up on music than I am) had me listen to Mayday in my church parking lot after we played in a basketball game about a dozen years ago. I'm not sure if he found him from No Depression magazine or how, but hearing Guilty, Watch Your Step, Irrelevant, The Dead Girl... the songs were so immediate and fantastic, I went out an found the CD within two days. After East Autumn Grin came out, I knew I had found someone I was gonna love as a musician, and Matthew Ryan hasn't let me down yet.

And yeah! I should be thanking you for the discussion. Besides my brother, I think you're probably the first person with whom I've had a discussion about Matthew Ryan - and not for a lack of trying. So many thanks!