If this Aussie songsmith is not yet on your radar, he really should be. Born in New South Wales, RY X (that’s Ry Cuming to his mum) cut his teeth as a surfer, before relocating to LA to pursue his musical dream. The move paid off, with a slot opening for Maroon 5 and several song placements in Hollywood movies swiftly in succession.
His singular talent soon caught the attention of Sam Smith, whose 2014 Live Lounge cover of the track ‘Berlin’ brought wider exposure to a UK audience. RY X’s last album ‘Dawn’ dented the UK Top 40, and his profile has grown enough to warrant a booking at the Royal Albert Hall this coming October.
With the release of ‘Unfurl’, his star looks only set to rise further. If visions of a bearded surfer brandishing an acoustic guitar leave your toes curling, fear not. His sound is much more nuanced and contemporary than the image might suggest. Rather than overly-earnest campfire singalongs, we’re presented with ethereal, soulful arrangements set to glitchy, Burial-style beats. For the most part, these ghostly, shuffling pulses are set so low in the mix, it’s almost a mere suggestion – a heartbeat even.
And this album has plenty of heart. RY X has said his two biggest influences are Pearl Jam and Jeff Buckley. While the former isn’t immediately obvious, the latter shines through in his emotional delivery. But what really springs to mind is James Blake’s emotive minimalism, albeit more organic in instrumentation, largely comprising piano and acoustic guitar supplemented by orchestral flourishes.
Fans of Bon Iver will love this, and there’s a pastoral character too, invoking Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. Inevitably, his love of surfing permeates into the music – song titles include ‘The Water’ and ‘Foreign Tides’. You get that sense of wanderlust; someone who has travelled the globe in search of the perfect wave. But this also extends to the mood invoked. RY X creates the kind of music that gently washes over you.
At the risk of sounding trite, there’s a genuine spiritual quality to it. ‘Bound’ is a case in point; otherworldly, hushed vocals are elevated by a shimmering reversed piano part. On ‘Coven’, glitchy acoustic guitar strums bring more colour to proceedings, as the track gradually evolves with muted arpeggiating synthesisers. On the delicate ‘Body Sun’, he recalls Sufjan Stevens at his most intimate and stripped back.
One criticism might be that while Stevens often explores a wider musical landscape, 'Unfurl' sticks to the same sedate mood throughout. But those who yearn for the pace to pick up simply need to check out RY X’s other project, The Acid – a Transatlantic electro supergroup, featuring English producer Adam Freeland. The same luscious, wraithlike vocals are still present and correct, but are beefed up with dirty synths and industrial beats.
All in, 'Unfurl' seems a pretty apt name for the album. It’s many layers unfold and wrap themselves around you, like a warm blanket after an invigorating surf.
Words: Felix Rowe
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