Back To Square One
11.11.2016 – Bayview Records
1. The News
2. Entertainment & Warmth
3. Before the Sun Sets
4. Hold Me Now
5. Morning News (feat. Claire Ann Varley)
6. No Need to Worry
9. Got This Feeling
10. Colour of the Rainbow (feat. Steven MC Cann)
12. The Night Is Young
13. Waste Another Day
Track-by-track album review
This moment has been a long time coming. A very long time. But you know – all great things need their time. And Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s debut LP ‘Back To Square One’ certainly took it’s time (I’ve been waiting four years…).
Hence, I don’t think there is anyone that was more excited than I was for this release. A little back story: I spent my last semester on an Erasmus semester in Ireland. There I was lucky enough to see Ryan play a few times live in Dublin and even had occasion to chat about the how things stood with the album.
At the time, a realistic album release date wasn’t existent and Ryan even stating “I’m in no hurry to bring anything out. I want to make sure that my first album can be something I can be proud of in 10 years and not look back on thinking I’ve rushed it.”
And we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. When asked what direction the album was headed, the response was “I see a lot of different things happening in my career for the future. I’m writing songs that are really weird and psychedelic and very different. Like no one would expect Ryan O’Shaughnessy to be working on. Anyone that knows me from YouTube or the television wouldn’t understand that I also work on many other types of music. Many types of music and genres – many that haven’t even been invented yet (laughs).”
So if you haven’t listened to the album yet I’d suggest you go do it pronto after reading. Or even better listen while you read.
Anyway, enough rambling, let’s get down to the album.
The first track fittingly is called ‘The News’ and is basically this sweet crescendo start to the album with the lyric “I’m a free bird” – this proclamation of “Here I am. This what I want to be doing. And I’m free to do my own thing”. This all reflects a new beginning without restraints which this album ultimately is.
Next up is the song ‘Entertainment & Warmth’. And this song has, within the first listen through, already found a favourite place in my heart. Listening to the song it really feels like a snug blanket. It still has a lot of the “classic” Ryan O’Shaughnessy song features in it that most of us know so well. (I say this now because the album dives into a different direction later on.) Upon listening to it a few times over however, I get this distinct image in my head of a garden party with friends on a late summer night and everyone is laughing and having a good time while this song plays on in the background. It’s simple but enrapturing. Plus I immediately had myself whistling subconsciously along.
‘Before the Sunset Sets’ starts off again with Ryan’s signature simplicity, just these dreamy acoustic vibes but by the end all, this is overthrown by this infectious jazz elements that give the song this smooth yet fun vibe that makes you just want to get up and dance around.
‘Hold Me Now’ is an older track that has been out there for a few years now (and been a favourite since). Most of us know it as this endearing acoustic track. So to hear it with a little uptempo beat and pop-esque elements in it, took a little time getting used to. Still, it’s not too much and works with the album as a whole.
‘Morning News’ is a sweet duet with Claire-Ann Varley – from the Berlin based pop duo CATZE and lyric wise depicts a sweet morning interaction between two lovers. It’s super chilled and reminds one of lazy Sunday mornings with someone you love.
Just like ‘Entertainment and Warmth’, track six ‘No Need To Worry’ feels like this huge comforting blanket is being drapped around me. Another favourite song off the album, the track makes me feel all safe and calm. Maybe it’s the lyrics “I can change it all, yes I can. Why do people worry? There’s no need to worry. Life’s too short, go as slow as you can” that oddly strikes a chord inside me. Or perhaps it’s that melancholy tint the melody carries but I just get all the feels when listening to this track. What I love is that this song sort of has these two side to it. On one hand it might be another love song but at the same time it’s this song that speaks to the world. The singer questioning the world as well as comforting everyone around him. From the arrangements and vocal range this song reminded me a little of Justin Nozuka‘s older work. Definitely a song I’ve fallen in love with.
Having reached the halftime mark of the album, we’re presented with a soothing interlude. Literally. The track ‘Interlude’ is a wonderful dreamy piano piece. It’s a clever little break in the album, ending the slower, acoustic tracks that are reminiscent of the beginning works of O’Shaughnessy and making room for the new.
With ‘Supermodel’ the gateways open to a more uptempo side to the singer. With it’s chill contemporary r’n’b vibes it reminds me of early 2000. It is definitely a change of direction but the song has this effortless coolness, you can’t help yourself bobbing your head to the music. It’s also a song that you’ll have stuck in your head all day. Nailed that one Ryan!
Now the next track ‘Got This Feeling’ is definitely a track that reflects an 80s influence with it’s downbeat synth beats. I have to admit, when I first heard the song I had to think of the band MOTHXR. It’s so super chill and super catchy. But also just so different from previous work, you have to be open for the change.
Picking up from where the last track left off, ‘Colour of the Rainbow’ is also this synth filled track. The beginning of the song has this ethereal feel to it and the saxophone solo at the end is just so soothing, making the entire track this easy listening piece perfect to unwind to after a long days work.
‘Magic’ returns to a song that’s been acoustically out there before. However, the album version of this track has more of a uptempo beat to it yet still retains the relaxing guitar strumming that finds one just magically drifting off into another universe. Ah dreamy… (Just a side note but check out the live version with a remix of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’). Now keep whistling.
”The Night is Young’ vocally reminded me a bit of Will Heard and beat wise a little of James Blake but in a Ryan O’Shaughnessy way. Again, a super relaxed track that oozes sex appeal and really showcases this whole other side to the singer. Plus, the vocals of on this track are just so – *falters for words*…
And last but not least, ‘Waste Another Day’. I have to say I’m very happy with the track listing. All the songs tie in neatly together and saving this song for last makes it an excellent end note. The message within the song is to ultimately not go about wasting away your time and just get out there. Just like you should after listening to the album. The song is another O’Shaughnessy “classic” existent to the world since 2014, so I’m glad it made the album cut and made up a great ending (and for those who know the acoustic version, who else keeps sing “Like you do JT? Hard to shake, amiright?).
So to sum it up: It’s a fantastic album. It’s been a while time since I’ve been genuinely loved an entire album – start to finish. Thus this review became a more of track-by-track as I felt couldn’t have left out any songs.
Produced through his own record label “Bayview Records” ‘Back To Square One’ has taken on the shape that O’Shaughnessy ultimately wanted. “This whole independent label thing is really attractive to me because it all comes back to me and I have full control over it. Nothing is too different these days. Which is great! It’s not just commercial pop anymore. Everything is changing and I want to be part of that as well.”
If I have to critic the album, then that some of the overlays are a little plentiful here and there, especially if the stripped down acoustic sets are so ingrained in your mind (Oh “Hold Me Now” I miss your simplicity). It was like being reintroduced to someone you used to know for a long time but then lost sight of. A different side. But back to square one – back to the drawing board, eh? I feel Ryan has really managed to bring fresh wind to his older songs and although the newer tracks are so contrasting it’s a gamble that I personally find, has payed off. It’s oddly beautiful to hear the change and see the growth that the years have brought.
And despite the comparisons Ryan has created his own thing and has managed to combine different styles and musical elements and really make those styles his own.
So dear Ryan. You can be proud of your babies flying the nest. I’m sure they’re finding loving homes in other people hearts. And because I’m probably never say this in person, I’m really thankful for your music. It inspires me in times when I need a little push and honestly, with your voice you could probably sing me the phonebook and I’d still love it. You did good man! Hope to see you in Germany soon.
Photos: Marla Geesing, Twitter
+Disclaimer: I was fortune enough to interview Ryan in March but due to unlucky circumstances involving a broken phone, an old laptop and a misplaced SD card the chat never saw the light of day. However, with the recent appearance of the missing SD card I have used some of the statements made throughout the review.+