Indie Music

Bill Ryder-Jones: Iechyd Da review | Dave Simpson’s album of the week

Since Bill Ryder-Jones left the Coral in 2008 after five Top 10 albums, he’s been quietly busying himself away in his Yawn studio in West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsula. He’s produced records for the likes of Saint Saviour, Brooke Bentham and Michael Head (his 2022 masterpiece, Dear Scott) while his succession of Yawn-created solo albums has mapped out a singular musical vision. This has stretched from orchestral imaginary soundtracks (2011 debut If…); fragile, damaged folk-rock (2013’s A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart); angular, soul-baring rockers (2015’s West Kirby County Primary); and emotionally wracked slowcore and bleak wit on 2018’s Yawn, later reimagined as the acoustic Yawny Yawn. Now, Iechyd Da (Welsh for “good health”) throws more into the mix with his burgeoning production skills. There’s an eerie sample of Brazilian singer Gal Costa’s 1969 single, Baby; disco-inspired orchestrations; a children’s choir and even Head reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses (on the otherwise instrumental …And the Sea…). Further fuel to Ryder-Jones’s considerable creative blaze has been added by a five-year gap, the pandemic, a romantic split during lockdown and the 40-year-old’s ongoing battles with his mental health.

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His exit from the Coral – a band he co-founded aged 13 – came as a result of depression, agoraphobia and experiencing panic attacks before going onstage. It wasn’t widely known then that he had already gone through a greater trauma: witnessing his elder brother’s death in a cliff fall when they were children. Ryder-Jones addressed the impact on the family in 2015’s heartbreakingly beautiful Daniel, but such experiences have left his music with a lingering, almost indefinable sadness. Iechyd Da is probably his most hopeful, optimistic album, but there’s an underlying melancholy even in his most elevated moments, as if agony and ecstasy can be never entirely free from each other. Take gentle opener I Know That It’s Like This (Baby), which seems to document that romantic crisis. It begins as a blissful love song, with airy 60s pop “ba ba ba”s and lines such as “one kiss and I’m in heaven” – but is gradually shattered by self-doubt and the realisation that he’ll “never be enough for you”. Gorgeous piano ballad A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart Pt 3 is a polite kiss-off to someone who only calls him when they’re lonely, but the line “oh how I loved you” is simultaneously an angry lament and happy memory. Then there’s the extraordinary If Tomorrow Starts Without Me. Imagining a world in which he no longer exists could be crushingly bleak, but Ryder-Jones sweetens it with playful strings, bouncing groove, glimmer of hope (“give it one more night”) and the insistence that if it all ends tomorrow, he’s “had a good one. And I’ve scored a few.”

And musically, the album isn’t dark at all. It’s overwhelmingly lovely, with classy hooks and rousing choruses. There’s even a recurring euphoria, albeit of the transcendental, giddy nature that often accompanies the peculiar psychic push-pull of the aftermath of trauma. Ryder-Jones makes clever use of a children’s choir, whose voices transform We Don’t Need Them from what is ostensibly a paean to isolation into a hymn of togetherness and survival. Similarly, This Can’t Go On uses the old Motown tool of devastating lyrics and a cheery tune. The song finds him in a right state – walking all night, listening to Echo and the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon, egged on by others’ commands to “get outside, go get some sun” – before the album’s most celestial strings soundtrack the U-turn from the brink.

Throughout, his closely mic-ed voice is fragile, delicate, even on the edge of croaky, giving the impression he’s sharing intimacies directly with the listener. Meanwhile, for all the visits from the black dog, the songs keep bringing the sunlight. The piano on Nothing to Be Done distantly echoes Them’s 1966 classic It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, while the children bring their best to It’s Today Again’s beautifully double-edged hook: “There’s something great about life / There’s something not quite right.” If that’s the sort of song which may have hardened adults reaching for the tissues, the penultimate track, Thankfully for Anthony, finds salvation in friendship and companionship: “I’m still lost but I know love / And I know loss but I chose love.” Ryder-Jones has never been that bothered about commercial concerns (or he’d have never left the Coral), but he couldn’t have timed this album better. At the start of what could be another turbulent year, it’s an uplifting reminder that there can be power in the darkness.

Iechyd Da is released on 12 January

This week Dave listened to

Steven Dove and Gian Battaglia – BVD de Strasbourg
From the forthcoming album Alone @ Dusk, the hypnotically beatific electronica and haunting baselines are apparently driven by the continental-based duo’s reaction to modern urban landscapes.

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