When I first met Ryan Chapin Mach, he could usually be found in McBride 315, recording lo-fi indie-pop and Bob Dylan covers with little more than a laptop, a guitar, a Casio keyboard-cum-drum-machine, and his larynx.
Two years have elapsed since then. This past December 2nd, 2012, Ryan uploaded 14 new songs to his Bandcamp – by no means an unexpected occurrence, to be sure – yet from their overall sense of polish, coherence, and deliberate track ordering, I think it’s safe to say we can call this an honest-to-god album.
Or, if you want to make Ryan happy, you could call it Just Hanging. I think that’s what he’d prefer.
(Intrigued? Full review and some quotes from the man himself after the jump…)
As you may have observed if you clicked through that shitstorm of Bandcamp links earlier, Mr. Mach is a pretty prolific music-maker – my iTunes library is a good 75 tracks bigger thanks to him, and that’s just from the past 2 years. That said, having listened to most all of that music, I’m willing to go out on a limb here and claim that Just Hanging is the most complete, fully-realized, original work he’s put out to date. And here’s why.
Firstly, it really feels like an album. Mach manages to play with a wealth of genres & influences while crafting a sound still totally his own; tracks float in and out of each other, joined by deliberate segues and interludes; and furthermore, there are enough guest features here to make Yeezy jealous. The album features Kenyon musicians from all walks of life: Remy Bernstein ’13 lays down a melting sax solo on “Thanks For Writing,” Edek Sher ’13 bolsters the rap-pop-mindfuckery of “Advertising” with some epic trumpet lines, and while Mach’s high-school comrade Sarah Slichter doesn’t go to school here, her violin stylings on opener “When I Wake Up” bring us into the album with aching, emotional crescendos.
Other guest appearances abound, from Kenyon haze-rap royalty (Andrew Dunham, who show up on “Stolen Scene,” possibly the most radio-ready jam on the LP) to ambient spoken-word experiments (courtesy of Lucy Tiven ’13, whose poem “Alternatives & Errors” gets plunged into a neon-tinged, haunting musical interlude at the album’s halfway point) to twisted lullabyes (album closer “Everybody’s Disappointed, Everybody’s Mad,” featuring the ethereal vocal talents of Addie Pray).
On that note, I should probably mention another Kanye-esque feature of Just Hanging: its scope. The album makes insane stylistic leaps over the course of its 14 tracks: while the 5 tunes I’ve mentioned by name already sound like they come from separate universes, you could easily say that about any song on the album. “Not A Second Time” sounds like it could be a demo for the Weeknd’s new country side-project. “What Have I Done” rides the reverb-drenched surf-pop wave we all know so well, but then suddenly we’re smack-dab in the middle of a glitched-out 8-bit breakdown that sounds like it was recorded on Ryan’s old Game Boy Color. The album’s third track, the West Coast love letter “Land,” pulls a similar trick: what sounds at first like a straightforward lo-fi pop song suddenly goes all “huge, epic buildup” on us, complete with synthesized string swells and choirs that ride enormous, marching-band snare rolls to one of the album’s most climactic hooks.
Haters of digital musicianship, beware – Mach is trying to hide nothing about his process here. He’s not trying to compensate for using a computer by making obvious displays of instrumental skill, nor is he trying to “humanize” laptop-pop by only recording his own drums or using vintage gear – for the most part, the album was produced in Apple Logic on an Apple computer, and as a result software synthesizers and drum samples abound. But whether you think this saps the soul out of his songwriting or opens real doors for creativity & self-expression, it’s damn near impossible to get around this fact: for a piece of wholly original pop music all written, produced, & recorded by one dude, Just Hanging sounds really fucking good.
We got to chat with Ryan a bit about all this stuff, actually. You can find a few of his insights and inspirations catalogued below. In the meantime, I guess I’ll wrap up by saying you should probably listen to this album. It’s free, after all! Just click this here hyperlink…
(The Thrill:) how has your music changed since you came to Kenyon?
(Ryan:) Well I’ve always been a really big Bob Dylan fan, and most of what I was doing – up to a certain point, like certainly in high school – was doing acoustic music. And I was sort of very resistant to try and do anything synthetic. I remember at one point buying into the whole, like – synthetic music is empty, it’s meaningless, it’s vapid, and the fact that it’s not real instrumentation sort of reflects what the content of that kind of music is.
But I dunno, I just sort of came to embrace it…electronic music, synthesized recorded music. I use auto-tune on some of my songs because I think it’s good aesthetically. And I like that reflection or that implication of emptiness, because I feel like this generation, which is so good at making this music, is probably a little bit emptier than the generations that came before it, in certain ways. I think it’s advanced in a lot of ways, but I also think it’s definitely got a hint of shallowness to it.
I’m always really impressed by the harmonizing on your vocal tracks. Could you maybe go into how you write harmonies?
I do a lot of singing in the car. I used to sing along to songs, but eventually once you learn how to harmonize you sort of become bored with doing that, so I’d harmonize to songs in the car all the time, like everywhere I drove I’d be harmonizing to stuff. and eventually I just, I dunno. I have a definite sense, it’s not necessarily a knack, but it’s a definite sense – I have my own sense of harmony. I dunno if it’s more full than anyone else’s, but I recognize some uniqueness to it and I use that. It’s sort of instinctive to me at this point.
What 3 albums can you not stop listening to right now?
I guess I’ve been listening to [Frank Ocean’s] Channel Orange, fairly repeatedly, for the longest time.
You know what, I just got back into the Postal Service. I just had this realization – like, Ben Gibbard’s this incredibly lame person, and the whole stock of his body of work has fallen so far. Well not so far, like he’s not disgraced or anything, but people just don’t tend to respect him at any rate as a songwriter. And I realize the limitations of what he does, but I also think that he can write a really good song, he’s got some really clever lyrics when he does it well. He also has a really signature sound in terms of his songwriting. And that’s what I think the main problem with most songwriters is, is that it’s not really distinct.
The third album would be Echoes of Silence, which is the Weeknd’s 3rd mixtape.