Australian singer-songwriter, RY X (alias of Ry Cuming), first caught the ears of the masses with his Berlin EP in 2013. I typically prefer cover art that does not use the actual artist image. However, RY X has a look made for a Van Gogh painting. His warm but piercing stare from over a bear that could have been styled in any of the previous three centuries is an excellent illustration of what you’re getting. His voice, is nothing short of transcendent. Tracks on the Berlin EP were sparse and purposely haphazard. Many of them struck me as the most advanced form of stream-of-consciousness style expression. Despair belied the tremor in his voice as solo pianos and guitars followed him, merely punctuating the lines between the contents of his soul, borne as if he was entirely unable to contain them. Two tracks from the EP would make it onto his debut album, “Dawn”, which nurtured these qualities and helped them bloom. “Dawn” offered a little more structure than the EP, and developed RY X into the artist that would release “Unfurl” in 2019.
“Unfurl” begins with “Body – Ambient”, which leads into the album precisely how the title leads you to guess. It’s an instrumental jam session of layered strings and pianos, beautifully introducing himself to us again. “Untold” gives us a new flavor from the very start. The subdued and dirty instruments that sound as if they were recorded in an attic, give way to an electronic drum rhythm that sounds unseemly. Yet still, the production is ethereal and gives RY X’s soaring vocals room to appear. Other productively ambitious sounds pockmark the track and successfully allow RY X to evolve without diluting the content. RY X soars and harmonizes; his voice has very little viscosity, creating a sound that is more bioluminescent than simply smooth.
“Bound” maintains the themes and his voice oscillates between haunting and heavenly. The muted drums work for him in a way I don’t think other acoustic artists have been able to replicate. The bridge will convince you he must be using a ghost choir to harmonize, considering the impossible layers he is able to create. “Body Sun” opens with the naked and lucid piano he has used in the past. Here, he takes the piano, strings, and the newer suite of sounds to prop up melodies that could have been used in a pop song. But RY X is no simple pop artist and it simply isn’t possible for any melody to stay on earth should he decide to sing it. It is on this track that I began to understand how the drums work so well for a style it shouldn’t; whether intentionally or not, the drums replicate RY X’s vocal tics on earlier offerings, maintaining the ASMR nature of what contributes to his voice being so comforting.
“YaYaYa” brings his guitar back to the center and his vocals down from the sun. The opening is clear and accessible before gradually giving way to RY X as a religious experience. “Coven” gives us energy upfront. The 4/4 kick drum under a raspy acoustic guitar does little to prepare you for what the song will actually sound like. When he belts out his first one-man choir before the first full verse, you know he’s hardly revealed what the song will bring. Halfway into the song, synths and melodies you’d never expect from RY X have all come on board, somehow integrating in a futuristic drive. “Hounds” provides a return to form, returning us to his sparse and trembling vocals over a softly played guitar. It’s the RY X I grew to love, refined and polished to perfection.
RY X is a phenomenon of an artist, immune to the limits of genre and form. “Unfurl” is a work of sweeping sadness and perfect salvation all at once. It is the ideal for reflective days as the weather cools and greys, blending and breaking all at once in grand hypnotic form.