As harsh weather froze Britain during the build-up to his concert in London at the start of 2018, RY X tweeted a message of robust reassurance to ticket-holders. “London… in case anyone is wondering… with the snow and the weather… everything is smooth and going ahead. We will all be warm and loved together in this space…”
The power of quietly intense, passionate music to pull audiences in to an intimate space is something this Australia-born, LA-based singer excels at. After the break-out success of his uncommonly minimalist beauty “Berlin” in 2013, Ry notched up a string of sold-out shows across Europe, US and Australia. From Shepards Bush Empire in London, to Tempodrom of Berlin, to Being the first to play unique and powerful venues such as Notre Dam and to thousands of fans on uninhabited islands in the mouth of caves in the fjords of Norway. In addition to these shows he has joined premier festivals around the world to connect with his growing fanbase outside of these beautifully curated shows
Ry’s debut album was nurtured into shape over months of – Ry says – “hibernation” and “emotional sweat” in the mountains north of LA, Dawn (2016) was a sublime study in devotional songcraft from a singer who seemed both awed by and in command of its elemental emotions.
Ry honours and expands on his vision with his second album. Between its rippling beats, mellifluous guitars, poised piano and questing vocals,Unfurl does what its title suggests: develops as if organically from Ry’s previous work, blossoming in delicate new directions while holding firm to its roots. “I think my mission statement was simply to remain vulnerable and to capture that within this album,” says Ry. “The inspirations change each time, and I always want to allow that process to be free, to draw on new ideas and sounds and instrumentation. But what feels consistently important to me is keeping a sense of rawness and honesty in the work.”
That balance of integrity and outreach shows itself instantly on “Body (Ambient)”, an overture where plush strings and a pin-drop piano add new ripples to Ry’s evocations of space and feeling. Burial-ish beats and future tender electronics herald further developments on “Untold”, Ry’s tremulous vocal holding the fragile focus amid a detailed bedding of querulous sounds. Ethereal vocals and gently moving electronics ring true as “Bound” gently opens the doors to new arenas between alt-folk and alt-R&B. “Body Sun”, meanwhile, layers and builds its vocal intimacies, with deep strings and clusters of percussion laid with craft and care, Ry’s control of its mixed elements so complete it seems subliminal.
Throughout, Ry’s intuitively assured command of his extremes is emphatic. “YaYaYa” is coaxed into life with an insistent strum and a luminescent chorus; “Coven” and “Hounds” glow in hymnal quietude; and “Foreign Tides” shows a facility for a soul-stirring melody. “The Water” is pulsing and submerged; “Mallorca” sunny and melancholic; “To Know” alive with percussive energy yet still at heart, Ry casting himself as both supplicant and conjuror. Finally, “Fumbling Prayer” finds Ry at his most beseeching and beautiful, reaching out for answers over a hymnal organ.
That questing spirit goes way back to Ry’s roots. Raised in the coastal community of Angourie, off Australia’s east coast, he left home at 17 with a surfboard and a grunge obsession. Travelling to Costa Rica, Indonesia, Stockholm, London, Berlin and Hollywood, he explored a passion for so many forms of music, from Indian Ragas and African Jazz to the swells and tension of techno and more experimental electronic music, which led to two collaborations: one with Frank Wiedemann of German electronic duo Âme under the name Howling, the other with UK DJ Adam Freeland and California producer Steve Nalepa as The Acid. Just this year, The Acid performed at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, scoring a screening of an anti-nuclear multimedia project titled the bomb.
During his travels, Ry began writing fragile, acoustic and intimate songs, recording to tape to preserve their raw power. The “Berlin” EP brought him to mainstream radio and paved the way forDawn, which was written and recorded in close-to-nature isolation and toured to rapturous receptions. “Berlin” has since notched up some 78 million streams; worldwide, his overall stream count has reached an impressive 120 million. Along the way, Ry’s stealth rise saw Rihanna inviting him to remix doo-wop beauty “Love on the Brain”; in return, Ry gifted RiRi a deep, stripped-back re-interpretation. “The top echelons of pop are always breaking ground and creating styles and expressions that others follow,” Ry explains. “There is some beauty and fun in that space. I like to gently touch it every now and then… and… In the end, when Rihanna asks you to do a remix, you do it.”
Whatever weight of expectation this collaboration with R&B royalty entailed, Ry also now had his own expectant audience. For his second album, he set out to respect their faith in him by focusing on what mattered: the songs, not the success. “I can see that people have really resonated with the songs and sharing of the last album, and I want that relationship to grow with the people that have leaned in around it. I guess I do feel a sense of responsibility to not turn in an inauthentic record that goes for levels of ‘success’ over the want to communicate with my heart and theirs.”
After months of touring, he had a clear sense of what was needed to repay fans’ investment. “I grew up very simply,” he explains, “and I think I always want to come back to that.” Duly, he touched down at home in Topanga Canyon, to let songs written there and on tour make like the album title suggests and unfurl at their own pace, close to the sea, family, friends and community. In order to preserve their subtle power, most of the songs were recorded live using analog equipment at an old east LA studio and in an airstream converted into a studio on his land in Topanga; there, Ry relished the opportunity “to walk barefoot and sandy from home straight into a sacred little space and create”.
That space proved to be the perfect environment for Ry to extend and expand on the searching thrust of his lyrics, a rich source of sparing potency on Dawn. As Ry puts it, Unfurl entwines “a lot of conversation with the self on deeper conceptual ideas” and a “hint of healthy existentialism” with themes of “sensuality and all that is beautiful”. It was, he says, “quite deeply a solo process. I am looking forward to opening up my process more as I grow. But I know I make the work that most connects to my heart when I do it alone.”