Is there another artist around with the creativity and productivity of William Ryan Fritch? It seems like we’ve only just recovered from the emotions on his last album, Clean War, a record that once again emphasised Fritch’s artistic talent. As we said in our review, William Ryan Fritch makes music that’s more a work of art than something to nod your head to on the radio, his medium not paint or clay but those airborne vibrations we call sound.
His latest album, Ill Tides, is the first in a new series of cassettes from label Lost Tribe Sound, inspired by the label HQ’s move from Arizona to Wisconsin. The series, entitled Dead West, is intended to “focus on music built for exploring and soundtracking your environment, whether you’re deep in the middle of lush woodlands, or just laying back at home with rested eyes”. Cassettes were chosen for both practical and aesthetic reasons, meaning not only will the music sound great on tape, with all of its quirks and so-called limitations, but the quick turnover time allows fans to get their hands on the music much sooner than they would with a vinyl release.
Ill Tides begins with ‘Ghosts in the Gale’, a song with a perfectly descriptive title, the atmosphere a slow roil like the grasping hands of tortured souls. A plaintive guitar line eventually enters, bringing an air of quiet sadness like the calm after a disaster, the feeling of watching from the cliff edge as the remains of a vessel are brought in on the tide. Follow up ‘Recoiled’ is equally atmospheric, the background ambience almost like wordless voices from some nameless gloom or shifting mists on a strange and unexplored shore.
It’s practically impossible to give a comprehensive review of Fritch’s work. As with any piece of art, every listener will take something different, the images conjured into their mind unique and personal, though for us at least the ocean is a recurring feature. The title track is strangely elegant, the percussion bogged down and sluggish but transcended by soaring strings. Its not hard to imaging it as a travelling song, to-ing and fro-ing on the swells of a dark and ominous sea.
The knotted threads of ‘At Odds’ give way to an eerie siren call, the closest thing to vocals on the record, before ‘A Tense Spiral’ sounds exactly as advertised, a taut and escalating track that conjures images of a thousand circling seabirds, a harbinger of an oncoming storm. ‘The Fog of Our Primes’ then rises out of the murk, quivering and quavering like a water spout, while ‘Evaporate’ has a crystalline sound, perhaps the soundtrack to a new and strange land, one of frozen rivers and mountains of ice. Finale ‘Furthest Shore’ ends proceedings with something that sounds like the soundtrack to some far-flung northern island, all rugged hills and dagger-sharp outcrops and a howling wind. It is a fitting finish that captures the beauty in the harsh and unforgiving force of nature.
As with all of Fritch’s music, Ill Tides is a surprisingly cinematic experience, narratives snaking through each song despite their wordless nature. You can get it now on tape or download from Lost Tribe Sound via the William Ryan Fritch Bandcamp page.