I read an article in the Guardian recently about the rise of Spotify and the increasing importance of their curated playlists. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the a last a few weeks, and it was something we touched on in our review of the excellent Lady Hope by Tucker Theodore. One of the concerns raised was the death of the album, the worry that shrinking attention spans and so-called fuller lives mean listeners are decreasingly interested in the relatively long-form art that the album provides.

Well, try telling that to William Ryan Fritch. We’ve featured several of the California artist’s albums over the last year or so, and have admired just as many from a distance, with no discernible dip in quality despite his rapid-fire production. He makes music to fall back in, to follow into the murk and marvel at where you’re taken. Fritch’s newest release, Behind the Pale, his latest on Lost Tribe Sound, is no exception. Listening to a new William Ryan Fritch feels like returning to some strange land, familiar only in its oddness and pure artistic expression.

But Behind the Pale also has other qualities. It’s an album created during a period of great turmoil in Fritch’s life, as his daughter was born 3 months premature and then had to remain at the hospital for weeks on end. As he describes, “The ecstatic and cataclysmic personal event of having a child was thrust upon us sooner than we could have imagined. Blinded by the radiance of the limitless love and the enveloping clouds of abject fear there are no senses that are attuned to guide you but the ones that say simply ‘Onward!’”

Things are dark and ominous at the beginning, the A-side furry with worry and disorientation. ‘Never is it Enough’ drops the listener into a fog-shrouded landscape, an unintelligible moan sounding from the murk. But soon the track gains a certain clarity, and Fritch’s vocals come through surprisingly clear in an undulating groove. ‘Depths of Our Minds’ is all anxious twitches and black syrupy vocals, while ‘Sheep in the Fog’ sounds like The Antlers in a sleepwalk, Fritch’s vocals rising to a falsetto as the instrumentation creeps and thuds around him.

‘In Our Blood’ is something else altogether, a glittering jam that’s rich with elegance and romanticism. And the track seems to signal a change, as follow-up ‘Greedy Things’ sounds similarly bright and grand, infused with a sense of what Fritch describes as a “wounded but assured hopefulness”. Not that Side B is suddenly full of sunny pop songs, there are still shadowy corners threatening to leak closer, but there’s definitely a different feeling, a glow that illuminates the tracks from within. The man himself puts it best when he describes the emotion behind the sensation. “Much remains uncertain”, he says, “but in the small moments basking in the untainted love and goodness of your child, the future for the first time seems undimmed.”

With Behind the Pale, William Ryan Fritch continues his work as one of the most singular and prolific musicians at work today. This is an album tempered in the flames of real emotion and created with a verve that is simply beyond most musicians. As Lost Tribe put it: “Like all good art, it does its best to translate complex, abstract emotions into palpable and compelling expression.” Best of all it requires almost as much of the listener, revealing itself slowly over numerous plays, a counter-punch to the immediate sugar-rush effect of playlists, and a reminder that there’s always a room for real, finely-wrought art in our lives.

Behind the Pale will be released on the 20th of October on Lost Tribe Sound.

photo of william ryan fritch behind the pale LP record