Thursday, September 29, 2016

The return of Ryan Allen And His Extra Arms!

It has been a year and a half since Ryan Allen released Heart String Soul - which has quickly become one of my two or three favorite albums of the present decade. Heart String Soul is that rare power pop record that I would recommend even to non-fans of the genre, and Allen is as fine of a singer and songwriter as I've heard in recent years. When I found out that Allen (Destroy This Place, Thunderbirds Are Now!) was coming out with a new solo album on Save Your Generation Records, of course I was delighted. And even with my expectations set sky-high, the new album Basement Punk is everything I was hoping for and more. It had to be a great challenge to top a nearly flawless album, but Ryan Allen has done exactly that!

While still very much a pop record, Basement Punk has a little bit of a different feel than its predecessor. It celebrates a wonderful and specific time in music - when the sudden mass exposure of Nirvana, etc. caused so many of us to start digging deeper into the "secret" world of college radio, independent record labels, and DIY shows in tiny venues. So enamored is Allen with the indie/alternative/college rock sound of the early '90s that he intended for Basement Punk to sound like something that would have come out of Boston's Fort Apache Studios in its heyday. That Buffalo Tom/Dinosaur Jr./Lemonheads vibe is right up my alley, and it brings back fond memories of all the great music I discovered left of the dial in my young adulthood. Opening track "Watch Me Explode" would have fit perfectly in between Husker Du and Sloan on one of the homemade comp tapes of my youth, and it's a fantastic tone-setter for an album that consistently delights. And while tracks like "Gimmie Sum More" (a throwback to classic era Soul Asylum/Goo Goo Dolls) and "Without A Doubt" (think early, punky Lemonheads) carry on in a similar vein, there's so much more going on with this album. In keeping with the '90s inspirations, Allen successfully tackles shoegaze ("Alex Whiz") and emo/post-hardcore ("Basement Punks"). The latter, a loving tribute to the late Sarah Zeidan, just might be my favorite Ryan Allen song to date. It's a perfect example of what Allen does so well as an artist: sing about his own personal experiences in such a way that the listener feels a genuine connection. "Basement Punks" is as stirring and life-affirming as music ever gets, and it sounds like it ought to be playing over the closing credits of a movie you loved so much that you didn't want to leave the theater. If being part of a local music community has ever brought joy and meaning to your life, this song will give you tingles.

Even with its wider array of musical influences, Basement Punk is ultimately the work of an exceptionally gifted craftsman of guitar pop. Allen's melodies are just so pretty, and he has this seemingly innate sense of how to make a song catchy. In "Chasing a Song", "Mal n' Ange", and the fittingly titled "Gorgeous With Guitars", Basement Punk possesses a core trio of pure pop songs that surely have Alex Chilton and Chris Bell smiling from the great beyond. And if album closer "Everything (In Moderation)" sounds like it could have been on the new Nick Piunti album, it's hardly a surprise that these two great friends are rubbing off on each other (Piunti, in fact, is very quick to credit Allen for helping make Trust Your Instincts the album that it is).

I think I became a Ryan Allen fan the very first time I heard him open his mouth. He's got a voice that makes you immediately want to root for him, and he has the courage to share deeply personal parts of himself with anyone who might be listening. Any record of his is like a novel with a likable narrator. It goes without saying that power pop fans ought to be lining up to buy Basement Punk. But again Allen has made an album that's truly for everyone, and his stories and reflections really get to the essence of what it means to be human. What Ryan Allen is above all else is a classic American singer/songwriter, and I promise not to denounce my fandom if he makes the pages of Rolling Stone and sings "Alex Whiz" on Jimmy Fallon. Order Basement Punk today from Allen's Bandcamp, and Detroit peeps can check out the album's release show tomorrow night in Ferndale!


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