Over the course of his 11 previous albums, singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan has proven more than adept at taking his intimate, deeply personal experiences and using them as the foundations for songs that tap into broader emotional contexts. On his latest effort, Dear Lover, Ryan turns perhaps a bit too far inward, resulting in a collection of songs that are insular and aloof, lacking the resonance of his best work.
Ryan claims that he drew inspiration for this set while sitting in an emergency room with someone close to him, though he insists that the specific circumstances are private. That’s certainly within Ryan’s right, but for an artist best known for his unflinching eye for detail, to pull a deliberately obscure remove robs Dear Lover of much insight. It doesn’t help that his lyrics aren’t up to his usual standards either. Opener “City Life” stops dead in its tracks at the line “You’ve got to fight/With all the life in your skull,” while “PS” drags on interminably thanks to poorly conceived, grammatically awkward images like “Darkness, you’re a cruel, cruel weather/Got me worried ‘bout our tether.”
Ryan attempts to inject a bit of life into these frankly dull songs with his production, which incorporates a heavy electronic influence into his contemporary folk framework, but even this is only intermittently successful. Other than “Spark,” a collaboration with DJ Preach, and the delicate “We Are Snowmen,” his sonic palette here is gray and drab. On standout records like Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State, Ryan has proven that he can still make a melancholy perspective into a compelling listen, but Dear Lover is simply monotonous and disappointing.