Kildare born and Cork–based singer/songwriter Sara Ryan has been amassing praise from critics and fans alike over the past year. Highlights have included winning artist of the year at the Irish Folk Music Awards and being name-checked on Cork’s “Women to Watch”. In the absence of a full studio release, these high accolades should be considered testament to the Ryan’s electric brand of folk music.
Released in March, ‘Glitter Skies’ is Sara Ryan’s debut EP. The entire project consists of four tracks and runs for about 15 minutes. Bearing its brevity in mind, ‘Glitter Skies’ is superb introductory release, filled with charm and personality.
Using folk as a keystone, Ryan borrows and blends elements from a variety of genres to create something which exceeds the sum of its parts. Euphoric Recall feels like a blues tinged whisper. A shaky organ perforates the mix, low and mournful throughout the first half of the track. Ryan delivers her vocal as if she’s suddenly found herself a place of shelter during a blizzard. Creeping guitars seem as if they’re afraid to disturb the peace, walking on their tippy toes. Only the rhythm section seems unafraid, defiant on the beat.
When Ryan gives delivers the hook for the second time the instrumentation explodes. Suddenly the organ is howling and the guitars clawing away at the layered vocals. It’s at this point that the song abandons the safety of shelter and enjoins with the raging storm. It’s sweet and dark, full of lust and foreboding. If these contrasts seem stark they should be considered archetypal of the rich variety throughout ‘Glitter Skies’.
Take the EP’s namesake Glittering Skies, seems to slide in from nowhere following the chaos of Euphoric Recall. A smattering of chorus laden guitars and an audible giggle, presumably from Ryan herself, mark the beginning of this laid-back track. Sounding like a hybrid of dream pop artists like The War On Drugs, Country’n’Western artists like Alison Krauss and the spacey idiom of Morcheeba, this track is almost defined by it’s opposition to the one which precedes it.
Lyrically, it’s a far more revealing track. Ryan reflecting on her own wanderlust “Cause I can’t shake this feeling inside me, it’s calling round and it’s in a hurry”. If the lyrics depict an artist out of place, Ryan’s vocal seems perfectly at home over the instrumental.
There’s something compelling about her voice, soulful and yet, at times restrained. It sounds almost as if she’s desperately trying to keep an element of control, like the impetus might get the better of her, pushing the music into uncharted and uncertain territories.
Dream On, stands out as perhaps bringing the least to the table. lacking the diversity of sound which the EP thrives upon elsewhere. There’s a few clever ideas here, the keys sound and reversed guitar licks add some much-needed ambience. However, for the most part it’s largely uninspired. The rhythm section, usually perfectly mixed, sounds muddy and at times bloated.
For the only time on this EP, Ryan sounds unsure of what sort of story she’s trying to tell, with one side being moody and introspective and the other an attempt at being semi-inspirational. It’s not a mixture that blends well and sounds a little flat and out of place with the otherwise excellent standard of material on ‘Glittering Skies’.
The EP ends on a high with Lost. In many ways, Lost is the most experimental and risky track on the EP, both musically and lyrically. There’s a strong R&B undercurrent to the instrumentation. The rhythm section is expressive, with crisp, clean guitar sounds. The song drifts between tension and release superbly. Allowing a few deep breaths before agitating and evolving into something entirely different.
It’s the track on which Ryan pushes herself most vocally too. She seamlessly switches from spacious flows to hurried ascending scales time and time again, in perfect unison with the instrumentation. It also contains one of the few overtly political statements on the EP “A generation consumed with screens and shiny things, offended by everything”, delivered with no small amount of disdain.
It’s easy to imagine how the hyper-sensitive and fickle sensibilities of modern culture wouldn’t appeal to an artist such as Sara Ryan. The artist depicted on ‘Glittering Skies’ seems concerned only with the truth, even if it’s complicated and nebulous. While the rest of the world seems to only engage in black and white, Ryan sees the beauty of the in-between. On ‘Glittering Skies’, she does a stunning job of conveying that beauty.