It’s weird where music takes you sometimes. During my second listen to this album by Cathode Ray Eyes, a solo project by Ryan, guitarist/ vocalist from Psych Insight favourites Cult of Dom Keller, I went off of a mind riff on what would have happened if Ian Curtis had not tragically killed himself. I think that two things influenced what I was thinking. Firstly, there has been a lot in the news over the last few days about male suicide rates (and many of my most beloved musicians have very sadly died in this way), and second I have always thought Ryan’s voice had a lot in common with the late Joy Division vocalist.
So I got to thinking what would have happened if Curtis had survived (bear with me on this) going through the next few Joy Division albums before embarking on the inevitable solo career whilst always carrying with him that relationship to death that actually took him from us. This is relevant because the first few tracks of this album have an atmosphere (no pun intended) that very much reminds me of those Joy Division (and early New Order) classics, and I can imagine Curtis making this album. You only have to look at the titles of these first three tracks ‘And The Burial Had Several Different Endings’, ‘Death Song No. 1’, ‘The Unsuccessful Resurrection of James Dean’, together with the title of the album, to know that this album is not coming from a particularly good place. It has a dreamy quality to it: that sort of half awake/ half asleep liminal state which is neither restful nor constructively active.
All three of these songs are disturbing in their own right, yet they also have a certain beauty to them; they warn you off but they are also in a way beguiling as if Ryan is inviting us into his hell (it was only later when I read the following in the press release “this is a melting pot of lo-fi madness recorded as a by product of insomnia, tinnitus and the descending insanity of the world around us” that I had my suspicions confirmed).
It is only with the fourth track ‘I Woke Up This Morning and the World Was on Fire’, that you really see similarities with Cult of Dom Keller; which are a marked here as anywhere on the album. The slow progressive fuzz builds and finds some melodic resolution as the musical repetition and the titular mantra burrows its way into you mind. After that the album goes off into a number of different directions, and made surprising connections with songs of my own musical past. ‘Harry Houdini’ has that mad pop sensibility of JJ Burnel’s ‘Freddie Laker’, and ‘Goodbye to Wonder’ for me could have come from a Sparklehorse album (especially reminding me of ‘Pain Birds’, and Mark Linkous’s death was also a deeply sad and tragic suicide) it is beautiful, devastating and empty in equal measure.
Elsewhere the album is similarly sombre in its outlook, it is depressive and it is troubling. It is the sound of someone bearing their very soul through their music, and by the time I reach the last track ‘Where There is No Beginning, Middle or End’ with it’s refrain ‘Get me out of here/ before I lose control’, I sensed a real desperation which I can only hope Ryan has somehow resolved through the writing and recording of this album.
This, then, is a record that seems to be the result of real personal struggle; perhaps a struggle that we only see the tip of here. It is a record that part of you wished had never had to be made. Yet there is also something deeply beautiful here too. It is a record that, because of all I have already written, deserves to be heard. It is a record that I will certainly listen to again and again because of its honestly and vulnerability. As Cathode Ray Eyes Ryan has delved into some dark places and come up with something that becomes more astounding with every listen; I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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