Bits and Pieces (Debut Album)
By Michael Aronovitz
I know. I am a metal head who writes for a metal mag, and Sergey Ryan isn’t metal. He’s a soft rock guitar player / singer-songwriter who works most of his magic on the acoustic, though he plays all the instruments on his debut record titled Bits and Pieces. My argument is that good music is meant to take us on a journey. Sergey Ryan does this quite effectively. Is there crunch? Define crunch. Is it heavy? As I have said before and will say again: “heavy” has nothing to do with volume. Is it spine twisting and face melting? Well, no. More than the spine, it twists the listener in emotional places, and as far as the “face-melting,” it is less the listener exposed to blistering leads than the performer himself offering us a kaleidoscope of his own philosophical platforms. So much for the various manners by which we treat our personas, melted or reconfigured, explosion/implosion, potato – potaaaahto, you get the idea.
Fact is, Sergey Ryan can play. To illustrate this, I would rather move backward in a sense, describing a live show this young artist unveiled last fall before I detail the record. Honestly, the set-up was of the strangest I have seen. It was a town-thing called “Porchfest,” through which an entire neighborhood of rather rich folk offered their humongous porches for musical acts. They blocked off about a mile of housing and let people walk the streets enjoying acts ranging from full groups with amps, monitors, and background singers to solo acts like Sergey Ryan.
Frankly, this dude owned the day, and before I even begin to dissect his musical expertise, I want to talk moxy. This kid has it. Not only was he smooth, humble, clever, witty, and welcoming as if he’d done this thousands of times, but he did something subtle yet specifically memorable in its own small way.
Before I detail this, I realize you might be thinking, “Geez, how far apart were these houses?” The answer: “Not very.” Next question: “Didn’t the band next door bleed into the act in front of you?” Well, yes. And no. Like making imaginary borders inside the house, you made them outside. The thing I found so interesting, was that Sergey, with his miked-up acoustic and quaint amplifier, was interrupted during his first number by a marching band going past on the street. Were they in the same key as Sergey? Of course not. Did he stop what he was doing, and mumble in embarrassment that he wanted to start again? Hell no. He played through it, never missing a note, drowned out utterly for about five seconds, and then left in the aftermath as they passed by with only about a third of Sergey’s song remaining. The thing that was so intriguing to me is that the clashing songs were in different time signatures, and to meld this, he changed the beat of his tune to match with the marching band. Like it was planned. And while it altered the structure entirely, he kept playing it in the new and odd framework even after the band had long faded out of hearing range. Again. Like it was planned.
That said, personally, I am more a fan of a Flying V and a Marshall stack with the volume knob set on eleven, but in terms of the rest of the set, Sergey Ryan played the mess out of that acoustic. Admittedly, I don’t like coffee house clichés: some dude in a beret and a scarf, or worse, the “Deadhead” with the horseshoe-head ponytail and John Lennon wireframes who plays three open cords and thinks himself deep enough to go stealing your girlfriend. Sergey Ryan’s accompaniment on the guitar was none of the above. It was bad-ass. He has developed a style of fingerpicking and odd ball chord patterning that comes off surprising and rather acrobatic. That is what I feel when I see a good metal guitar player, and so, hence, I wrote this article. As for his performance altogether, it went over big. The crowd loved it, and he made it onto the local news. It was fun. Different. He is sort of his own genre, so much for coffee houses and cheap scarves.
Sergey Ryan’s debut record, Bits and Pieces, is just as surprising. Listening to it, one can hear roots and influences, in the fingerpicking and some of the higher vocals – a bit of Lindsay Buckingham, and in the high-throated vocal harmonies (that sound often more like two lead vocals than a lead with background) – some of the Eagles’ vibe. But mostly, the album as a whole depends on clever changes and eclectic vocal patterning, lyrics, and themes. One of the things this young man has a really good sense for is dynamics. He can make his voice do multiple things from a variety of strike-points, and that is the record’s major appeal.
On his page, Sergey Ryan has a teaser song if you will, titled, “Barb Wire,” one of the best of the overall presentation. It is easy to connect this one actually with track 8 from the record, titled “Eject Me,” as both the former and latter contain a sort of signature, high-end ethereal harmony vocal. If I had to count, I would say this singer works his voice into around six different personalities, often changing it up in the same measure, and the aforementioned dual lead vocal harmony is of the best in his playbook.
The opening track of the album, titled “The Mule,” has a hypnotic feel just as “Super Nova” has an amazingly catchy hook. “I Remain” contains a lovely falsetto, and the track before it, the jazzy “Lame Horse” has some vocal dynamics that remind me of all things- the early work of Jimmy Page. True, a jazz vocal has nothing much to do with a blues / metal guitar, but I was thinking of the similarity in terms of exploration, the feeling we got when Page would improvise something brilliant. Hell, he had Bonham there to thunder in and finish it off, while Sergey Ryan has an acoustic, but like I said, “heavy” comes in a variety of shapes, sounds, and colors.
I recall the tune “Two Step Blues” going over big on the porch, while on the record it plays with a bit too much parody for me (my only criticism). That said, the bass line in the middle works exceptionally well, and the next three songs: “Life You Save” – haunting, “Unsolvable Man” – thought provoking, and the aforementioned “Eject Me” – vocally superior, all lead up perfectly to the album’s best track – “Different,” that which has vocal-howls in falsetto that could easily make this a legitimate single worthy of radio play. The last two tracks make for a valid “outro,” if you will, titled “Letter to Pa” and the jazzy “Flip” containing harmonies so rich you might want to start the record again from the beginning.
This performer is not metal, granted.
He’s not Arlo Guthrie either. He’s not a coffee house musician and above all, he’s not a cliché. He’s an explorer, and if that’s not totally “metal,” I don’t know what is.
Buy-Link for Bits and Pieces – https://sergeyryan.bandcamp.com/releases
Michael Aronovitz is a horror author and college professor. He has published three novels, two collections, and many short stories.
MHF Magazine/Michael Aronovitz