Nina Ryser - Paths of ColorLABEL: Wharf Cat Records
Media Condition: Mint
Sleeve Condition: Mint
Nina Ryser has been making music since she was eight years old. Her first gear was her Fischer-Price toy tape machine, on which she’d record songs written on piano, karaoke songs, and thoughts from “Nina’s Diry.” One of these, “I Just Really Hope You Have a Good Time Listening,” is the final track on Ryser’s new solo album, Paths of Color, out this October on Cowgirl Records.
Paths is Ryser’s sixth solo album — an impressive number, considering she’s also spent the past seven years in the buzzing art-noise-rock trio Palberta (as well as the projects Old Maybe, Shimmer, Data, and Fire Roast). In line with her past few releases, Paths is characteristic Nina Ryser: dreamy, wonky, synth-based art-pop that’s bubbly, edgy, sweet, and dark all at once; with elements of post-punk, art rock, and free jazz. But on Paths, Ryser has honed her home recording and mixing skills and refined her home studio set-up, making it her most polished-sounding work yet. And, along with the mastering skills of Angel Marcloid (Fire-Toolz), it is intentionally clearer-sounding than anything she has yet produced. But she’s maintained that homemade vibe, as well as the freedom of childhood expression that is so crucial to her sound. Her background in contemporary classical music serves to hold it all together in a taut, designful balance.
There’s a balance here, too, of loss and light. Written and recorded at the beginning of the stay-at-home order, during a time of hardship and grief, Paths of Color is, as Ryser puts it, about how "Underneath the loss and hardship of the past and apprehension and doubt of the present, there's love and appreciation.” Underlying each song is a love song about “loved ones I've lost this past year, and loved ones in my life today who I admire and cherish.”
And it is influenced, inextricably, by our new reality. Even “I Just Really Hope You Have a Good Time Listening” is a part of this record because Ryser was re-listening to old tapes during lockdown: “I wanted to bring that back for this album,” she says. “I feel really close to that part of my life. That's always been something that I've done, record songs in my bedroom. It felt really relevant to me in this moment.” And because we can’t have live shows anymore these days, Ryser’s brought part of her live performances into Paths: the second half of “You’ve Always Taken Charge,” which is about her grandmother’s death, is the kind of improvised soundscape transition piece Ryser usually performs onstage between songs.
Remarkably, Ryser does it all herself. “It’s all me in my house,” she says. Even “Shelf the Trophy,” which sounds like it could be part of a Palberta set, was just Ryser (unless you count the input of her roommate, who suggested the addition of the cowbell!). The lyrics for that track were riffed as the song was recorded, just like her homemade album art, which she riffed with her favorite paintbrush markers. “I kind of had a vision,” she says. Born into a family of artists — her brother, Sam Ryser, is the Brooklyn printer Dripper World, her parents are artists, and her grandmother, who so influenced this record, made children’s books and upholsteries — she jokes she “had no way around it.”
Paths of Color may be inspired by loss and grief, but that love shines through in its sonic playfulness. Like on first single “Dancing in the Street,” whose chorus is an email Ryser once received from her grandmother, it is both mourning and celebration. But, as Ryser says, “There's celebration in mourning, too.”
To quote eight-year-old Ryser: “I just really hope that you had a great time listening and I really hope that you listen to it over and over, until you’re tired of it, and you tell me how good it is the next time we see each other. I am very proud of my work, and I hope you are, too. So, seeya later. The end!”
-Leah Mandel, Cowgirl Records