By Ryan Mitchell-Smith
The brilliance of DIY releases is that they really sort the wheat from the chaff. Firstly, you've got to have the absolute belief that what you produce is worthy of digital immortalisation. Secondly, it's much easier to hide your substandard songwriting behind layers of multimillion pound production. Pleasingly, The Musician has a very high wheat-to-chaff ratio.
What's immediately striking about the record is what a high level of production Ryan Michell-Smith achieves for a self release. Immediately 3-part multi-tracked harmony kicks you in the face and before you know it you're confronted with a menagerie of orchestral colours, with a spot of gorgeous string writing towards the end. Mitchell-Smith has clearly gone to town in a way that allows us to forgive the occasional cheesy flute sound. Perhaps what makes this all the more forgivable is the strengths in his songwriting - infectious melodies, well-timed climaxes and groove aplenty. Top it off with inventive basslines, unshakeably cool harmonica solos, and creative arrangement: there won't be many people left in the room with completely unchecked tick boxes.
Influences are worn heartily on the sleeves: 'Piano Song' smacks heavily of a bouncy Ben Folds number and certain tracks give off a heavy Dave Matthews and John Mayer vibe. Even a few baffling numbers reminiscent of Jamiroquai poke their heads in for a natter and occasional hints of Bonobo vibes and the odd Incubus-esque vocal melody surface. A really remarkable blend that still manages to remain idiosyncratic.
On the whole, the album flows well but a couple of anomalies disrupt the stream. 'IHTSYGBILTWYL', a Rockabilly ode to the female backside, seemingly comes out of nowhere. It's a sharp contrast to the live solo version which has a funky aggro about it. It's the kind of cheesily produced cliche that sends the hipsters crying for their mothers. On the other hand, it is about arses so quite frankly one is advised to suck it up...
There's an important point to be made about this too. The liner notes simply say 'For my friends, for my family, for myself'. For all its cleanly-produced gusto it's a modest album which isn't asking for global recognition, just for you to take it how you find it and enjoy what you want. There's a shit ton of enjoyment to be gained from it too.
The power of DIY is alive and well in this record. It proves what people with imagination and talent can do regardless of whether or not they have a full orchestra hidden in their sock drawer. As DIY records go, The Musician is no wonky shelf.