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Listening Report: RY X’s Blood Moon, A Song Cycle Soundtrack For Epic Personal Ascent Or Introspective Reflection on Vinyl, CD, Qobuz, Tidal & Apple Streaming

Mark Smotroff explores a great new Pacific coast seascape sunset soundtrack for thinking…

He goes by the initials RY X, hailing originally from Australia and now living in Southern California. His music spans several categories of ambient, pop electronica, indie and alternative rock as well as various hybrid hashtag-worthy brandings there in  (folktronica! Indietronica!)

The Wikipedia page for RY X — revealing him as the formerly named Ry Cuming — says that Jeff Buckley’s Grace album is one of his big influences which is a great place for an aspiring composer to begin these days. And I hear that influence in his music, particularly when it comes to the often hushed but very upfront vocals on many of the songs here on his new album.

This recording is called Blood Moon — available on two-LP vinyl as well as popular digital platforms like Qobuz, Tidal and Apple Music — and it is a curiously modern hybrid which also feels organic and woody.  Here, RX Y creates an over-arching vibe, giving priority to mood setting versus obvious hooky song structures. There is a simplicity of purpose going on here which is appealing and the overall sound pulls you back in for repeated listens. The feeling I’ve been getting reminds me at times of the way bands like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes first caught my ear. Or imagine a whole album of the moodier slow pieces from Radiohead’s Amnesiac and Kid A sessions. 

I’ll put it this way: these subtle melodies on Blood Moon, given the opportunity, can etch their soul into the psyche.

Listening to RX Y’s Blood Moon also reminds me a bit of Sigur Rós but if they were fronted by Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear. RY X’s words are sometimes mumbled in a sort of half spoken, half sung voice to the point where it is often difficult to follow the lyrics.  This is not a bad thing but it is part of the album’s overall aesthetic. Some of my favorite songwriter performers have done similar things with their recordings over the years prompting the listener to play the recording over and over to figure out the storyline, especially when lyric sheets are not immediately available (see Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, etc.). 

There is a thread of lush acoustic guitar and multi-layered vocals — with periodic high falsetto parts — on Blood Moon. Multi-layered harmonies and occasional rich synthesizer washes are elevated by looped repetitive sequenced drum beats and percussion. Interestingly, RY X (who has gone on to produce tracks for no less than Drake) took a somewhat holistic approach to crafting this album, working not from the beats up but from a single, pure base of guitar. 

From his official press release we learn:

“I tracked the guitar and vocal live in one take through an old Studer desk, carrying all the hiss of analogue weight with it, then built stacks of vocals and synth drones around it. I layered flamenco-style claps and percussions then built drum machine sequences and sounds to deepen its expression.”

This is a smart process as it lends the music a slightly less programmed feel even though there are a lot of classic sequencer type sounds and effects happening throughout. 

Blood Moon is not all down tempo as we hear on burbling bubbling tracks like “Borderline” which floats haunting harmonized horn samples over a fast-paced drum beats and loops, intercutting the deep reverb and isolated vocal moments. I could imagine this track being a single perhaps, or a pull-out feature movie moment. 

Actually,  a lot of the music here on Blood Moon often feels well suited for a soundtrack to moody scenes in a dramatic film about love lost and found, discovery and longing. 

“Your Love” is another one of those tracks which rely on a simple repeated chorus presented in various extremes of hushed in-your-face directness or floating off into a free-fall atmospheric ether of deep space reverb.  

I really like the percolating Indian-flavored percussion loops he weaves in “Crawl” which feels like a million spiders dancing on the sand on some far away beach. Some pieces, such as “Spiral,” feature lovely piano chord sequences which help to give the album some variety as an end-to-end listen. 

Smokey colored vinyl edition available at https://www.ry-x.com/

Despite its introspective feel, Blood Moon has an overall nice demeanor to it — this isn’t a bummer trip, at least musically (I haven’t studied the lyrics closely as of yet). The album sounds clean and rich without feeling harsh or overly digital (despite a lot of digital production aesthetics). This is an important point because so many modern digitally produced albums often end up having a sort of crunchy exterior which is easily revealed when listening on a high fidelity sound system.

I enjoyed the vinyl experience for numerous reasons. Blood Moon is pressed on high quality standard-weight opaque red vinyl that sounds quite round and rich and is happily well centered and pretty quiet overall. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the album spins at 45 RPM — even though it is not mentioned anywhere on the album cover or labels — so the recording actually sounds really quite excellent.  

As a listening experience, I like the fact that you have to get up every few songs to change sides as it helps to break up the repetitive flow. I can’t really call it a criticism but after a while listening as a stream the album does begin to feel a bit  of one flavor. Listening to it in small chunks is more like hearing the music as a series of mini suites, making it a bit easier to digest. 

If you are not sure yet if you need Blood Moon on vinyl or are simply unsure whether this music is your cup of tea, you can find it streaming in fine sounding 24-bit, 44.1 kHz Hi Res Qobuz (click here) and Tidal MQA Master Quality Audio (click here). Apple Music Lossless (click here). 

Blood Moon is the ideal listen for late on a foggy Sunday night alone on an outside deck to a cabin somewhere along the Pacific coastline while sipping an organic hot toddy in front of a firepit looking out into the dark seas.  Any way you decide to experience RX Y’s music, you should check it out.

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