It’s not that your mind wanders when listening to the sprawling yet ultimately pointed music of Matthew Ryan. It’s more that your mind makes connections. For example, when you get to the mostly rhetorical “How’d you get so drunk and disappointed?” chorus of “Drunk & Disappointed”, you might find yourself thinking of the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied”. As you’re chewing on that, Ryan hits you with, in full snarl, “Johnny wanted a lot of things, but Johnny didn’t want to die” — another Replacements-ish flashback. That sets you up for “It Could’ve Been Worse” and that song’s couplet, “Her blonde hair was the setting sun/Her mascara was born to run.” The rare Replacements/Springsteen combo.
The names Springsteen and Westerberg have surfaced in Ryan write-ups. The former gets mentioned in relation to the epic sweep of Ryan’s songs, the latter thanks to such lines as “She’s the first girl you kissed/She’s the first girl you miss/When you’re feeling like this” as well as throwaway brilliance such as rhyming “stupider” with “Jupiter.”
But those namedrops are just tiny flashpoints. Ryan remains his own man with his own brand of atmospheric roots-rock, a sound that is taken to new heights in collaboration with the band Vs. The Silver State (and there’s your explanation of the record’s title). His conspiratorial vocals continue to compel; it’s like he’s waving you over to sing directly in your ear. And when your mind finally focuses, you realize that this new one isn’t any kind of homage to musical heroes. It’s stories from his old neighborhood in Philly, of Jane and Johnny and the kid who listened to the Clash. And it’s Ryan’s best record yet.