Ryan Power’s Identity Picks is out this week via NNA Tapes. Check out the new video for the song “Sweetheart” below, as well as a stream of the album in its entirety, with some analysis throw in for good measure. And if you want to watch Power play the jams from Identity Picks, be sure to check out his July dates here!
There are many things to consider when discussing Ryan Power’s newest album Identity Picks. I’ve already discussed the musical/structural material of the album to some extent, but it’s definitely something that’s worth briefly mentioning again. Power writes the kind of songs that beautifully marry his lyrical sentiments to chord changes and arrangement developments that complement each other in a manner similar to song cycles from the Romantic era. It’s exactly the kind of thing that other musicians freak out over. For example, on a recent road trip with a group of fellow MFA music students, I threw on Identity Picks and proceeded to watch all of my friends collectively lose their shit over the dude’s ability to work such theoretical/experimental ideas into a pop context. However, while I’d love to nerd out and give you a complete harmonic analysis of mode-mixing songs like “The Prize” or “Earth to Fuckface,” it’s important to look at exactly how Power’s text fits with his infectious music, a combination that makes Power a true songwriting talent.
Whether intentionally or not, Identity Picks is a concept album of sorts that reveals its themes slowly and subtly over repeat listens. Now, obviously the title has something to do with what Power seems to be going for here, but the meaning is not as readily apparent as it may seem. Throughout the record, Power is trying to make sense of what direction his life is taking, and whatever path he chooses forces him to pick out a certain identity of sorts. However, there is lyrical imagery throughout the album that suggests that Power is looking at picking his identity the same way one would pick teammates for a sport or competition of sorts, and as the album progresses, it becomes apparent these songs are about Power competing and fighting for a number of various goals.
This theme is apparent from the first track onward. On the excellent “Sample Lives,” Power sings “You can’t forfeit the game or choose a new side,” as he desperately tries to live his life and socialize. By the end of the track, Power realizes that its too late to placate the blame of his own neuroses on his significant others “need[ing] to go to therapy.” On the next track, “The Prize,” Power presents the most competition-based metaphors, as he proclaims “Shame on you you crazy fool! I am the prize!” The song works on a couple of levels: (1) Power could be singing directly to a lover about lowering their standards in an attempt for them to realize the absurdity of their demands, or (2) Power could be addressing himself and attempting to self-motivate in the same manner as “Sample Lives.” Reading the record’s title somewhat favors the second meaning, but the ambiguity of Power’s use of “you” and “we” allows a wonderful openness to interpretation.
This theme of competition, however inconspicuous, continues throughout the album. On the smooth R&B-referencing numbers like “New Attitude” and the album’s title track, Power expounds on his competition and his feelings towards the game. On “New Attitude,” he proclaims that he “can’t control it when they strut their stuff,” while on the title cut he sings “I’m not having fun” like a kid realizing that they just can’t beat their school’s rival soccer team. Power realizes the ability of his rivals and can’t quite convince himself that he’s able to overcome them. However, he gets feisty and defensive on tracks like “Earth to Fuckface” and “Well on Your Way,” where he essentially realizes that he doesn’t want to join the same club as stuff-strutting foes who wear “80s sunglasses, flannel shirts, and jeans that hurt.” By the time the album nears completion, Power seems comfortably defeatist, but only because he realizes that his rivals are worse off than himself.
Amazingly, the sentiment of each one of Power’s tracks is mirrored musically in some way. The defeatist songs are more down tempo and R&B-based, while his defensive songs are generally more uptempo and Rundgren-esque. Chords change and arrangements shift with the lyrics in subtle ways. It makes for a sort of psuedo-song cycle that becomes clearer with each listen.
In many ways, Identity Picks is similar to From Langely Park to Memphis by Power’s beloved Prefab Sprout. Like that album, Identity Picks is an immediately likable, sophisticated pop record that reveals hidden layers of meaning with each listen. Where Prefab Sprout’s record gives way to reveal simultaneously ironic mocking and sincere reverence for the landscape of 80s American pop, Power’s album functions as a similar portrait of 2013’s personal/musical landscape. And also like Prefab’s album, Identity Picks is in no way overt about this, inviting open interpretation even when the material is there for those who want to dig deeper.