William Ryan Fritch Revisionist

[Lost Tribe Sound; 2015]

Styles: baroque rock, heavy folk
Others: Vieo Abiungo, Death Blues, Benoit Pioulard, Grizzly Bear

On Revisionist, William Ryan Fritch finds a middle ground between consonance and noise, owed to his naturally developed talent as a sound sculptor. Presenting songs created during an intensely busy period in his life, Revisionist’s orchestration is DIY; pulled from strange sources, the instruments are second-hand, though to the ear it sounds broadly, robustly organized. On the producer’s end, Fritch adds dense textures to his already elegiac music, evoking nature and the roughness of the organic.

Revisionist’s rhythms are immense. Its drums are made up of discarded percussion, scraps of metal, and thunderous toms, with layers of brittle texture and pulverizing blocks of bass. They suggest nothing less than grievous bodily harm, clashing swords and shields bashed against skulls, huge slaps of sound somewhere between the hollow patter of Grizzly Bear and the sepulchral whip-cracks of a modern Scott Walker song. On the utter opposite end of the spectrum lies the strings, harps, and guitars, plaintive and circumspect. Moments of minimalism, post-rock codas, and slow dirge-like stomps arise from evocative orchestrations. Above all that are Fritch & co. cooing airy melodies like a war-weary general sighing at a life of bloody struggles.

William Ryan Fritch’s music is impactful and threatening, yet his lyrics remain delicate, rarely tempting concrete interpretation. As a member of groups like Death Blues, he put his skills as a soundmaker to use, drawing a coarseness out of Jon Mueller’s compositions that complemented their bluntly mortal subject matter. On his own, he approaches similar topics with a similar style: every word he sings carries a cinematic air, boosted by his explosive design to sound like holy commands, though his lyrics are often vaguely moribund. On “Heavy,” it doesn’t matter much, with a triple gunshot of a drum carrying a grim melody like a war march. And on “Unholy Frames,” Fritch provides an angelic, wavering coo to hopeful lines like “child let your mind run wild.” Lyrics evoke the density of loss, pain as a palpable thing, expressed through anthropomorphic nature (“Winds”), fire, and drought (“Thankless Deeds”). The album’s overall concept speaks to encroaching fear, reproaching ignorance for a mistake long ignored, a brusque rejoinder to historical whitewashing, put forth in somber metaphors and backed up by Fritch’s bracing drum interjections.

These massive drums can sometimes get so unwieldy, however, that their bombast comes off more like a crutch, a narcotic to neuter the presence of weak songwriting. The stronger the pulse, the more they slog down the compositions, where songs like the title track can never quite escape their gravity. Fritch’s crushing blows lose their potency when they serve no additional purpose or alter no existing structures, all fury and no target. Despite boasting full control over the kaleidoscopic tapestry of sound on display, Fritch can’t shift momentum mid-song very well, usually capitulating to a beatless bridge or dipping just shy of a cathartic ending. Although some of its songs live well in their narrowly defined spaces, several drift by aimlessly, loudly, overdressed to perhaps compensate for the lack of a hook.

To his credit, the songs are never wanting for gravitas, even when the chords themselves feel a little underwhelming — suggesting more than doing. On “Heavy,” and many of the collaborations, there is a potential energy alive in the music akin to black metal, a breathing, earthy rawness to it that feels savage in how unburdened it is, how uncivil, beating away at the drum with a fury to drive an entire battalion. One can only hope that, next time, Fritch will lead the charge.

Links: William Ryan Fritch - Lost Tribe Sound

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