Ryan Hemsworth - Guilt Trips
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Record Label: Last Gang
On Ryan Hemsworth’s “Still Cold,” a guest verse from Baths delivers some of the snarkiest lines of the year, murmuring “it’s almost funny that you’re still so cold/what are you Taylor Swift?/It’s almost funny that you’re still so cold and that I think you’re worth the bullshit.” What follows is Baths turning the cheek to his audience, not out of forgiveness but out of spite: “...you’re not.” An emerging cadre of musicians, Hemsworth and Baths among them, indulge in this sort of acidic confessional, frequently delivering it with pop culture and musical references that can be understood wholly by the culturally hyper-literate, the people who find refuge from themselves in the creations of others. Guilt Trips , Hemsworth’s proper debut album, delivers a masterclass in this formula.
Guilt Trips will likely affect you most if you have found deep resonance in shared pop culture touchstones with Hemsworth. Perhaps you find that derisively mocking the naked emotion of Taylor Swift camouflages your own insecure feelings and identification with her. Perhaps you’ve found you have powerful reactions to the inevitable moments of loss and failure in The Legend of Zelda series, a comparison that arises at least in part because the punishing percussion of “Avec Vous” is accompanied by manic accordion that sounds ripped directly from the unbalanced Windmill Man's wrath in Ocarina of Time. Elsewhere on the misleadingly titled “Happiness and Dreams Forever,” Hemsworth layers drowned cries of “please don’t trust me” under pummeling, shadowy synths that recoil away from the person being addressed. It feels as though it is worming it’s way out of Hemsworth’s mouth nearly involuntarily, a way of protecting both another and himself from the inevitable weakness he sees himself succumbing to. This is not music for the genuinely self-assured, but is hardly a consolation for those racked with self-doubt and convictions of their own unique failings.
This is a level of narcissism to be sure, the same that was once levied against emo music in its heyday, as the musician is so childishly absorbed in their own problems that they can’t see the havoc and scars they leave on those around them. A fear of commitment, of trying, of doing anything more than heaving and sobbing to the slightest disruption in one’s emotional state pervades every note. But Hemsworth is striving against his own limitations, pushing the boundaries of self-awareness and writhing in discomfort as he does so. The blunted froth of “Against A Wall” finds rapper Lofty claiming “Welcome to my life/I want to share it with you,” and yet it isn’t a traditional romantic statement. It is communicating the desire to relieve himself of self-imposed burdens, a recognition that what comes next must not find him cloistered and sheltering himself from the possibility of pain.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that the tracks most effective at communicating this conceit are the ones which are accompanied by a vocalist. The instrumentals are compelling pieces on their own, but it is difficult to go tit for tat with the likes of Tinashe’s sickly warble on “One For Me” or Kitty’s typical disaffected deadpan on “Day/Night/Sleep System ”when attempting to evoke such complexity. Kitty, perhaps a bit surprisingly given her uneven solo efforts, delivers something of a mission statement for Guilt Trips, rapping “The frog in my throat well it's holding down/ the truth behind 99% of my joking/like the times I invite you over to choke it out/And every single time you decline and I try to joke about it.” It catches on the end of each line in a suprisingly catchy manner, making a strong case for both producer and rapper as ascendant indie pop artists, perhaps even with crossover potiential, while retaining what makes them so intriguing.
Guilt Trips breezes by without so much as a snag or wobble, its even keel throughout impressive all the more for how disparate some of Hemsworth’s influences are, running the gamut from R. Kelly to the contemporary cloud rap trend. Calling for less brevity and more indulgence is as much a compliment as it is a critique, and Hemsworth’s ability to make a melting pot of both emotion and aesthetic is one that warrants more than a mere thirty-seven minutes. Hemsworth has been steadily improving for some time now as he remixed trap bangers into emotionally fraught ambience and released some of the most colorful emotional dance in recent memory. The release of a debut album is little more than formality; Hemsworth has flooded the market with official releases and DJ sets that either come close in length or far exceed it. But an album it is nonetheless, and it is the most accomplished, finely tuned release Hemsworth has under his belt so far. While his best songs may yet be scattered about the internet or buried in his friends DJ sets, Guilt Trips works better as a cohesive whole than anything which has come before, yet leaves you clamoring for more.