Analogue Music | Darkness yielding to the faintest light, even on the…
Hustle Up Starlings

Hustle Up Starlings

Artist: Matthew Ryan · Written by Matt Conner

Date Released

12 May, 2017




39 minutes

"Pale blue sky, colder than hell
If you're looking for me to make you feel
Well I'm looking for that myself
And a strong foundation
that no heartache could shift
And the grace of god
and for all this frustration to finally lift." -Matthew Ryan, "Beautiful Fool", May Day

Twenty years have passed since I put on headphones in the music section of a Borders to listen to May Day, my first impression of Matthew Ryan. It turned out to be Ryan's first release, as well. I was mesmerized, and bought a copy then and there. Ryan's gravelly, confessional style has proven a faithful friend since.

Hustle Up Starlings is Ryan's latest album, a straightforward album of burners and ballads right in line with the rest of his catalog. Musically, it's driving and dreary, spirited and sparse. The compositions themselves are effective, even satisfying, but they're also secondary, serving as vehicles for Ryan's encouragements, reflections and laments. He's the reliable friend sitting on the stool next to you—a half-consumed glass of whiskey in hand (or perhaps with cigarette alight between fingers)—content to linger in the silence, the one you know will never bullshit you with platitudes or untried advice. Ryan has lived a little, and the authenticity of May Day rings truer now on this side of youth.

Starlings features a full emotional spectrum, steeped in brokenness yet always yearning for a world dreamed of. The unadorned rock anthem "(I Just Died) Like An Aviator," a surefire soon-to-be live favorite, kicks off the album with the admission, "God I'm a wreck" paired with the bleak reminder that "the same thing that makes you live can bury you alive." One song later, he's encouraging someone else in the same place, reminding them "you're still alive even if you can't breathe." It's a matter of perspective and the beauty of Matthew Ryan's music is in the way he validates them all.

For all of the sorrow present on Starlings, it's never despairing or bleak.

Much of Starling's beauty is found in the wisdom gathered since his earliest days, the substance of songs that simply could not have been written ten years prior. The title track slow dances with old flames, reminiscing about a record store girl and maybe more, a tapestry reflected in the realization, "Now there's no silence that's quieter than this / The things we love will one day disappear / First slow and then so quick." The aching memory of faded relationships remains central on other songs like the lovely piano ballad "Maybe I'll Disappear" where Ryan sings, "It's just so strange / How we get stuck / What once meant nothing / Now means so much."

For all of the sorrow present on Starlings, it's never despairing or bleak. The darkness always yields to the faintest light, even on the sparsest tracks. Ryan is a close companion who offers much-needed consolation and reassurance, even if it's actually self-talk. No matter the intended audience, it's a universal salve that quickly finds the wound, sometimes rather unexpectedly. Starlings' best example is "Run Rabbit Run," a heartening, atmospheric slow burn that offers a hand in the chaos. "Don't let your heart go out like this," he sings. "Don't look back, just run rabbit run."

After twenty years, I'm inclined to believe him. He's been right before.