It’s nine in the morning on a freakishly sunny day. You’re asleep, albeit well rested, when somebody (let’s go with Mum) enters the room and makes their way over to your window. Mum’s presence is only brought to your attention once she’s standing there, Jesus-like in front of a white abyss, having abruptly opened the blinds with little regard for your recommended eight hours. The bright light tumbles in and wakes you, perks you, and briefly annoys you. But then, you realize just how pleasant the sunlight is. A comfortable surprise. You turn to Mum and say “Thanks.”
That’s the only analogy that comes to mind for Shiny Joe Ryan’s debut solo album, The Cosmic Microwave Background. Like the said blast of sunshine, there’s nothing subtle about this album. It contains few surprises, few of the intricacies that may be found in Ryan’s songs with Pond; and like the morning sun, we’ve all seen it happen before. But it doesn’t matter – it knows what it is. A collection of simple, playful, and celestial pop jams with a notion of structure and chord progressions reminiscent of late-60s sunshine pop.
‘Always Wanting More’ opens the album warmly. Its looping keys and glimmering synthesizers set a precedent for one of the release’s more prominent features; digital absurdity. By ‘digital absurdity’, I mean the shameless use of 80s synth effects, space samples, and on tracks like ‘Hold On For The Ride’, dirty hammond jams. This emerges in other tracks too, including ‘The Cosmic Microwave Background Part II’, where futuristic synths evoke sci-fi-like images of unexplored astral horizons and massive, foreign motherships emerging out of nowhere. It’s humorously cheesy to the degree of self-deprecation; all furthered by a consistent lyrical focus on space.
However, amongst the smorgasbord of keys and effects, there emerges a McCartney-esque emphasis on simple piano lines accompanied by simple melodies. The marriage between electronic ambitiousness and playful pop simplicity is a strange, albeit interesting one – and indicative that the album wasn’t made to be taken entirely seriously. Tracks like ‘Whatever Happened To The Space Race’ and the album’s closing track ‘Can We Ever Make It’ constitute fairly well-executed and highly reverberated homages to late-60s piano ballads, both splayed by sonic jam-outs that end literally every song on the album.
So basically, it’s hard to hate. The Cosmic Microwave Background is a playful, self-aware release void of any serious ambition or pretense. It seems equally birthed from collaborative jams as it is from lonely moments on a piano; and as innocent as it is totally absurd. A bout of morning light whose intensity is initially overwhelming, then eventuates into something warm and enjoyable. A comfortable surprise from Shiny Joe Ryan.