Bill Ryder-Jones used to be in The Coral. A few years ago, following the release of their fifth album Roots And Echoes, he left. There was no obvious spat, and no ugly public dismissal of craft past or current from either side, just seemingly a journey that had run its course. An artist wishing to sail in an alternate direction.
“Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.” – Coco Chanel
If… is the culmination of what Ryder-Jones did next. A series of low-key instrumentals and scores for short films has now led to this. Billed as a soundtrack to Italian writer Italo Calvino’s post modernist novel If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – a musical accompaniment to a film never to be made. Which makes it sound difficult. Overtly intellectual. Rife with condescending airs and graces. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“We must never confuse elegance with snobbery.” – Yves Saint Laurent
If… is an astonishingly elegant thing. An astonishingly beautiful thing. And within that elegance, underpinning it, is a clarity, a lightness, a deftness of touch that keeps you connected to the songs.
“Simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance” – Coco Chanel
It isn’t until three tracks in that we even hear Ryder-Jones’ voice. We’re left with elegant movements of the orchestra: the delicate piano of the self-titled opener, the plaintive cries of strings of The Reader (Malbork). When the vocals do arrive they are faint and discrete, subtle murmurs that blend and enhance and do not detract. The mood is bleak and stark, but not totally without light.
“Elegance thrives on exclusion.” – Mason Cooley
Even when things head in a direction more accordant with what you may have expected given Ryder-Jones’ guitar focussed past – as on the folky Le Grande Désorde and the wonderful, solemn Give Me A Name – it is done with a grace and restraint that makes them all the more moving.
“Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a factor that decides between success and failure.” – Edsger Dijkstra
If… is one of the most surprising releases of the year. One of the most elegant releases of the year. It is a record that’s hard to place, hard to shake and easier to love than you could ever have conceived.
“An elegant woman is a woman who despises you and has no hair under her arms.” – Salvador Dali