Sound Advice: Guilt Trips by Ryan Hemsworth
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Sound Advice: Guilt Trips by Ryan Hemsworth

Hemsworth's eclectic nerdiness makes this new full-length a success.


We’re going to get really nerdy with this edition of Sound Advice right off the bat, because it seems only appropriate to couch any consideration of Ryan Hemsworth‘s work in an admission of one’s own geekery. (Hemsworth’s love for the musical scores from classic video games is well documented.) So: at one point in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf writes to his hobbit friends in verse. One of the lines in that poem is “Not all who wander are lost.” Something similar could be said about Hemsworth’s short yet wildly productive career.

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and now based in Toronto, Hemsworth has made a name for himself over the last two years by remixing artists as diverse as Cat Power and Quadron. His original tracks draw on everything from rap beats, to dance urgency, to drenched, experimental synths. It comes as no surprise, then, that his first solo full-length, released on Last Gang records on October 22, is varied and vast. While records can suffer from a lack of cogency, the diversity of Guilt Trips is the key to its strength.

A strong collaborative impulse has defined much of Hemsworth’s work (his other full-length release was 2011’s Distorted, with Shady Blaze) and that tendency is well represented on Guilt Trips. Hemsworth’s production is chameleonic, bending and changing according to the artist he’s working with. “One for Me,” featuring R&B singer Tinashe, is a chilly and crackling affair designed to set off the warmth and physicality of her voice. The bass creaks like ice floes breaking apart, and the cymbals have an icicle sharpness. Then, to work with the mellifluous vocals of Baths on “Still Cold,” Hemsworth digs into winding, wending layers of playfully sinister electropop.

Hemsworth is an introvert, however, and it’s when he’s wandering down his own strange, bending paths that some of the lovelier moments of Guilt Trips unexpectedly surface. “Yaeko Mitamura is Lonely” is a perfect example of this, with its layers of shimmering distortion, its gentleness, the way it toys with its own edges. It’s also a reference to a character in the Japanese manga Ai Shite Knight, and so allows Hemsworth to revel in his nerdiness. (You can listen to another track from the album, “Against a Wall,” by clicking the sample above.)

There is something gloriously self-indulgent about Hemsworth’s work, and on Guilt Trips it makes for an extremely productive creative landscape.