In most of America, spring arrives with a flourish. Green leaves appear on trees for the first time in months, the sun peeks out behind the clouds and snow finally melts away as temperatures rise.
Here in the Bay Area, we do things different. It never really gets that cold, so we don’t see any dramatic change in the foliage. Snow is a myth. In San Francisco, the only real harbinger of change is an increase in the early morning fog, which creates a hushed, contemplative mood. I always feel impelled to match the atmosphere by putting on a quiet, hushed album with a vibe that is unpretentious and unhurried, just like the weather outside.
Enter Ryan Von Gonten. The Oakland singer-songwriter is set to release his latest album, Painfulfree, on March 26 and we are premiering it here a few days early. The 12-track record is a collection of soft, woozy numbers that recall Bill Callahan, Nick Drake, and, in particular, Cass McCombs.
Like the aforementioned artists, Von Gonten has a pillowy, soothing vocal delivery, aided on the album by trembly guitars, austere piano play, thrumming bass lines and steady pacing. None of these songs will raise your blood pressure, but their meticulous nature will provide a sense of appreciation for the professionalism on display.
While each track shares a unity in economy and patience, there are enough sonic ripples throughout the album to keep it engaging. The opening track, “Symbol of Nice,” is a tranquil coffeeshop folk cut, propelled gently forward by upright bass and shivery acoustic guitar. “Burned Orange” is a shimmering, slinky number that feels like Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” minus the self-loathing, while the album closer, “Realize,” is a gossamer-thin ballad that slowly gains momentum, but never reaches an easy conclusion.
Von Gonten says Painfulfree mirrors his newfound sense of acceptance, explaining “ The album reflects on my process of letting go of moral and professional expectations I had for myself and being happy with where I am right now.”While forceful opposition and rebellion have always been a focal point of contemporary music, Painfulfree proves that the sound of contentment can be just as stirring.
You can order the vinyl pressing of Painfulfree on Von Gonten’s Bandcamp page.