William Ryan Fritch: Empty EP
Lost Tribe Sound

William Ryan Fritch's twenty-one-minute Empty EP (digital download only) is but one small part of an ambitious subscription series project undertaken by the remarkably gifted composer-instrumentalist that ultimately will see the equivalent of ten albums (six-and-a-half hours of new music) issued in a nine-month span; somehow Fritch also has managed to work into his schedule the Death Blues collaboration with drummer Jon Mueller that resulted in the recent Ensemble. Working alone, the EP finds Fritch in singer-songwriter mode, with all but one of the experimental folk-styled tracks featuring vocals.

At first blush, the songs seem straightforward enough, but an undercurrent of dread and disillusionment can be gleaned beneath their surfaces, an impression sonically reinforced when so many of them are animated by plodding rhythms. Despair seems close at hand during “A Dying Trade” in lyrics such as “In a world that is ever-drying / There's no fleeting intangible thing / That will make this dry riverbed flow,” even if the final line conveys resilience and determination: “I will find a way to make ends meet.” In place of the fecundity oft associated with a verdant paradise, the land is parched and bereft of life in “Too Little, Too Much” (“And that very sky seals up, not spilling a drip / Over lands cankered and bone dry”), and a humble recognition of human frailty arrives in the closing “Backwards Birth” in the assertion “We are born short of sight, dependent and in debt / And that's how we'll surely return / Crawling to a backwards birth.”

Yet some degree of salvation does arrive, as it so often does, in the form of an earthly connection to another, as becomes apparent during the waltz-styled “You Remain” in Fritch's declaration, “There is no celestial power that can move me like your fleshly frame.” Complementary in spirit, “Aimless Dreams,” a classic Fritch instrumental, plods as slowly as the vocal songs but nevertheless exudes a triumphant air in its rising melodic sweep and pastoral grandeur. If the lyrics are sometimes morose in character, the material instrumentally speaking is as rich as one has by now come to expect from a Fritch production, with scores of strings, guitars, keyboards, and vocals giving the music a wide-screen grandeur with which long-time listeners have grown familiar.

October 2014