Sound: You walk into the store and your eyes are latched onto an album that has characters that resemble something you would find in a Dr. Suess book. If you are aesthetic enough, you would walk out of the store with one CD and then dollars less of cash.
When you arrived home, the CD reaching into the stereo would be the first thing you do. The disc starts spinning and the first song would play. At first listen, the music flowing out of the speakers would be somewhat indie-eccentric. They flow well and are relaxing, but Ralston's voice was something different. Was he a good singer or not? It was hard to tell - it wasn't the way he sang, but they way his voice sounded. By the time the CD finishes, you feel bored by the way he sings and decide to put the CD away. "Why did I even buy that?" you may think to yourself.
2 months later, your friend comes over and finds your CD sitting on your shelf. He/she places it in your stereo and starts listening to the stream of music. You're confused. Have you ever heard this song before? And the one right after it? It sounded all very different.
That was Ralston's approach exactly. Each song of his had hidden sounds, not noticed the first or second or third time listened to. The more you listened to the song, not only did you get used to Ralston's strained voice, but you heard the different sounds and waves of the song and the music became more fluid and beautiful.
"The record was built to give the listener the experience of hearing something new with each repeated listen - you'll likely never hear this record the same way twice." - John Ralston's Last.fm page
In my opinion, when it came to how he combined different synthetic instruments with acoustic guitar and many innovative percussions, he was up to par. I adore the sound coming from my speakers when I place his CD in the stereo. // 8
Lyrics: The lyrics are a sort of twisted poetry. In the first track "Fragile", Ralston uses a paradoxical effect and strange analogies to try to get his story across. It also has a very chilling darkness to it, making it almost depressing. Most of his song lyrics have that same affect on me.
In "The Only Evidence", not only is the violins in the beginning beautiful, but his lyrics dance in your ears. The end of the short chrous in this song (when Ralston sings "good enough for you") has such a drop effect in tempo, that your heart almost falls after it. That part always gets me emotionally to the point of me tearing. For some reason, you feel the meaning in that simple clause and it takes you back a mile.
My favorite lyric in "I Guess I Wasted My Summer No" which I just had to mention is "I had butterflies, they had sharpened hooks". The mental image of that makes a person feel a relation to the lyrics. And once you feel like you can relate to the lyrics, you tend to respect the artist much more.
By the time you approach the middle of the CD tracklist, sound-wise you are wanting more; lyrics-wise you are wondering how much he has left in him. "Lessons I & II" was about the difficulty of being 'a human being' with the criticism and peer pressure. Not only is the lyrics that are dramatically different (yet they keep the same depressed appeal), but even Ralston's voice seems to deepen at times.
"I let you go like they said but you never came back to me..." - Beautiful Disarmed
The lyrics of the songs seem to comply well with the music. His music had subtle indications of specific instruments and background vocals brought it together in such a beautiful manner, as if it were poetry with more than just words but voice. Even if you understood nothing of what the lyrics meant, per se you didn't speak English, you would still get the same emotion out of the album through the music. // 8
Overall Impression: This album is definitely one of my most favorite albums. There are maybe two or three songs that I'm not a big fan of, but they are compensated by the fact that the ones that I do like I don't just like - I adore. I would put the CD in the record or play it on my iPod and just feel myself slipping into an alternate dimension of relaxation and sometimes sadness. (But this sadness is a very happy-sad, if that makes sense). I adore how different this CD is from others. The album is very humble. It feels like an emerging genius at work to me. If I had ever misplaced my copy of this album, I would rush to get myself another one. It means that much to me for having listened to it for only 4 months. // 9