Album Review: Phoebe Ryan – How It Used To Feel (2020)

It’s rare that I listen to an album by an artist without doing ANY background research. That probably puts me somewhere between a sociopath and a CIA profiler, but anyway. I only realised that Phoebe Ryan was even releasing an album on Tuesday – her debut album – and it intrigued me. I had no idea what to expect coming into this – my knowledge of her music comes from featuring on ‘All We Know’ by The Chainsmokers and ‘Heart Attack’ with Tove Lo – possibly my favourite artist.

‘How It Used To Feel’ opens with ‘ICIMY’ – standing for In Case I Miss You – a euphoric pop song which gets this album off to a great start. I was rocking on my bed to this tune – and a rare thing – it went straight into my ‘liked’ songs on Spotify! I was then transported to an open-roof car, wind billowing past me on the country roads with ‘Talk To Me’. This is a song, and an album, which provides the essence of summer for me, even if I have no idea that’s what she intended. Maybe the blue skies and the white-sanded beach on the cover influenced me slightly, but I feel warm listening to it. ‘Try It Sober’ is another chilled track with a muted guitar – but a beat in the chorus which gives it a kick. Ironically, this could be a song which is well suited to not being sober – I could imagine myself slowly clapping to it after a few too many!

As ‘See Myself’ begun, I again tried to categorise the music in this album. Indie pop is definitely the main genre, but it feels more than that. It’s got more of a folky energy to it, if that makes any sense. Not in the ‘folklore’ sense, but it fits in well with other tracks which would perfectly soundtrack a day at the park with cans of cider and sunbathing. It’s very chill, but there’s enough going on to stop it being boring.

The next song I really liked was ‘Little Piece’, a catchy track which feels like it is about you loving someone, and giving them a piece of your heart, however if they leave you, they take part of you with them. My favourite part of the song was the final part, with layered vocals raising the ending of the track. I really liked the next song too, ‘Ring’. I hate drawing comparisons between artists, especially women – however sometimes it is unavoidable. It has a similar feel to tracks from Tove Lo’s 2014 Queen Of The Clouds album, with it’s heavy beat and laid-back, high-pitched vocals. In this case it’s definitely not a bad comparison – I honestly think fans of Tove’s music would really enjoy this album. However, there are clear differences in the sound – for example, ‘Fade”s backing contains a twang which gives it a more country-influenced aura.

‘Henny’ is a short 58 second interlude, where Ryan confesses some of her insecurities while also looking back at how she has grown from the past. It flows beautifully into ‘Just Like Me’ – it seems to work as an intro to the track. To try not to state the obvious, it’s a song about someone very similar to her – maybe a lover? It’s really calm, and I enjoyed it. ‘A Thousand Ways’ is the penultimate song, which is a very late contender for the best song. Her muted, semi-whispered vocals stand out against a soft guitar and occasional beat, but what makes it impressive for me is that it’s melody is VERY catchy. I could easily see this being on a radio somewhere – if any of the tracks on ‘HIUTF’ have hit potential it’s this way. ‘The Real Wild Ones’ is a lovely closer with a nostalgic quality, especially with its piano and violin backing. It’s another song to do a slow rock from side to side to.

Looking through the release details of her last few singles (from this project), it appears Phoebe Ryan has left the major label system and has put this out independently. It’s therefore another quality example of what an artist can really do when free of a lot of the constraints which major labels can put on releases. There’s no real track here which looks like a desperate attempt for a hit – it’s a very measured, coherent set of songs which all correspond to the same, chilled summer vibe. And that’s one of the most important things if you’re unlikely to get into the top 100 with a single – creating a beautiful album which listeners can go back to time and again to feel and experience something. I have a feeling I’ll be doing that with this album. It feels weird calling it a debut album because she seems to have been around for so long but: it’s really good and I would completely recommend it! 🙂

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