Halifax-native Ryan Hemsworth has thrived in the disbanding of genre divides, enabled by the digital era, from producing songs for Southern hip-hop artists, and pushing ‘90s-style R&B back on trend, to experimenting with downtempo bedroom electronica, and remixing chart-topping pop songs. His sophomore solo album, Alone For The First Time, however, marks a step toward honing a completely idiosyncratic sound. Despite its name, Alone For The First Time, is replete with collaborations cultivated from a community of bedroom producers including little cloud, Lontalius and Dawn Golden. The album combines Hemsworth’s manifold sonic influences with his fascination with early video game soundtracks to make a unique aesthetic statement.
Hurt Me opens the album with a model Hemsworth instrumental production. Its buoyant melodic motifs, sounded with bubbly synths and electronic drills, are preceded by symphonic strings, creating a wide-eyed look toward the future that is at once nostalgic. The sonic alchemist continues to captivate with Walk Me Home. Its floating synths (sometimes reminiscent of a Jamaican steel drum) are anchored by a stream of melancholy, seized by the heartrending lyric: there’s no room for me left in your heart. New Zealand native Lontalius flawlessly captures consolation in vulnerability with his perfectly languid voice.
Snow in Newark embodies Hemsworth’s recent change of pace. The track takes us from the dance floor to the bedroom floor, navigating the pervasive experience of heartbreak and disconnect. Dawn Golden’s wounded vocals traverse the universal truth of human connectedness in this dreamy electronic hymn. The album soon drifts into the ethereal Too Long, whose atmospheric ups and downs are unfortunately distracted by Alex G’s incoherent vocals. The choice of delivery is an attempt to keep the track grounded through violent sonic explosions, but instead its flatness pulls it under.
The shuddering Surrounded is in stark contrast to its predecessor. One of the most affecting tracks on the album; Hemsworth makes use of Kotomi’s stunning vocals, who turns somewhat unsophisticated lyrics into a moving exploration of the distressing isolation of heartbreak. The metaphoric ‘exhale’ of previous tracks stands out against the very literal constant, anxiety-indicating intake of breath in the powerfully charged Surrounded.
Alone For The First Time provides a more personal, emotional backdrop against which we can place the enigmatic producer. Hemsworth has found a confidence in his sound, which is as comfortable examining the vulnerability of loneliness, as it is the contentment.