Speak Low If You Speak Love, the solo outfit of multi-talented musician Ryan Scott Graham, releases their second full length record entitled Nearsighted this week via Pure Noise Records. Graham, in between a full schedule playing bass in the pop-punk band State Champs, found the time to craft an incredibly intricate, atmospheric record about love, loss and relationships. Previous Speak Low releases found Graham playing acoustically, but on Nearsighted the scope has widened—not only is it a full band record, but it is full of experimental sounds, like electronics, samples, and synth as well as wind instruments like saxophone. By taking his time, utilizing new instruments and production techniques, and constructing each song with love and care, Graham has created a record that is rich, warm, and satisfying.
Nearsighted feels truly lived in; Graham recorded the album over the span of a couple years, and the songs sound as if they were given all the time they needed to come to life. You can hear what could have been another simple, acoustic record in the skeleton of Nearsighted, but Graham and producer Aaron Marsh pushed the tracks as far as possible, letting them swell and burst with beautiful accompaniment. “Your Love It Runs,” for example, could easily be a stripped down number, but instead features a haunting electronic section, stellar bass performance and a gorgeous wind section. The lead single “Enough” is a groovy, bass and synth-heavy track that, while one of the most upbeat songs on the record, sets the vibe for the entire thing. “Circle Spinning” is a certified indie-rock banger that needs to be used in a road trip movie as soon as possible.
The softer side of Speak Low still exists, of course, and it shows itself quite often through the record. “Safety Net,” a gorgeous piano-and-electronics ballad that showcases Graham’s voice perfectly, and “Swell,” the six minute album closer both bring the style and vibe of previous Speak Low releases into the present, modernizing and updating the previously established sound. Warmth was mentioned earlier, and there is no better word to describe the entirety of Nearsighted. The twelve songs on the record combine into something so heartwarming and special—it sounds like hanging out at your grandmother’s house feels. Lyrically the record is often sad, musing about the struggle to maintain relationships with those we love, but the vibe that the instrumentals bring to the record don’t let you ruminate on that sadness too long.
On each listen of Nearsighted there is more to discover. So much has been packed into these songs, and there is so much to hear. The crackle of the electronic samples that almost sound like a fireplace popping, the smooth bass lines that move the record along, and the beautiful nuanced harmonies all help the record come together into a cohesive, inviting experience. The record reminds me of the final scene in Guillermo Del Toro’s film “The Shape of Water,” where the two protagonists embrace underwater, floating together into the abyss. Each time I spin Nearsighted, I feel like I’m floating, as if slowly letting the ocean take me. That same weightless free fall and warm blue-hued embrace that the scene in the film evokes come across in Graham’s words and sounds.
Nearsighted is nothing if not ambitious, and Graham’s ambition has certainly paid off; here we see a singer-songwriter become a band leader, a solo project become the real deal, and the hard work and dedication of an artist proving worthwhile. Nearsighted is absolutely worth your time, and is in fact deserving of the same care and attention from its audience that it received during its creation.