I had never experienced wanderlust until spending a full semester in Europe, but it’s probably one of the most emotionally arresting sensations that exists. If you have experienced wanderlust at all, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a tugging at the soul – an almost literal ache for far away places – that’s as physical as it is emotional, and once it’s been triggered, it can reappear at any time without warning.
The latest catalyst for me has been Bill Ryder-Jones’ album “If…”. Before launching into why I love this album so much, I’ll be transparent and say I knew nothing about Ryder-Jones until last week. The quick blurb is that he’s a young (late 20s) guitarist and film score composer from England who dropped out of English band The Coral in 2008 before beginning a solo career. His debut solo album “If…” is the hypothetical soundtrack to the 1979 novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.
First, this is a really cool concept. While this certainly isn’t the first time it’s been done, I love the idea of mixing media to create a dynamic, multidimensional artistic experience.
Second, this album conjures emotional images of Europe unlike anything I’ve ever heard. As I listen to the title track, I’m suddenly in an ornate drawing room in the Palace of Versailles, looking out over the grounds through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. “The Reader” evokes instant memories of nighttime in Piazza San Marco in Venice; a slight chill in the air as tuxedo-clad musicians play for the diners at the fancy restaurants. With “Leaning,” I’m on the rooftop garden of a rented apartment in Brussels with my family, looking out over the smokestacks and clock towers of the city. Other tracks are instant audio vehicles to Florence, Bruges, Munich, and London.
The magic of “If…” lies in its ability to transport you wherever you like. As it weaves between the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Ryder-Jones’ subtly brilliant guitar skills, it illustrates a beautiful story, delivering multiple punches of poignancy along the way. The climax occurs around the 4:40 mark in “Enlace” with a wailing chorus of electric guitars, and the final tracks “Give Me a Name” and “Some Absolute End” provide a conclusive dénouement and resolution. But the story doesn’t have to be exclusively Calvino’s story; it can be yours just as easily. “If…” is, at its very heart, a soundtrack; give it a listen as you travel somewhere new and see if it doesn’t begin to tell your own tale.
(Normally I’d put my favorite tracks here, but this truly is an album that should be listened to in its entirety. The whole album, as a body, is remarkable.)