In 2020, Ruby Ryan has been quietly establishing herself as one of the indie singer/songwriters to watch out of the tristate underground, and if you haven’t been listening to her stuff so far, the new single and music video “Phosphenes” might be a good place to start. Attractively surreal but focused enough to still sound like a playful pop tune, “Phosphenes” has no rough edges but fails to enter a realm of blandness thanks to its joyful lead singer, whose voice feels like a beacon of warmth in an otherwise chilly and unforgiving winter. It’s a layered treat, and yet this song goes down as smoothly as a cut and dry folk tune would.
The lyrical strength this single sports would seem to be the key element of allure at first glance, but I think the compositional integrity of “Phosphenes” runs a lot deeper than words could ever account for on their own (regardless of their depth). From the sway of the percussion to the tone of her guitar, she isn’t leaving any of the tools at her disposal unutilized at the end of the day here; studio efficiency has been crudely mistaken for minimalism on a few occasions throughout 2020, when in fact it has more to do with using every bit of a mix as opposed to leaving unemployed space on the backend.
These strings are the perfect complement to the vocal Ryan puts down on top of everything else in this single, and I don’t know that the song would sound quite as captivating where it built around any other instrumental element. There’s a homespun earthiness to “Phosphenes” that exists because of the duality it flirts with between synth pop aesthetics and folk-rock weaponry, and instead of getting caught in the discord herself, this singer/songwriter instead sounds like a product of originality above everything else.
Ryan’s vocal harmonies are what tie everything together in “Phosphenes,” and when you’re working with natural fireworks like these, there’s never any need to invite artificiality into the music. After all, by keeping this fairly black and white from the onset forward, she’s making it difficult for critics to accuse her of hiding behind anything other than a multi-interpretive metaphor when it comes to stating what kind of artist she wants to be via her music. Her output in 2020 has been deep-feeling for sure, and the video for this song summarizes the energy of her year in the spotlight without indulging in anything predictable.
If Ruby Ryan is able to keep the pace she’s set for herself in the last season through 2021, we’re going to see a debut album bearing her moniker that could well attract mainstream praise on the spot. “Phosphenes” is a positive amalgamation of influences that could be a mere taste test for what’s about to come for her next, and though it isn’t the only indie single or music video to have garnered my attention this fall, it’s absolutely become a personal favorite in the last month.