You Could Move In, the debut EP from New Brunswick, NJ singer-songwriter Ruby Ryan, opens with a big beat. Before long, the rhythm track is joined by a melancholy – but gritty – electric guitar riff. In a few quick strokes, a mood is established: longing, urgent, expectant, a little lovelorn, more than a little pugnacious, forward-looking. It’s stark, and unadorned, and emotionally bare; once you start listening, it’s hard to stop. A full half-minute elapses before Ryan starts singing, but she makes an indelible impression when she does. Ryan has a voice with enough tensile strength to carry sadness and determination simultaneously. She doesn’t have to try to be powerful; she just is.
Her address doesn’t tell you everything about her, but it’s meaningful nonetheless. Ruby Ryan stands in a long tradition of coruscating, wide-awake, self-aware confessional writing from Central New Jersey rockers. Yet Ryan is more than just a genre practitioner. She covers an astonishing amount of stylistic territory on the six songs on You Could Move In, including rough-hewn folk (“Slow Dive”), sleek, vocal-enhanced electropop (“Funeral”), and even a bit of overdriven funk-rock (“Green Tea”). But the best place to start with Ruby Ryan might be “Phosphenes,” an exercise in straight-ahead, doomed romantic storytelling. Everything about the track feels absolutely real: the plaintive lyrics, the missed connections with the object of the narrator’s desire, the stinging six-string, and the catch in the singer’s voice as she expresses her hope and her frustration. Anybody who has ever harbored unrequited affection – or who has just found themselves caught in a difficult and ambiguous relationship – will surely relate.
Ruby Ryan also understands the beauty and desolation of the suburbs. Her clip for “Phosphenes” is suffused with the distinctive feeling of suburbia in the autumn: leaves are falling, flowers are withering on their stems, a crisp breeze is blowing, and the sands are running out. Ryan and her directorial partner Alex Tichy follow the romantic drama of a young couple whose emotions are impossible to disguise – and that’s because they’re both wearing enormous heads made of plaster and paint. The contrast between the quotidian suburban surroundings and the fantastic characters who inhabit these streets creates much of the clip’s tension, and it’s also a sly commentary. When you’re young and in love, you really do feel larger than life – and utterly exposed, too.