Album Report: “19 Second Songs Vol. 1” by Ryan Wasoba

Ryan Wasoba has been walking new paths. This seasoned multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer is responsible for producing countless St Louis acts in his Bird Cloud Recording studio. He’s also the guitarist for the instrumental band Thor Axe, characterized by their healthy blend of progressive metal and video game music intentions. His latest project felt almost impulsive, with a video popping up on his Instagram page last year claiming to be a 19 second song. I remember encountering this post and being reminded of Youtube cult icon Bill Wurtz due to the short length, the playful graphics and the immediacy of the humor. It was funny and charming, but I failed to realize that it’d be the start of something bigger. Over the course of some time, 19 songs were released with their own respective videos on his Instagram and finally warranted a Bandcamp release of them all.

Looking at Ryan’s Bandcamp page shows us that this is his first truly solo project since 2012. The project itself is simple and straightforward, with a very palpable rule to follow in its length limitation. Some could argue that the songs are meant to be enjoyed with their videos, but the audio release tells me otherwise and in the end this is a music blog, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. I am fascinated by composition within a frame, and so despite the short length of this release I will be attempting to put it into context to understand its effectiveness as a musical piece. Adding to this argument, Ryan has now assembled a group of musicians to perform this material live, and I don’t think there will be a projector involved.

Clocking in at six minutes and one second, “19 Second Songs Vol. 1” is not intimidating in length at all– it is after all nineteen songs at nineteen seconds each. That’s not to say that the release doesn’t attempt to achieve a certain sense of grandeur through expansive instrumentation, curve balls in style and a wide array of different sonic elements. Although Ryan visits plenty of different genres and personalities there is a distinct mid-western flavor injected into pretty much every song that reminds me of the alternative and emo sound characteristic of this region. It seeps deeper on certain cuts, but it’s certainly almost always there like a dead bug stuck to a jacket. I am not necessarily the biggest fan of this sound (especially when mixed into other styles), but for the most part it’s ill-pronounced enough to not bother me when going through these tracks.

It’s pretty hard to be bothered by this release when you think about it, though. Any unpleasant stylistic choice is gone in 19 seconds time, and the track list is angular and jagged, switching gears drastically with pretty much every song. The release opens with “Tranquil Sounds”, a contemplative soft rock tune about survival instinct that quickly transitions into the much more erratic “If Ghosts Are Real”, a song clad in fast drums and tiny synthetic lines that leave as quickly as they came to welcome “Canada”, a power ballad about (not) moving to Canada tag lined at the end by a humorous piano outro that sings for Ryan. The whole track list works in this disorienting fashion: some transitions feel perfectly appropriate, some come as a complete surprise. The tracks were ordered chronologically as they were released so this makes sense, but it makes me wonder whether it would have been more effective to try to assemble a track order that helped propel the narrative and assemble the release into more of a 19 part, 6 minute journey.

With that being said, plenty of special numbers do pop up when listening through. A lot of songs on here do seem to only be trying to convey a lyrical idea, whether it’s for humoristic or reflective purposes, and can end up feeling incomplete due to a lack of contained development. However, when the compositions manage to become self-contained within the frame of 19 seconds to develop instrumentally while accompanying instead of relying on the joke trying to be made, that’s when the magic really happens. “Daylight Savings” is extremely infectious in its relationship between the groove verse and the heavy chorus– the whole thing is then colored by tastefully panned alarm sounds and glued together by an urgent and tense vocal line that sees Ryan begging for his daylight savings time back. I could honestly have that verse groove going for hours, and every time this one pops up on my listens my ears perk up.

“I Wear Window” is similar in how self-contained it feels. The guitar work is very mid-western but charming in its counterpuntal relationship. The charm only increases with the bounce of the mallet sounds that occupy the guitars’ space when they drop. The metaphor of the face window is interesting and evocative, and the vocal performance is ill pronounced and appropriate. Other songs like “Geography Bee” work because they feel like jingles in their simple composition, with this particular one being brutally honest about how no one cares about anyone’s bands anywhere in what I assume is the States. “Sertraline” has that same jingle flavor while featuring much more dedicated composition. The mallet instrument is back to playfully set the mood for a tongue in cheek view at one’s own depression. When the emotional climax comes, Ryan is joined by Kari Wasoba Schumacher and Gareth Schumacher (the only guests on this release) in vocal harmonies for an endearing and touching effect.

A lot of the moments I perceive as weaker in the track list end up becoming so in my mind when I compare them to the thoroughness of the tracks I enjoy the most. “Patio Furniture” is alright, but doesn’t really do anything to develop its musical ideas and seems to just have been a place for this particular lyrical thought to be thrown onto. “Jessie Spano” is alright as a composition, but the emo twang in the voice is exaggerated to an unbearable degree. Perhaps this was done for comedic purposes, but it compromised my own enjoyment of the tune and made me temporarily despise the word “excited”. “Together” is one that almost works for me, but the heavy entrance feels lukewarm and doesn’t excite me the way it feels like it should. Again, these are 19 seconds long each and so the flaws are not pronounced or unbearable. However, I do think that the shared uniformity in length makes it easier for a listener to compare tracks to one another and therefore perceive low points in the track list more vividly.

“19 Second Songs Vol. 1” is an interesting experiment that displays a lot of potential in its first iteration. The total length of the release is so short that it definitely warrants at least a single listen from anyone encountering it, and the nature of the project almost guarantees that any listener will leave with a handful of favorites stuck in their head. Having listened through it a number of times I do feel the urge to rearrange the track order– the erratic style works, but I’d like to hear what these tunes sound like when assembled into a narrative. The material I don’t enjoy goes by quickly and still has redeemable factors whether it’s in creative production, instrumentation or simple humor. Ryan Wasoba took on a bizarre challenge with this one and followed through with admirable discipline, generating results that to me are worth the effort and time. It certainly leaves me curious as to which other avenues this project might prance on, or if the introduction of a live band will change the approach to songwriting in future iterations. For now, though, Vol. 1 is strong, honest and idiosyncratic in its ability to show me what this project is all about.

Listen to “19 Second Songs Vol. 1” via Bandcamp down below:

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