by Nicholas Rahn
“Whoever listens to this tape, I hope all of your dreams will come true,” says a hopeful nine year old Nina Ryser on an old cassette from 2001. This decade and a half old clip of tape ends the final track of Ryser’s 2016 album: I Hope All Of Your Dreams Come True. It’s an oddly charming note to end an otherwise pretty challenging album. Nina Ryser, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist from Brooklyn and Philadelphia is probably best known as one third of the experimental rock band Palberta, whom you should definitely go see (if you haven’t already). The three members of Palberta have been performing together in the Brooklyn DIY scene since 2013 at an unlikely intersection of indie rock, new music, and performance art.
Ryser has been writing music since at least the age of nine; this album being the third in a collection of solo sonic-experimentations and abstract reflections of pop music. Approaching this album with no expectations you get a hint from the album art (by Brooklyn artist Izzy Kross) that you are getting into something a little messy. Placed in the context of an “indie rock” album, I Hope All Of Your Dreams Come True sounds bad. Much of it is atonal, there are some unapologetic choices of timbres, and the “beat” can feel hard-to-tap-your-foot-to, but there’s something beautiful distilled in the vulgarity of it. There is of course a long tradition of musicians going against the grain of what is considered “tolerable” at a given time and place. Long ago, the romantics introduced extended harmony, then the contemporaries and the free-jazzers introduced atonality, the rock n rollers brought distortion etc. For many people, crossing that line into the offensive is too uncomfortable, but for those brave enough to dive in it’s a refreshing and stimulating experience. This album challenges your comforts. You’re brought face to face with Ryser’s humanity. It feels like being held close up to the artist where you can see their pores and smell their breath. Nothing is obscured, nothing polished. No preoccupation with flaws and imperfections. It’s just a visceral human experience.
On first listen the music can seem haphazard, but scratch below the surface and it becomes clear that these compositions are well thought out, and the soundscapes meticulously curated. Some songs can feel like a through composed excerpt from Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning, while other’s feel like an extra moldy Moldy Peaches tune. The sonic diversity that ornament these fourteen short tracks range from wonky keyboards to scratchy violins to vocal sounds reminiscent of dry heaving (see track 5 featuring Gods Wisdom), and there’s also the occasional appearance of a traditional “rock band” outfit. Each song feels like a totally new sonic color scheme. The variety of unique sounds that Ryser is able to extract from a few common instruments throughout the album is impressive. Ryser has a childlike curiosity and playfulness that results in the use of some cool extended techniques and ultimately, really creative arrangements.
Through all of the dissonance and disorder there is a strikingly clear thread of pop sensibility and good song writing which keeps this album buoyant and accessible. Although western tonality is often discarded from the very first note, the melodies still feel musical, and emotionally engaging, challenging the notion that good music is synonymous with good intonation, functional harmony, and steady time. I Hope All Of Your Dreams Come True is a daring journey through a beautiful and unique musical vision. It’s truly something special that should be given an earnest listen. It’s hard to imagine what Nina Ryser was dreaming of in 2001 when she recorded that tape, but I doubt it looked much like her life in 2017 in the United States playing with Palberta, on tour with Palm. Or I dunno maybe it did.