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Ryan Pollie - Ryan Pollie Music Album Reviews

The L.A.-based singer-songwriter recorded the first album under his own name from the trenches of chemotherapy and a breakup, but the result is an exercise in gentle vulnerability and winsome grace.

Bleomycin is a cancer drug that makes your hair fall out. The songwriter Ryan Pollie opens his self-titled debut album with a gorgeous choral recording named for it. Pollie finished the record in the trenches of chemotherapy, and his opener almost threatens to frame it as something precious. Instead, Ryan Pollie is mostly an exercise in gentle vulnerability.

Up until last year, Pollie was releasing dreamy bedroom pop under the confusingly generic name Los Angeles Police Department, and his songs were often so breezy that they obscured his talent. His first album under his own name feels more direct, and the songs function more like darts than lobs. Ryan Pollie isn’t a sprawling biography as much as a capsule of his cancer, a breakup, his relationship with his parents, and his late 20s. The album ends with another choral piece: his “Saturn Return.” It sounds like something he needed to get out of him.

That all of this comes out as lightly as it does is a testament in part to Pollie’s production, which veers close to inoffensive toe-tapping territory before a well-placed left-field element tilts it askew. His comfort zone is a folky blend of California pop and country, which keeps most of the songs sounding bright. “Get Better Soon” is a quirky Hallmark card of a love song; “Getting Clean” is a tender, almost cloyingly resolute meditation on depression.

Pollie’s voice is thin and pretty and sometimes trembles in his throat, as if it never found a place to hold onto. It can give the effect of offering up a lyric for consideration instead of setting it in stone. On “Only Child” he quips his way through chemo with an obvious comedic timing, but also like someone quietly unraveling. “I’ll try to speak in phrases that sound self-assured,” he sings in a meek, unconvincing lilt. The song chugs forward in playful bursts—there’s a banjo break and a flute cameo—and it functions more like a self-soothing lullaby than a showy diary. “My hair is falling out/My parents are calling now,” he sings.

The plodding piano ballad “Aim Slow” is a more sober, grand-scale meditation on death. It’s an arms-out, open-ended pulse check of a song that lands over and over on Pollie’s tormenting comfort of a refrain: “My God’s insane.” Early on he sings a promise to himself: “This time I will take time to say what I mean.” It’s an obvious thesis for any autobiography, but Pollie performs it with grace, thinking big thoughts about life and simplifying them all in the face of mortality.

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