Emerging from the shadows like a thief in the night, the somber string reverberations of “Edge City” invite us into a nearly ten minute-long closing epic that brings audiences full circle to where we first began in Oliver Ray’s Out Passed Nowhere, the debut album from the acclaimed singer/songwriter due out this June everywhere that independent music is sold and streamed. In our first look at his solo work, Ray incorporates both melancholic, Mark Lanegan-esque poeticisms alongside a wildly surreal, often atmospheric, backdrop of instrumentation that takes as much influence from country music as it does dark alternative folk. Out Passed Nowhere is both brooding and unforgivingly blunt, but at the end of the day, it’s a record that I would highly recommend picking up this summer, regardless of your personal taste in genres.
Some of the songs here, such as “Ready,” “Setting Sun,” and “Ol’ Coyote,” are more plaintive than others – namely the multilayered “Edge City,” monolithic “Wise Blood” and powerhouse “Bye Beautiful” – but all of the material exudes an irreverence that can’t help but remind a trained ear of Blood on the Tracks-era Bob Dylan (“Setting Sun” especially). Ray has a lot of regret in his voice, but it’s countered with optimistic melodies that, more often than not, shape the mood of the lyrics they’re soundtracking above anything else. It’s not all that difficult to get lost in Out Passed Nowhere, whether we’re listening to its songs in the arranged order intended by Oliver Ray or simply playing the record straight-through on shuffle.
Ray’s debut solo effort enjoys a really polished production quality, but I don’t get the impression that it was designed with mainstream radio rotation as its paramount creative goal. There are plenty of rough edges in “Best Game in Town” (which features an unforgettable duet between Ray and Patti Smith), “Bye Beautiful,” “Queen of Never” and “Ready” to keep the overall feel of the music from descending into plasticity, and there’s scarcely a moment where the lyrical content doesn’t feel genuine and heartfelt. If Oliver Ray hasn’t traveled the American countryside and met his fair share of storytellers and scumbags alike, then he does an awfully good job of acting the part in Out Passed Nowhere, which by and large depicts the fabric of a beautiful, flawed, complicated nation that we call the USA better than most any similarly-styled work that I’ve recently come in contact with has.
I’m very excited to hear more from Oliver Ray as he develops this new sound further. Out Passed Nowhere is a tremendously experimental debut album, and I sincerely hope that he continues to take the same fluid, unpredictable approach to songwriting as he does in this incredibly cerebral offering. Ray takes everything from psychedelia to blues, country and even a bit of gothic folk, rolls them all together and spits out some of the most chill-inducing sounds here that I’ve heard on a modern alternative record in quite some time, and if it’s any indication of what we can expect out his sophomore release, then this won’t be the last time that he’s scoring major points with critics like myself.