Rock Album Review: A “Joyride” Well Worth Taking
By Scott McLennan
Karina Rykman’s rookie record, Joyride, delivers a beguiling blend of pop smarts and psychedelic proclivities.
Karina Rykman‘s debut album defies expectations and comes out ahead.
Bassist Rykman has earned a well-deserved buzz this year. Her trio has landed numerous high-profile gigs, and she has drawn the collegial and substantive support of the members of the bands Phish, Disco Biscuits, and moe.
And when she has shared stages with those jam-scene luminaries, Rykman has delivered high-energy, free-spirited sets that go off on trippy tangents of the sort that are central to the improv-rock scene.
Building on that, she’s also done a good job of drawing out her own musical character. With Rykman on bass and vocals, Adam November on guitar and synths, and Chris Corsico on drums, the band has found its way into slithery grooves and lush jams that owe as much to New Wave dance funk as to psychedelic rock.
On Joyride, Rykman didn’t just set out to recreate a concert set in the studio. Instead, she has crafted a unified piece of beguiling music that pulls the listener into a dreamscape that offers a rewardingly subtle presentation of Rykman’s musical push-and-pull dynamics.
A glance at the nine tracks selected for the album makes it clear that Rykman was willing to take some calculated risks on this project. Prior to this, she had all of six singles to her name, but for the album she shelved the infectious “City Kids” in favor of “Plants” and “Elevator” because they more aptly fit the overall mood of her debut long-player.
Still, Rykman isn’t above accepting some attention-grabbing high-profile help on Joyride. Phish’s Trey Anastasio is credited as one of the album’s producers and he plays guitar on five of the tracks; he also handed Rykman the keys to The Barn, the studio in Vermont where Phish makes its records.
Yet, there’s nothing really “Phishy” about Joyride; Anastasio is content with a session-player’s role, following the guidance of Rykman and her main production collaborator, Gabe Monro.
The same can be said for Disco Biscuits’ keyboard ace Aron Magner, who sits in on the title track but doesn’t steer the tune into something his band would have done.
Which gets us back to my main point: Rykman brought a personal vision to this recording, and she nails it.
The album opens with the buoyant title track, and while the music itself is infectious, Rykman’s gauzy vocals are shot full of longing. The oh-so desirable joyride is aptly sung of as the stuff of dreams, and that first track effortlessly flows into “Fever Dream,” which sustains the tone and mid-tempo pacing.
That opening combo sets up the listener for a pleasurable trip through a musical landscape that is uncluttered but vibrant.
But don’t be fooled by this album’s minimalism. Rykman soars on the sorrowful impressionism of “Beacon.” The cinematic instrumental “Plants” generates its visual sparks from the friction of Rykman’s plodding, methodical bass lines colliding with November’s frantic guitar picking.
Rykman again draws on the art of contrast in “Skylark/Slowlark” as, mid-song, she kicks a breezy funk jam into a wild nosedive, as if all involved had been given a dose of musical cough syrup.
She has similar fun with “Elevator,” veering from cheery to sinister by interlacing some well-placed bass bombs with sinewy guitar riffs played by both Rykman and November.
Joyride covers its nine tracks in just over 35 minutes — there’s no excess or wasted time. Yet in that tidy package Rykman delivers a beguiling blend of pop smarts and psychedelic proclivities. An elemental entertainment maxim that this young artist totally gets — “leave them wanting more.”
Karina Rykman’s headlining tour in support of Joyride hits Sonia in Cambridge on Dec. 16.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.