Ben Ryan was studying economics at the University of British Columbia before he decided to pursue his love of music, and boy is it good that he did. Sharpening his piano-pop to include alt-rock edges, this is one musician who knows how to structure a song for maximum effect. Abacus — named for the counting device and a nod to his mathematical background — is a treasure of a record that hits every moment with a levelled passion.
For the most part, Ben Ryan excels at creating songs that build and explode. He’s got an ear for the dynamic and knows just when to shift. This is made clear right off the top with “Peru” and “Never Go”. When he breaks away from the powerful anthems later in the album, it feels like a perfectly timed release. The romantic softness of the guitar-driven “Roof and Rain” is both well-suited to Ryan’s voice and a necessary shift before the album jumps back into its addictive bouncing piano with “Diamond Mine”.
The standout components of Abacus are Ryan’s smooth yet adaptable vocals and the way the piano can both elevate and hold down a track — the melodies churn and come alive while the lyrics lend emotion-driven observations. The relatability of the content (the shifting insecurity of relationships, restlessness, following the paths we are meant to travel) makes for easy access to melodies that layer with a complexity that sticks with you. You won’t soon be forgetting this brief but explosive collection of tracks.