When Your EDM first clocked Ryan Summers with his 2018 sophomore album, ii in our New Artist Spotlight, he was just getting started but showed great promise as a left-of-center experimental electronic artist. The drony, ambient sounds from singles like “Nightshift” and the aptly-named “Hypnotic Drones” conjured up images of weird German art porn and possibly the sound an aneurysm makes before it bursts. Relaxing yet terrifying, Summers had already found an an amazing niche with his work and apparently he’s been cultivating that niche, working it smaller and smaller since ii. Now with his most recent album Undo Influence, that niche is about the breadth of a chinchilla hair.
Throughout 2020, Summers released a number of singles leading up to Undo Influence, but none of them were anything like what was to come on this album, as they were more in line with the instrumental drone of ii. Still containing a hefty drone nonetheless, Undo Influence is also uncharacteristically rife with lyrics, rock influence and, most surprisingly of all, a hefty dose of country. Talk about carving a tight niche.
The opening section of Undo Influence would easily be the most countrified, with the electronic background really only there to add atmospherics. Album opener “Chasm” (there’s that niche again), is driven by a very sparsely picked acoustic guitar as well as a slide, and the vocals are constructed like a rock or pop song: verse, chorus verse. As the track opens up, more EDM-style beats and synths roll in, turning the track to an incredibly novel industrial/junkyard country hybrid. One gets the impression of walking across the desert, lit accompanied by UFOs.
Going further into the album, more acoustics and analog instruments are woven into tracks but the country feel is sort of shed until “Holy Criminal” hits, which is quite full-on industrial, replete with vintage rave synths and backing programs. The drone comes back with a vengeance after that with “Let Us Pray,” whose industrial drums and buzzy synths channel some major She Wants Revenge vibes. As the album closes, “Osiris Stone” brings back Summers’s original sound with the visceral sound design and ambient, almost dreamy synths we’ve come to expect from the drone mad scientist.
Album-closer “There Is Nothing For Me Here” comes back to analog but is easily the most emotive and personal track on the album, disclosing not only the new styles and forms Summers has been working on, but also the story of what he’s been dealing with. For a musician so good at conjuring up vivid, visceral experience with no vocals at all, the addition of his honest, story-telling lyrics here takes that experience to a whole new level both for his fans and himself. Some things still are better said with words.
Ryan Summers took a lot of chances on Undo Influence but it seems the journey to this album went hand-in-hand with an emotional journey he was going through so really it might be more of a mirror for working out feelings through music than anything else. It seems, no matter what, that new perspectives have been reached with this album and with the vulnerability contained therein, Summers seems to be asking listeners to “undo” their preconceived notions and be just as open and raw listening as he was creating.