23 October 2020 (released)
25 January 2021
When rock bands have put out a few albums and are looking to expand artistically, they'll often bring in a producer that on his or her own creates experimental music in order to add that flavour to their mix. Master producers like Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno have been brought into a great many sessions to infuse their ethereal ambience into the band's songs to give them an otherworldly depth and significance. From David Bowie and David Byrne to Neil Young and Bob Dylan, their soundscape sculpting talents have elevated basic rock records to multi-dimensional sonic experiences.
As luck would have it, Ryan Summers is his own genius guest producer. The Wisconsin-based artist has previously released two absolutely stunning ambient works; 2017's F51.01 and 2018's ii. The records both served as intermediaries between the waking and dreaming realms as Summers crafted them in the throws of chronic insomnia. They ebb and flow beautifully between the icy isolation of the twilight hours and the warm embrace of slumber. With his most recent work Undo Influence, Summers transitions into a more classic-style song process with vocals and guitars yet still retains that ghostly glow around the tracks. The record explores his experience with an internet cult roughly a decade ago and the complicated process of deprogramming. Chief among these effects is the concept of 'floating', a kind of schizophrenic state where the person is trapped between belief and disbelief. With the current dangerous spike in conspiracy-based cults like QAnon, Summers felt compelled to commit his experience to record.
Summers excels at turning emotions and thematic concepts into tangible sounds. This is immediately apparent in the first seconds of the lead track 'Chasm'. The pulsing rhythmic acoustic track mixed normally would provide an adequate intro but with Summers hard-panning each note back and forth he draws an undeniable tension, a pull between two worlds. The effect is all the more noticeable on headphones which is how his albums are best listened to. To this gnawing apprehension, he adds a perfectly placed, Breaking Bad theme-invoking slide guitar and long strummed chords. The combination is haunting and powerful, creating a tense high-noon shootout scene.
'The Curious Story of Brad Halsey' prompts a google search for those unfamiliar with the late baseball player who played in the MLB from 2004-2006 and died under suspicious circumstances after years of disturbing behaviour, mental illness, and perhaps other nefarious outside forces. Summers draws the connection with the former ballplayer with a track in which the expository verses are violently invaded by heavy industrial stabs like manic thoughts overtaking the rational. 'Follow You' has a vaudevillian theatricality to it. Punchy drums give a lumbering one-two punch to the gypsy-tinged tune. The only thing missing is a carnival barker hype man track. 'Holy Criminal' is one of two songs (along with Chasm) to be co-produced with Jason Lee. The piece is the most EDM-like on the record and features some memorable quirky background vocalizations.
The centrepiece of the album is the seven-minute opus 'Osiris Stone'. The sombre ballad features dramatic vocals from Summer that recall the singing of Martin Gore, secondary vocalist for Depeche Mode who's tracks tend to be the more vulnerable, emotional fare in the DM catalogue. Epic tom-led drums drive this textural tapestry accented by plenty of cymbal rolls and chime brushes. 'There is Nothing For Me Here' concludes the body of the album with a Broadway musical expository quality. Summers takes stock of how he got lost down the rabbit hole and realizes he has to cut ties and leave it all behind. As an added treat, two instrumental tracks are included at the end in the style of his previous vocal-less releases.
Undo Influence is a powerful statement. The story of a devastating situation that more and more Americans are finding themselves in. Any time people free themselves from a cult, it's crucial that those people speak out to give guideposts and inspiration to those still trapped, which makes this album an important testament. Although the record is very well executed, it's hard to beat the pristine perfection of Summers instrumental albums. Hopefully, Summers will continue on to create in both ways in the future.