On a rainy Saturday morning, I put my headphones in and headed off to work. I shuffled one of my Spotify playlists, “Chilly Days.” The song, “The Road” by Bryan John Appleby, played, and instead of walking around Pike Place Market, killing time before work, I got taken away with a flashback to the night before my high school graduation. Instead of a rainy Seattle day, it became a warm Minneapolis night in June. “The Road” played through my car speakers, and my windows and moonroof were wide open. I was in my car on my way to a traditional painting of a wall near the school’s track field. As I got close to school, the lyrics, “Now I cannot stop / I will not turn on the road tonight,” filled the vacant streets. I missed the turn for school and kept going until I reached the chain of lakes. As I was driving around the lakes, the song looped repeatedly, and the lyrics, “No longer can I call a home / The place I’ve known so well / But what may come upon the road / Right now I cannot tell,” had never been more prevalent. I came back to reality as soon as I realized I was getting soaked, and headed to work.
Singer-songwriter Bryan John Appleby is a gem to Seattle. After being a drummer in an indie rock band, Appleby moved from sunny California to the Pacific Northwest in 2007. He switched his drummer mindset to focus on creating tunes with his guitar during his first couple of years in Washington, eventually releasing his debut EP. With a folksy sound, Appleby’s music is similar to Damien Jurado and Devendra Banhart.
In 2009, Appleby released his debut, Shoes for Men and Beasts. The best part of Appleby’s work in Shoes for Men and Beasts is the simplicity. Appleby creates an intimate feel production-wise, with only the sound of an acoustic guitar accompanying his voice. At times, listeners can hear the change in chords from Appleby. Some of the finest songs from Shoes for Men and Beasts include “Cliffs Along the Sea,” “A Silent Shepherd,” and “Pride of Man.” All songs on Appleby’s debut EP exude intricacy. Each song on the EP takes a different effect on me.
Two years later, Appleby released his first LP, Fire on Vine. Much of the lyrical content was more complex and ambiguous than the lyrical content on Shoes for Men and Beasts. Nevertheless, he still crafted a beautiful album. On Fire on Vine, Appleby switches from a primary sound of him and his guitar to more complex instrumental tracks that back his vocals. His band shows tremendous amounts of growth within a short period of time when comparing Fire on Vine to Shoes for Men and Beasts. Lyrically, the former delves into a more ambiguous theme of faith. The album itself isn’t run on religion, though; rather, it uses epics and biblical characters to portray personal anecdotes to Appleby’s life. One of the tracks, “Glory,” seems to be a highly religious song initially, but in actuality, it’s almost like a salve. A salve on the beauty of our existence. The most successful track from the album, “Honey Jars,” has over 4 million plays alone on Spotify. It’s a sad love song that’s organically produced from the roots of Appleby’s solo career: a guitar and a crisp voice.
In 2015, Appleby released his second LP, The Narrow Valley. It’s a piece unlike anything else Appleby has ever produced; it portrays an artistic peak. With the sparing use of his well-known acoustic guitar, The Narrow Valley uses lovely strings, piano, and percussion to make a cinematic-like soundtrack. Although the composition of each track is much different than those on previous releases, Appleby’s ambiguous lyricism remains. Focusing on themes of Appleby’s youth, each track takes the listener on a different journey, and looks into what makes Appleby create the music that he creates. The Narrow Valley explodes with inspiration from very well-known musical genius, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.
Each album by Bryan John Appleby is a step above the other, and his ambiguous lyrics keep listeners yearning for more.
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