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Friday, June 21, 2024
The Observer

Zach Bryan’s new album is making poetry cool again

Trey Paine | The Observer

Zach Bryan released his self-titled album last Friday. That day, online searches for his name came close to surpassing those for Notre Dame football. Bryan did not set out to write a chart-topping album. In fact, he has repeatedly said that was not his goal. “I don’t have a bullsh*t roll-out plan to stuff it in-front of as many people as I can. I just wrote some poems and songs that I want to share because I think they’re special,” Bryan wrote on a social media post.

His album cover is plastered all over Spotify’s Top 50-USA anyway. In the U.S., Zach Bryan's name notched more than 50,000 searches on Google last Friday. When the dust settled, “Zach Bryan” was the 7th-most-searched term that day, sharing the stage with second-place term “Notre Dame.”

“I wrote and produced an album that I would want to listen to. I self-titled it because I hear every cell of my being in it,” Bryan wrote. While he might not be shooting for the top charts, his authenticity just might carry him there anyway. In his own words, “I don’t need a music machine telling me what a good story is.” The entire album is self-produced. The style of recording is just as authentic as the lyrics. In “Smaller Acts,” Bryan enlisted the help of a real live bird, who according to the artist, “started singing back to me swear on it.”

Zach Bryan is reviving poetry and meaning in the age of artificial intelligence. He’s finding his strength in the human stories people crave. The album is a refreshing return to the confusing, life-giving, heartbreaking, hopeful, spiteful, striving human experience. This album is gritty — maybe even sordid — but it’s beautiful at the same time. Every track is soaked with imagery and metaphor that make Bryan’s words feel as personal as a handwritten note. The album’s first track, a poem titled “Fear and Fridays,” demonstrates this. And while he might be right that “excess never leads to better things, it only piles and piles atop of things that are already abundantly in front of you,” fans were sure grateful for the next 15 tracks.

Bryan has an entrancing way of crescendoing the melody and instrumentation then softening the sound again, resulting in an intimate invitation to take a drive, sit on a back porch and just be human. The imagery makes the listener feel like they’re wandering an art museum. He pronounces the middle syllable of “time ticking on the interstate” like someone slamming a thick glass tumbler of whiskey down on some old saloon bar. Do you know any other country artist who is willing to explore the bounds of time and space? Zach Bryan takes listeners from motorbiking down U.S. Route 101 to jumping in the pool when fully clothed in August.

This isn’t your standard commercialized country music about trucks and beer. Bryan’s style sounds more bluegrass and western, encompassing themes that are far more nuanced than its dirt road counterparts. While most country artists croon on about buying a boat, Bryan tells a story of seeing things through despite the flaws.  Zach Bryan’s songs strike a balance between striving and failing, despairing and hoping. Lines like, “I don’t want love, lover, I want the truth,” exemplify that romantic realism.

The attitudes contained in his songs are the same ones he applies to his music career. The artist’s apparent distaste for popularity is a breath of fresh air. More importantly, this album reminds listeners to stay humble and hungry and human. In a world at war with meaninglessness, the message is resonating.

What is Bryan’s reaction to the fanfare? He’s headed to the neighborhood bowling alley. “Sounds like a good night to run a local bowling alley out of beer,” he wrote in an X tweet Saturday. Even if his music isn’t everyone’s taste, Zach Bryan’s authenticity is something to be admired. He’s making good art — for himself and anyone else who might enjoy it.

“All I pray is that someone out there relates enough to not feel alone,” he wrote on social media.

As it turns out, people are chasing that kind of simplicity. Bryan might even have some questioning how the music industry ever strayed so far from the joy and human connection it is supposed to foster. As he and those who listen are helping poetry, meaning and art-for-art’s-sake make a triumphant revival. 

For college students, Zach Bryan is not only a great musician but a source of inspiration to pursue things with every ounce of their being — not for fame or prestige, but for the sake of art that makes others feel less alone. I hear that in every single one of these songs.

Favorite Tracks: “Spotless,” “Ticking,” “East Side of Sorrows”

If you like: Caamp, Tyler Childers, George Strait, Briston Maroney