Ryan Hemsworth has already said that being a producer is a solitary thing. This summer, when he dropped the video for his Guilt Trips cut One For Me featuring Tinashe, it was full of images of Hemsworth alone in his hotel room, alone in a car, alone in front of a computer. But he’s also a producer who is, again and again, noted to be an endlessly plugged-in internet virtuoso. He’s the kind of producer who uses the net to collaborate with anyone he wants, the kind of producer whose six-degrees-of-separation would probably extend into your family tree, the kind of producer who will snuggle with you, the kind of producer who puts his own face on his album cover. And so Hemsworth’s sophomore LP, Alone For The First Time, though it features a number of guests, finally solidifies his singular producer persona—something that we’ve mostly only been getting in pieces until now.
The album opens with a string fissure on Hurt Me that sounds like the opening moments of a very important symphony. Then comes a small synth burble, one more reminiscent of the Ryan Hemsworth we’re used to—the one currently curating wide-eyed bedroom tracks from unknown producers with his Secret Songs series. Then the beats become lasers, slicing apart the child-like phrase “don’t you hurt me” that’s scrambled into the mix. Blemish has so many elements that are, now, uniquely Hemsworth-esque: a squeaky shoe synth, mouth gurgles, bumper car beats and a video game chirp layered over jazzy percussion. The Dawn Golden-featuring Snow In Newark is recognizable from its first yawning notes; then Golden croons Drake-ish lyrics about trying to text someone who’s far away while you’re stuck in the club. Everything on Alone For The First Time is vulnerable. Hemsworth’s confidence in his production allows the record’s atmosphere to get heavy, to languish in isolation.
Hemsworth’s collaborative choices are part of the reason this album is so good. It’s clear Hemsworth is a guy who really listens to new music. He’s deeply entrenched in the newbie producer world on SoundCloud, but he’s also got a soft spot for bedroom pop and emo—a sound that comes out more explicitly on Alone For The First Time than on anything he’s done before. Orchid Tapes’ Alex G lends moody vocals to the sparkling Too Long Here, because Hemsworth heard DSU and liked it, just like everyone else who listened to DSU. Lontalius, a 17-year-old musician from New Zealand, shows up on Walk Me Home, his amateur baritone reflecting Hemsworth’s nervous synth climbs. Surrounded, one of the album’s most intricate cuts, features icy production work from Doss while L.A. singer Kotomi’s easy croon is chopped into moments of breathy inhalations and anxious vocal fumblings.
It’s clear on Alone For The First Time that Hemsworth has found his groove. His production strengths are drawn out through collaborations, but when he’s on his own, his textures take on personalities. Though Hemsworth’s style tends to favor chirping cheeriness, Alone For The First Time is solidly a winter album, and it’s just what we needed right now. My only complaint is that, in total, it’s less than half an hour long, and that’s just not enough time to spend with your best friend.