The Pines by songwriter Ryan Hoffman is a deeply atmospheric album encumbered with a sense of rural space and contemplative introspection. Hoffman’s vocal style, which is clearly influenced by classic literary songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, weaves poetic narratives within finely wrought arrangements which span from sparse and simplistic to complex and ornate.
Hoffman, who studied journalism and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, currently works as a musician as well as a freelance writer. Currently, he contributes to nextpittsburgh.com as well as works for the Hear Me project at CMU. Hoffman’s journalistic background and knowledge of the world seems to inform his narrative writing style and sense of worldly observation evident in the release.
Songs off of his five-song album such as “Desert” seem to take classic country-western themes and instrumentation, reinventing these tropes into an anthemic indie rock tune. “View and the Void” seems to address the lost stories of both people and places through the progression of modern society and its development. At the musical precipice of the song Hoffman sings: “It’s the longest roads that lead you home / and I hope there’s a better way.”
“Funeral” explores even darker territory. Hoffman describes a sense of weariness with the world that has a rare blend of both honesty and clarity. The existential dread described in the song seems to be softened by the almost eerie yet calming nature of the music. Hoffman sings: “It’s a little too late for the funeral / pack up your black dress and let it go.”
As a work of both musical and literary significance, this album can also seems to harness more sadness than hope without edifying outright despair. While not exactly something you would want to throw on at a summer kegger, the thoughtfulness and depth of the album will hopefully get its due as an artistic work.
The Pines was recorded by J Vega at Wilderness Recording Studio. Vega has has an impressive track record, having recorded other Pittsburgh artists such as LoFi Delphi, Arlo Aldo and The Armadillos.