Ryan Dahle
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Ryan Dahle

When he pressed record on “Eek It’s Halloween,” the sweetly nostalgic tune that sits at the centre of Irrational Anthems, Ryan Dahle had only the vaguest idea of where the song would go. He had a jumble of lyrics, the skeleton of a melody, an acoustic guitar and, most importantly, Greenhouse Studios, the Vancouver recording studio that he calls home. When you listen to the album, you still hear that first take — from the laugh when Dahle sings “I’ve been a trash bag, I’ve been a tree” to the artfully hidden crack in his falsetto.

To Dahle, capturing that kind of creative spark is one of the main benefits of life in a studio. The other benefit, naturally, is that it allows Dahle the time to perfect his creations. Spontaneous gems like “Eek It’s Halloween” share space on Irrational Anthems with the meticulously minimal rocker “Shutdown” and the tastefully orchestrated “Lion Piano,” while lead-off track “Chop Chop” has been honed to radio-rock perfection over the course of seven versions. Each track is both fully developed and fully distinct.

Dahle’s ear for pop-friendly idiosyncrasy is everywhere on Irrational Anthems. So is his unmistakable voice, a pinched blend of sweetness and grit that somehow makes lines like “Roll up your ‘On Guard’ or I’m inclined to use the trap door” make their own inevitable kind of sense. From the songwriting and performances to the production and mixing, every second of the album is the product of Dahle’s creativity.

That kind of hands-on commitment is only natural. Dahle has always been adept at crafting obliquely hook-laden melodies and fractured lyrics, first as songwriter for The Age of Electric and then as frontman for Limblifter, collecting 7 top 11 radio hits, 4 Juno nominations and a Casby award between the two bands. Since then, he’s practically (and now literally) lived in the studio, collecting gear, experimenting with production techniques, searching for new sounds and working with well-known Canadian musicians like The Manvils and Hot Hot Heat.

Despite the fact that Irrational Anthems is the first album Dahle has released under his own name, it’s not strictly a solo affair. Megan Bradfield (The Salteens, A.C. Newman) contributes bass, double-bass, cello, clarinet and vocals, and Dahle’s brother Kurt is back, bringing both his experience in indie-pop sensations The New Pornographers and the type of intuition that only brothers can share. One of the biggest inspirations isn’t even musical — a collaboration with renowned Canadian visual artist Steven Shearer led to both a strong friendship and a huge influence on the album art and the music itself.

Instantly satisfying and deeply inventive all at once, Irrational Anthems contains a blend of spontaneous creativity and meticulous artistry that can only come from experience. It’s not a redefinition or a statement of purpose — it’s the album Dahle’s career has been leading to.