Published Jul 30, 2020Phoebe Ryan's debut LP, How It Used to Feel, is an excellent showcase of the young singer's pop music expertise, skills she honed while working as a songwriter in LA after graduating from the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music in 2013. Ryan has slowly been building a body of singles and EPs over the past five years while writing for artists such as Oh Honey, Zara Larsson, Melanie Martinez, and even queen Britney Spears ("Man on the Moon"). How It Used to Feel makes a good case for Ryan's talents as an emerging solo pop star.
At times, her previous work — the Mine EP in 2015, singles such as "Chronic" and "Dollar Bill" —bordered on generic, but Ryan has been on a roll since 2017's James EP, infusing her laid-back pop with uniquely crafted melodies and thoughtful lyrics. How It Used to Feel is cohesive and mature without sacrificing Ryan's characteristic youthful playfulness. She touches on serious topics such as sobriety ("Try It Sober") and the difficulty of finding self-love ("See Myself"), but still acknowledges, and even celebrates, her adventurous side ("The Real Wild Ones").
Much like her previous tourmate Carly Rae Jepsen, Ryan's music and lyrics express a complete devotion to understanding and working through a multitude of emotions. Yet where Jepsen always seems to be singing from the vantage point of those magical moments of longing and electricity before a relationship begins, Ryan often finds herself in a space of heartbreak, looking back on what has just ended. The past tense of the album's title indicates this post-breakup temporality, yet also suggests fond remembrance, a grown-up perspective on past feelings and experiences. Ryan effortlessly traverses the ups and downs of processing a breakup, from the aching, pounding "Ring" to the chilled-out, synth heavy "Fantasy," in which she affirms that she's "doing alright as far as I can tell."
Ryan is at her best when she leans into her idiosyncrasies, in songs such as "Try It Sober," with its sudden tempo shift between folksy acoustic verses and booming, anthemic choruses, and the goofy psychedelic music video for "Fantasy," shot from the perspective of her pet parakeet. Ryan is certainly tuned into current Top 40 conventions — big, sweeping electronic production, echoing, chanting vocals, lyrics about the intensity of love and intoxication — yet the songs never tip over into cliché, residing firmly within Ryan's unique pop sensibility. (independently popular)