“I’ve always written pop music,” says Ryan Ferguson, formerly of Southern California indie-rockers No Knife. “These songs aren’t too far off from what I’ve always done.” In this case, “these songs” refers to the eleven tracks on his latest solo effort, Only Trying to Help (Better Looking). True to his word, Ferguson has filled this album with glossy, pop-tinged rock.
For example, on "Remission", the opening track (as well as one of the best on the album), Ferguson’s awareness of melody gives the song a distinct anthemic quality. He is not afraid to be catchy or to craft a hook that will latch onto a listener’s ear and not let go. This does not mean that Ferguson is afraid to try something unexpected, however. "The Imposter" starts out with breathy vocals over a simple guitar line but builds to a lush, dreamy (but no less catchy) coda. Immediately following, "In the Sea" has Ferguson creating a soundscape that vaguely echoes the sweetness of a classic 50s track. His knack for layering different elements comes to the forefront on the penultimate track, "Must be Friday Night" — bittersweet lyrics (“This cigarette’s burning my hand, there’s ink on my face, and a drink on the night-stand”), lavish strings, and delicate boy-girl harmonies combine to create something both intimate and epic.
Ferguson’s only missteps come when he tries to cram too many things at once. The schizophrenic "Introduction" sounds vaguely like a discarded James Bond theme, with a refrain that seems to come from a totally different song and unfortunate lyrics like “A faded photograph of her face takes me to the safest place.” And I Worry, the last track, is similarly disjointed, a regrettably anti-climactic ending to a very good album.
Ferguson has said that he wanted “to write a real powerful album. One that people won’t forget too easily.” Engaging and complex, Only Trying to Help proves that, for the most part, his walk matches his talk. - Claire Orpeza