With his new album Shape & Destroy, available on August 28, Ruston Kelly embraces his self-described “dirt-emo” sound while demonstrating a mastery of the written word. Kelly has crafted a thoughtful and meaningful sophomore album that extends his reign as an alt-country king, established by his critically acclaimed 2018 debut, Dying Star. The new project is the product of Kelly’s sharp mind and expert lyricism that culminate in 13 songs – here are some of the most thought-provoking moments.
From one fan to another: close your eyes when you press play on “Alive” and allow the peaceful melody and Kelly’s words to take you inside his visions of flowers rising from the rubble and peering through a telescope at a clear blue sky – two of the many examples he provides of what makes life worth living. The song also serves as a tribute to the person who makes his experience here on earth even more pure-hearted while reinforcing the idea of immersing oneself in the simple beauties of life that exists around them – “what a beautiful moment to be alive” indeed.
Best lyric: “Front porch in the silence/Not a sound on the street/And on the horizon/The sun is setting pink/You’re cooking something in the house/Singing John Prine/What a beautiful thing to be alive.”
With “Changes,” Kelly recognizes the struggle that comes with the growing pains that transform us into the next version of ourselves, a struggle he has faced time and time again. The song is a lament of a soul in transition, Kelly bravely asking the person he loves not to give up on him as he finds himself in battle with demons he thought had vanquished, becoming a stranger to himself and the people who know him best. The song comes at a time when many of us are also facing the struggle of letting go of old habits, and as the singer graciously asks for patience and the space to grow into who he’s meant to become, one can’t help but admire his humility.
Best lyrics: “I’m just going through some changes/That don’t mean everything is rearranging.”
“It’s easier to say than it is to do/To let go of the things I need to lose/To grow out of the old/And take the shape of something new.”
A wise English teacher once told me that quality writing requires you to have a dictionary by your side to look up the words you’re unfamiliar with, something Kelly prompted me to do when listening to “Rubber.” A quick-paced acoustic melody sets the tone for this track that finds the singer observing his own experiences, taking account of his unquenchable desire to pierce through his noise-filled mind and find the solace of silence. He pours the thoughts rattling around into his head onto paper, simultaneously pondering if he’s capable of taking on new shape like that of the material the song lifts its name from. Upon researching his reference to French thinker Voltaire, it’s clear why he compares himself to the philosopher of the French Enlightenment era who relied on sharp wit and a free spirit to advocate for his beliefs – much like the singer himself.
Best lyric: “And she’s like Agatha Christie/And I’m more like Voltaire/Everything is a theory/Carried away with the morning air.”
Kelly asks the important questions right off the top on “Brave”: “Who am I and how will I be remembered when I die?/What will I leave behind?” These are the kind of questions we all ponder, but Kelly takes it one step further by answering this profound thought with one word. The lyrics find Kelly exploring what it means to be brave by his own definition: a man who stands behind his word, is led by selflessness and above all, values the love he’s surrounded by. These are noble quests we all strive for, yet the earnest nature of Kelly’s voice as he reaches for his higher self pulls the heartstrings in the gentlest way, making for one of the most reflective moments on the project.
Best lyrics: “I stood by every promise that I made/That I tried my best at selflessness/Never took more than I gave/And I didn’t give up to the darkness/I fought with all my might/And I never took for granted/All the love in my life/That’s how I hope I’m remembered when I die.”
In merely one minute and 32 seconds, Kelly delivers some of the best poetry featured on the album, as he relays his ideal transition into the afterlife. With his voice echoing through the speakers as if bouncing off the walls of a cathedral, “Hallelujah Anyway” is both a song and a prayer that sees Kelly professing that even in life’s darkest moments, he hopes to maintain the strength to find the light. He calls on pure imagery; being wrapped in a tourniquet of love as he passes from life to death; returning to earth as a flower in bloom that matches “the color of a lovely afternoon.” Backed by a chorus of voices that add haunting effect, Kelly needs only a few lines to deliver his existential message that ends the album with an awe-inspiring testament.
Best lyric: “And even when I go/If I see my soul/Sink below and down into the flames/Hallelujah anyway.”
Follow Ruston Kelly on Facebook for ongoing updates.