Ry Ry World is the best kind of sophomore album, one that improves and expands on Mariah the Scientist’s debut while retaining its singularity.
Mariah the Scientist’s 2019 album Master was a solid debut anchored by two amazing singles. “Beetlejuice” showed Mariah Buckles’ prowess as an songwriter who can wring poignancy out of the bitterest anger and the smallest happiness, “Reminders” proved her ear for rich R&B production, and both displayed her ability as a vocalist to sing every line like it was the most important one she’d ever written. Her sophomore album, Ry Ry World, is another step up: the same vocal and songwriting skills are still there, but the deep cuts are better, the production is more ambitious, and her artistic vision is clearer than ever.
Ry Ry World happens to have one of the best album covers of the year: Mariah, eyes closed and smiling blissfully, clutches her hand around an arrow impaled in her bare chest as blood drips down between her fingers. It’s a perfect expression of the songs within, which mix pain and happiness and vulnerability together into sharp, complicated emotions. The production is simple, built mostly around heavy drums and watery synths, and it stays in the background, keeping the focus squarely on Buckles’ vocals, which have a piercing yet soft quality to them that makes her performances captivating.
Most of the songs on Ry Ry World are slow and introspective, but a few do cautiously approach upbeat territory. Tracks like “Aura” and “Maybe” are album highlights, with low-key but propulsive production and lyrics about being caught in the complicated space between a relationship and a breakup (“I can be what you need / … Maybe you’ll come to your senses”; “Maybe we should escape / Maybe I should’ve stayed”). Second single “Always n Forever” is the closest the album gets to a straight-up pop song — it even has cowbell — but the Lil Baby feature is completely unnecessary. At least his presence works to get more eyes on Mariah’s music, but, artistically speaking, there’s not much justification for him being here. And Young Thug’s verse on “Walked In” is an even bigger offender, dragging down what would otherwise be a perfectly pleasurable song with some confusing horniness (“I can swap you out with your cousin / After school, I study, I put it in your cubby;” the mind reels). Aside from the scourge of unnecessary male presence, though, Buckles’ part on these two tracks is just as good as the rest of the project.
No matter the tempo or mood, Buckles loves to sing like she’s not mad, just disappointed (and if she is mad, you’ll hear her deliver it in the most charming tone possible). She laments in the chorus of “2 You”: “Look at what we made / Sure was beautiful / Now I lay it in a grave / Now I’m all covered in dirt” — but when overlaid onto the fluttering, wordless vocal loop that underpins the track, these lines sound less like a funeral for love lost than an ode to love experienced. The album’s best vocal performance, however, doesn’t come until the penultimate track, “All For Me.” “What does she have on me?,” Mariah exclaims in its chorus, voice distant and echoing as if she’s shouting her frustrations to an empty room. There’s a dark, almost sinister quality to the track that’s only intensified by the closing track, “Revenge,” which fades out slowly as she repeats, “He said he loved me, why does it hurt? / … Want to get even, I want revenge.” It’s a bold choice to end the album on such an unresolved, bitter note, but Buckles has already proved in the preceding tracks her ability to spin even the darkest of emotions into a delicate, compelling picture.
Ry Ry World is the best type of sophomore album, the kind that improves and expands on all the potential you saw in an artist’s debut while still retaining the singular voice that listeners have already grown to recognize. It establishes, above all else, that Mariah the Scientist is the undeniable center of her records’ identity: her narrators yearn, beg, regret, resent, hope beyond reason, and love without reciprocation, yet she is always in control of her own story.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 3.