Ryan Ferguson was the long-time guitarist and singer/songwriter for the influential San Diego indie rock band No Knife. As much as No Knife had the post-punk angular influences of bands like Wire, Gang Of Four and Mission Of Burma, there was a pop core fighting to come out. You saw it rather brilliantly on the band’s third album, 1999’s Fire In The City Of Automatons. In many ways, Only Trying To Help seems like the logical extension of that album.
Ferguson eschews much of the instrumental charm of No Knife in favor of more direct songwriting. It works rather well as these songs benefit from that simplistic approach. However, Ferguson never holds back in letting these songs bath in a glossy pop sheen. Even when there are dark lyrical themes at play these songs jump out of the speakers in an infectious manner. The first half of Only Trying To Help is mostly upbeat while the second half has a quieter feel. Tracks like “The Imposter”, The Shins-esque “In The Sea” and “Must Be Friday Night” show an impressive maturity that Ferguson has reached since his No Knife days. “Not On My Watch” returns from Ferguson’s debut EP and it makes sense as the song is truly one of his best pop nuggets.
Ferguson seems content to keep pushing his artistry and Only Trying To Help is an impressive debut. Fans of No Knife should still find a lot to like here. However, Ferguson’s appeal may have shifted towards the masses. This is smart pop music that never asks too much of the listener. I can appreciate that. Can you?