Ryan Driver's Careless Thoughts dances elegantly around basic human themes – love, existence, mortality, darkness, time – but does so with a playfulness that elevates it beyond hopeless existential angst. "We'll never be more than a reverie," he concedes above swirling, cinematic strings on "They Call This Everything." "Dreams are all there is, and dreaming is all we can do with this." He punches out a dissonant piano riff, a moment of frustration, before the strings (arranged by Thom Gill) re-emerge like a heaving sigh of acceptance. "The tone of the record may seem fairly serious at first glance," muses Driver, "and I wouldn't say that it isn't serious, but it is very playful, and even fun if you listen carefully enough."
On the album's title track, that wry philosophizing returns – "Dreams were made to be shattered, and life was made to die," – but rather than descending into despair, he catches himself. "But life was also made to be alive. Let's make the best of situations, destructions, creations. Let's watch the world destroy itself and enjoy ourselves at celebrations." That song, Driver says, "seems to relate to some vague story of heartbreak." He often explains his own songs like this – as though their content and inspiration is a mystery even to him. Driver's voice is an ever-changing entity – one which tells the story as much as the lyrics. He dons a soft, unassuming falsetto on "I Guess I Won't Be Going Home"; he lowers his voice to a cracked murmur on "It's Nothing Time," and wraps it gracefully around Tamara Lindeman's on country-tinged duet "It Must Be Dark Tonight."
Driver's maverick status in the Toronto avant-garde jazz scene stems partly from a lack of formal jazz training, he insists – though that alone can't account for his unique artistic expression. Though on Careless Thoughts, he eschews his invented instruments in favor of mostly piano and guitar, the album still ripples with the same imaginative spirit that led to their creation. It's a stream of consciousness of sorts, which wonders at the state of the world and all those in it, yet maintains a determined sense of direction and coherence.