Saturday, September 08, 2007

Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

What is it you look for in an album? Catchy melodies? Great songwriting? Stellar musicianship? Originality? Relistenability?
It doesn’t really matter if you’re listening for all of those things are just one of those things…this album has it all.
At this point I would hope that you all would at least be familiar with the name Josh Ritter. He’s been around for quite some time, and overlooked for most of it. His name started showing up after the release of Hello Starling in 2003. It’s a nice little folk album. It doesn’t really separate itself too much from a lot of other artists in that same vein, but it’s still pretty good. There are a number of fantastic tracks on it. Then, last year he released The Animal Years, which is an absolutely magnificent album, filled with gorgeous songs of love, war, and other related topics. He gained a lot of attention for that album, and rightly so.
And so it was with much anticipation that he released The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. Early reports said that it was going to be a lot different than his previous albums. That can be either extremely good or extremely bad.
After 15+ listens, I can say that it is extremely good.
The first track (“To the Dogs or Whoever”) is definitely different from anything he’s released up until this point. It begins with a strumming guitar and an erratically plunked piano, followed by some highly distorted vocals. In short, it sounds like an outtake from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot…in a good way. The rapid-fire verses give way to the big, can’t-help-but-sing-a-long chorus (which will get stuck in your head for weeks if you’re not careful). A great start.
The next track (“Mind’s Eye”) starts out with a very Clash-esque guitar line (it’s almost like he took the opening chords to “London Calling” and copied them into his song). It’s a herky-jerky song and takes a while to get used to, but, once you do, you’ll love it.
The high point of the album (and, quite possibly, of Josh’s young career) is “The Temptation of Adam”. The story/song is about two people living in a silo, guarding the button that would send atomic missiles on the world in the days before World War III. Mere words can’t describe the beauty of this song, so it’s definitely worth your time to listen to it again and again. It gets better with each listen.
“Empty Hearts” sounds like a song that Grant Lee-Phillips had written once upon a time, but never got around to recording. That’s not to say that this song (or this entire album) is one big musical rip-off, because that’s not what it is at all. Some of his influences are fairly obvious to pick up on, but that doesn’t take away anything from this album.
I could really go track by track and sing the praises of each one, but I’ll spare you that. Josh tries a number of different things musically on this album, and it’s amazing how he makes them all work. And, not only does he make them all work, he makes them all work within the context of the album. On the first listen or two, you may find yourself saying, “Why would he put this song after the last one?” But, after a number of listens, it all begins to come together. Even the delicate instrumental “Edge of the World” seems to fit perfectly after the big, instrument heavy “Rumors”. I can’t really explain why it works, I just know that it does, in fact, work, and it makes more and more sense every time I listen to it.
Do yourself a favor and check out this album. Just do one thing for me: don’t give up on it after one or two listens. Give it at least five listens before making a judgment. You’ll be glad that you did.

Rating: 9.5

Favorite Tracks: “Right Moves”, “The Temptation of Adam”, “Rumors”, “Still Beating”, “Empty Hearts”

Check out his website here, and buy it here

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