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Josh Ritter - Animal Years

Josh Ritter, Animal Years

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JOSH Ritter describes his new album Animal Years as an attempt to ‘internalise and postage stamp a year of deep global unrest that his country has both shaped and been shaped by’.

It was recorded in Bear Creek Studios, outside of Seattle, with Brian Deck (of Modest Mouse fame) and is as accomplished and satisfying as we have come to expect from Ritter.

Although inspired by uncertainty, the album is often beautiful, frequently laidback and as intelligently crafted as some of the best efforts in Ritter’s acclaimed back catalogue.

The political subtext is evident from the start with the lovely but emotive Girl In The War, a haunting yet passionate track that is wrapped around some truly enchanting instrumentation. The song is designed as Ritter’s commentary on the situation in Iraq and includes such telling lines as ‘if they can’t find a way to help her, they can go to hell’ and ‘pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire’.

As hard-hitting as such sentiments are, however, the strong melodies blow you away and mark the artist at his absolute best.

It’s followed by the vibrant Wolves, a track propelled by some well-observed hammond organ and a fierce, fiery drum beat. It shows that there’s plenty more to Ritter’s arsenal than just folksy acoustic ballads.

Monster Ballads, like its name suggests, is slower in composition, but no less satisfying, augmented by a spine-tingling piano sample running through it, while Lillian Egypt is another lively offering that showcases the more upbeat side to the singer, complete with ‘la, la, las’.

Ritter is, of course, known for the pensive, acoustic ballads and there are plenty of songs that unfold slowly, meticulously and which reflect the confusion surrounding the motivations behind the album. One such track is Idaho, a very stripped down offering which emerges as a softly-spoken lament. Another is Best For The Best.

If anything, the opening songs on the long-player are stronger than some of the later offerings, demonstrating a little more musical ambition and drawing on a lot of different styles and instruments.

But there is no denying the overall quality of Animal Years which adds to and, in some cases, improves upon Ritter’s excellent collection of work. Fans will undoubtedly be pleased, while there’s plenty to win new admirers over.

As Ritter states in interview: “These are a collection of songs about confusion and about where this country is going. It’s not as much a political record, but just a diary of things I observe, how divisive everyone is, no matter whose side you’re on.”

If nothing else, listening to Ritter’s album should cast any such divisions aside.

Track listing:

  1. Girl In The War
  2. Wolves
  3. Monster Ballads
  4. Lillian Eygpt
  5. Idaho
  6. In The Dark
  7. One More Mouth
  8. Good Man
  9. Best For The Best
  10. Thin Blue Flame
  11. Here At The Right Time