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Josh Ritter

 

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By last year's The Animal Years Ritter had found his voice. He harnessed his influences to create a consistent sound: pretty, somber, and restrained. On the leadoff track, "Girl in the War," the apostle Peter, wrestling with doubt, tells the apostle Paul he's ready to damn God's aloof angels if they don't protect his soldier girlfriend in battle. In the next song, wolves slink from the woods into the singer's house to haunt him. Almost all the album's images recur in "Thin Blue Flame," a nine-minute vision of an urban utopia ruined by war. Ritter sounds young and unpolished again as he packs more syllables into his lines than they can hold, but the rawness expresses his anger, flying out of control, at God — who "made the world in seven days / And ever since he's been a-walking away."

As good as The Animal Years is, it didn't hint that Ritter would discover joy through exquisitely crafted pop on The Historical Conquests. His vocals are distorted, then double tracked; drums kick through a foot-stomping chorus; an old-timey piano tinkles as a modern organ pumps and swirls. "Right Moves" survives a too-simple chorus with inventive verses and happy horns. On "The Temptation of Adam," Ritter plays with nuclear war imagery, hiding away with a woman inside a missile silo. His wit moves so fast it takes repeat listening and pondering the song's title to realize that he's reversed Genesis, that he's thinking of pressing The Button and destroying the world so that they stay in their underground Eden forever.

Ritter plays the Blind Pig on Monday, October 15.

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