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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Josh Ritter
The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Sony

Rating: 9.5/10 ?


August 27, 2007
Coming only a year after the stunning The Animal Years, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter finds namesake and frontman Ritter boldly claiming musical territory with a reinvented sound, turning from the meticulous arrangements and somber ruminations of his previous album to a more daring, moxie-charged approach that yields some of the freshest, most captivating songs of his career.

The album opens with the delightfully clattering "To the Dogs or Whoever," a song that demands repeated listening not only because it's ridiculously catchy but also because you can only grasp about half the lyrics the first time around. Backed by a jangling guitar and pounding piano and drums, Ritter, as literate as ever, delivers a dizzying array of images and allusions ranging from Joan of Arc to the Crimean War before the chorus storms in like a saloon sing-along: "In the dark I thought I heard somebody callin'/ In the dark I thought I heard somebody call." That sort of boisterousness is in no short supply on Conquests. Whether they're tearing through galloping country-western ("Next to the Last Romantic") or bursting into a Steinway-pounding frenzy ("Real Long Distance"), Ritter and his band mates are definitely having themselves a good time.

On the swaggering, piano-punctuated "Mind's Eye," Ritter adopts the persona of a gunslinger who's grown tired of feeble challengers: "I'm putting up with you lightweights/ Calling me out to the middle of the street/ Oh I've got you in my mind's eye/ I've got you in my mind's eye." On "Rumors" he adds even more muscle to piano/percussion-headed strut with a husky horn section while on the propulsive "Open Doors," he strips things down to a spare, low-fi arrangement of acoustic guitar and drums.

Ritter's songcraft is no less superb when he smoothes the edges of his sound. The bittersweet gem "Empty Hearts" coasts on one of his finest gentle melodies. A retro string arrangement and soulful horns fill out the breezy first single, "Right Moves," as Ritter sings of the difficulty of rekindling a relationship with a former lover: "Am I making all the right moves?/ Am I singing you the right blues?/ Is there a chance that I could call you/ Just to see how you are doing?" On the spellbinding ballad "The Temptation of Adam," perhaps the best song on the album, strings, muted horns, and a bass clarinet enhance the melancholy of Ritter's acoustic figures. A love story set in a missile silo, the song moves from tender to unsettling as the narrator worries his relationship with his Marie will dissolve once they return to their pre-war lives: "As our time grows short I get a little nervous/ I think about the Big One, W.W. I.I.I./ Would we ever really care the world had ended?/ You could hold me here forever like you're holding me tonight/ I look at that great big red button and I'm tempted."

Ritter's relaxed, free-spirited approach does lead to a few superfluous moments. The brief instrumental "Edge of the World" and the apparently unfinished "Moons" certainly could've been omitted, and the ethereal "Wait for Love," though decidedly pretty, isn't as strong as the full-bodied version of the song that closes the album. But with an album so extraordinary, what are a few short detours?

It is a mystery to me how Josh Ritter has remained so underappreciated in the US up to this point in his career. As a masterful storyteller, playful and profound, with the ability to clear new paths in traditional genres, Ritter is likely more deserving than any other songwriter of his generation to be lauded as "the next Dylan." And with a growing list of musical conquests to his credit, it's not hard to imagine a time when writers will celebrate "the next Josh Ritter."

Reviewed by Jason Middlekauff
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jason Middlekauff

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