Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

From the first lyrics and notes of “To the Dogs or Whoever,” it’s pretty obvious that we are in for a collection of varied sounds combined to create a somewhat cohesive listen. The syncopated drums and tambourine then kick in and the song ends up being one of the better openers of the year. Most of everything that you will hear on Josh Ritter’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter is introduced on the first song. There’s some enthusiastic, fiery singing where you imagine that Ritter tried to include every single word, a catchy hook made up of guitar and some intensified energy.

The Spoon-ish, “Mind’s Eye” follows with a blunt piano and relentless drumming. The best sounding songs are the ones where Ritter keeps it short and brisk. They linger around just long enough to draw you in. No, he isn’t one of the best songwriters or musicians currently making music but he certainly has a wealth of ideas to share. “Right Moves” ends the beginning trio of songs with a dreamy bass that wraps around the entire song before some timely strings join in. And even though the first three songs all sounds starkly dissimilar to one another, they are each on their own, great songs.

From here, Ritter meanders around a bit. The ballad, “The Temptation of Adam” is a good enough song but the lyrics make it somewhat forgettable. You don’t necessarily dislike it but you certainly won’t be humming it around the office the next day. It’s a slow song with very limited instrumentation where Ritter’s lyrical prose is grating. These lost ideas and efforts float around the album, hindering it a bit.

Things pick right back up with the short and straightforward rockers “Open Doors” and “Rumors.” The latter sounding like something else directly out of Spoon’s catalog—naturally, it ends up being one of the better songs on the album.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well from here, “Edge of the World” is a two-minute track of guitar melody with some organ background, “Wait for Love” is another ballad that doesn’t do much and although “Real Long Distance” is more up-tempo it also doesn’t do much. “Next to the Last Romantic” is Ritter’s attempt at some bluesy, rockabilly style that isn’t executed too well. This four song run of clunky and stale music really brings the album down.

However, the last two songs—gentle and serene—do in fact close out the album well. But you are left with mixed feelings. What if Ritter took out the two throwaways in “Moons” and “Edge of the World” and got rid of one of the “Wait for Love” songs? You would be left with a sleek, 11-song album that flows great and in turn, sounds great.

Ultimately, it ends up being a fine album. Nothing too spectacular or breakthrough but filled with enough great tunes to keep you coming back. At the end of the opener, Ritter sings, “I thought I heard somebody calling” and yeah, I think there is enough here for me to call him back.