Stream al Riggs’ New Album I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep
Durham singer-songwriter al Riggs is ostensibly a country musician. A lot of their songs evoke the all-consuming melancholy of the genre’s finest ballads, and their quavering tenor bears some passing resemblance to Jason Isbell. But as heard on Bile And Bone, their collaborative album with guitarist Lauren Francis last year, Riggs is country the way Wilco is country. They specialize in a rootsy, twilit strain of indie rock that reminds me of Sparklehorse and Songs: Ohia and the Mountain Goats and Red House Painters and Will Oldham and Yo La Tengo. (Come to think of it, that voice also has some Ira Kaplan in it.)
Tomorrow Riggs will release their new album, the delightfully titled I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep. You know how for a while people liked to describe pop cultural artifacts, memes, and even human interactions as “a big mood”? It feels passé to wield that phrase at this point, but the description fits here. Over the course of a dozen songs, Riggs taps into a somber meditative vibe that rarely lets up no matter how often the instrumentation shifts. A couple years ago, upon the release of their GODKILLER album, Riggs was describing their aesthetic as “Sad Queer Songs and Sometimes Angry Queer Songs.” That still tracks, but the new album brims with a certain contented warmth, too, embodied by the domestic scene Riggs paints on “Long Light Mantle.” It’s a reminder that there are many different ways to sigh.
There are some important names attached to this project that you should know about. For one thing, closing track “Nun In The Tower” contains elements of two songs by John Prine, who Riggs considers a personal hero. “It hurt when he died in a way that it didn’t hurt when other people that I grew up loving died,” Riggs told IndyWeek last year. “When Lou Reed died, it was bad. When David Bowie died, it was bad. When John Prine died, it kind of broke me in a weird way.” Ambient composer extraordinaire Chuck Johnson plays pedal steel on the piercingly intimate “Blighted By The Light.” The voice of A.C. Niver beautifies “Wishes And Clapping,” while queer country icons Patrick Haggerty (of Lavender Country) and Paisley Fields turn up to add hootin’, hollerin’ energy to the traditional “Ragged But Right.” Even more sensibly, Riggs recruited Dylan Balliett, the brains behind Spirit Night and a one-time touring guitarist for the World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, for a warmly downcast single called “Emo Revival.”
You might not even notice the guests, though, because Riggs remains a compelling narrator throughout, delivering smart turns of phrase with a casual affect that suggests they’re willing to risk going unheard and let close listeners discover each one in time. On “America’s Pencil,” they take the piss out of themselves, scoffing at the youthful naïveté that convinces twentysomething creatives that they’re “discovering poetic bitterness for the very first time.” But the glory of great writing is the way it can make those age-old experiences resonate like new, or present under-represented perspectives in ways that connect with a larger audience. With I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep, Riggs has delivered on both fronts.
Stream the full album below, a day ahead of its release.
I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep is out 4/2 on Horse Complex Records. At this link, you can pre-order vinyl and/or get the digital version bundled with hot sauce and T-shirts.