Al Riggs has been one of many busiest songwriters of their residence state of North Carolina for many of a decade. Not but 30, the songwriter has steadily churned out fuzzy, self-produced songs, digging into the work of lo-fi heroes and talking brazenly about their life with autism. After specializing in guitar-led twang with final yr’s I Bought a Massive Electrical Fan to Preserve Me Cool Whereas I Sleep, Riggs’ newest album, Themselves, is a definitive pivot in each presentation—in line with a press launch, will probably be their remaining album beneath the title—and subject material. “The trans allegories are by way of the roof,” Riggs mentioned in an announcement, and Themselves coheres these narratives right into a collection of ghost tales and monuments.
Buying and selling in themes of demise and rebirth, Themselves presents Riggs at a crossroads, sending off their former selves in a tide of artistic cross-references. As if self-soothing for the discomfort that comes with any form of transition, Riggs pads out Themselves with comfortable synths and stressed digital rhythms. Riggs’ voice wavers as they meander by way of the report, their low warble tumbling over traces about ready, what-ifs, and wanting. Their sense of wariness is palpable.
Themselves’ observe titles learn just like the visitor checklist of an uncommon ceremonial dinner, attended by lifeless artists: Moomin creator Tove Jansson, monologist Spalding Grey, Peanuts mastermind Charles Schulz, musician Richard Swift, and American Splendor originator Harvey Pekar are among the many invitees. Even the duvet artwork bears a wink: Its artist, Field Brown, has penned stirring graphic novels concerning the singular lives of cult heroes like Andy Kaufman and André the Big. Like Olivia Liang’s The Lonely Metropolis, Riggs lovingly invokes this array of free spirits to narrate to their very own journey of particular person self-discovery, spiraling into their very own inside maps.
In “Nationwide Freedom Christmas (For R. Swift),” producer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift, who died unexpectedly at 41 in 2018, turns into Riggs’ outlet for a potential redemption. Within the surreal surroundings adjustments of “Halloween for Norma Tanega,” the titular California singer-songwriter will get a nod, too, and the connection feels free however humorous: Tanega’s tune “You’re Useless” discovered a brand new life by way of the comedy What We Do within the Shadows, one other set of transition-related adventures about vampires adapting to fashionable life on Staten Island. In Riggs’ world, the underdogs find yourself on high, whether or not they’re artists establishing their distinctive types or craving lovers looking for affirmation.
Riggs makes use of the yr 1987—a number of years earlier than their delivery—as one other narrative pillar, opening Themselves in “Chelsea, 1987,” a cradle of New York’s homosexual group, a mile from the place the grassroots political group ACT UP was born the identical yr. Throughout the album, plans are set, folks disappear, conflicts stay at free ends. However Riggs reaches a breakthrough with “The Bardo, 1987,” laying their vulnerability plain with the road “Dying by no means will get me/It’s the rebuilding that’s powerful.”