Ringer T – Around the Bend EP
Gritty Americana that delves deeply into sadness without going overboard into cheap theatrics and wasted songs.
I hate it when artists beat sadness to death. There is power in an admission of complete brokenness, but a whole album about the subject inevitably comes off as laughably maudlin and inexcusably mopey. I can empathize with one or two concise, honest and well-written songs of breathtaking sadness; I cannot get into full-on moping. There’s just no dignity in a breakup album that smears misery across a large canvas.
It’s the songs surrounding a centerpiece that make the sadness of a piece so gut-wrenchingly relatable. On Spiritualized’s massive breakup album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, hopeful songs like “Electricity” are what make “Broken Heart” so disarmingly disheartening. It’s the exuberant “This Year” and the confrontational “Lion’s Teeth” that make The Mountain Goats’ “Pale Green Things” the intense and draining closer that it is on The Sunset Tree. It’s not in spreading the sadness out that brilliance is created – it’s in distilling that into several brilliant takes.
Ringer T understands this concept – and that’s why Around the Bend is the emotional powerhouse that it is. The EP begins with the emotionally tortured rocker “Cut the Cords,” which shows Grant Geertsma and co. flipping from brooding anger to unhinged vulnerability and back several times. The command of the mood is impressive, as Ringer T manages to make the mood transitions seamless. It’s surprisingly dark for Ringer T fare, but it works perfectly. It sets up the general feel of melancholy without shoving it in the listener’s face.
Once a rickety and uncertain yelp, Geertsma’s voice has grown into a confident, evocative and easily recognizable tenor, and “Where I Long to Go” showcases it. In a well-written upbeat song that incorporates slide guitar, Ringer T’s trademark acoustic guitar jangle and handclaps to augment a shuffling drumbeat, Geertsma doesn’t hide behind the quality of the songwriting. He instead speaks up and sings with confidence in a catchy song that is sure to become a Ringer T standard, if it isn’t already.
It’s now, after two upbeat tunes, that Ringer T drops the bomb. The title track starts with the distant sound of children playing, slowly covered by a lone electric guitar and Geertsma’s hollow, reverb-laden vocals. The song continues in this vein until the knock-out punch arrives: mournful violin, tastefully and sparingly used. The emptiness and despair laden in this tune are simply astounding.
The sadness of that song is matched by “Let Each Other Free,” which incorporates the full band and the rich sound of a euphonium. It’s sad in a different sort of way – as opposed to the crushing sadness that was “Around the Bend,” “Let Each Other Free” is a noble, resigned sort of sadness.
They pack up the set with “Feel My Pain,” which flirts with lyrical cliches but is saved by solid performances by the band, and the instrumental piano track “Flower of Life.” They aren’t happy tracks, but neither aspires to be as moving or as monumental as “Around the Bend.” “Flower of Life” is especially unique, as it isn’t just your regular piano outro – it’s pretty solid compositionally.
Ringer T’s gritty Americana has always been emotionally honest without getting maudlin. Around the Bend has proven that they can delve deeply into sadness without going overboard into cheap theatrics and wasted songs. This EP is a downer – no way around it. But if you want some sad music that’s done right, this is what you want to get. The songwriting is incredible, the performances are memorable, and the moods are believable. This EP is definitely one of my favorite releases of the year.