Ringer T – All Too Well
The inevitable question: “What do you listen to?”
My stock answer: “Everything except rap and country.”
Confession: This is not entirely true. I listen to jazz much less than I would like to admit, I’ve never gotten into soul or r&b, I’m just starting to get into old-school country and I listen to alt-country a great deal.
I say “no country” cause it’s nerdy to say “everything except rap and Hot Country, although I do like Americana and Alt-country,” and because I disdain the inevitable explanation I have to give citing the differences between Alt-country (Calexico, The Elected, Neil Young), Americana (Damien Jurado, Ringer T), and Folk (everyone else, pretty much). The reason I disdain the conversation is because there’s a very small percentage of people who care (see Old Canes (folk/indie/americana).
So how does Ringer T do it? They do it with equal parts piano and guitar, equal parts distorted and undistorted, and lots of candor. The lyrics on All Too Well won’t win any awards for high poetry, but in the canon of pop music, they should be lauded for ringing true on breakups. There’s no absurd metaphors here and no over-the-top stories – just confessions of brokenness with titles like “Bare and Empty,” “Why Can’t I Understand?” and my personal favorite title, “Alone.”
From the crunchy, bouncy opener “It Helps to Know” to the loping piano line of “Give Me Some Time” through the patient but enthusiastic “Run & Hide” and ending with the resonant, conclusive piano closer of “All Too Well,” everything in Ringer T’s All Too Well appeals to the pop lover, the country listener, the romantic, the jilted, and the weary.
The secret weapon that creates so much excitement in my book is Grant Geertsma’s everyman, world-weary vocals. Geertsma does not have a perfect voice, but it’s a voice that resonates and fills up the songs that it’s in. And when I say he doesn’t have a perfect voice, I don’t mean that we’ve found the second coming of Bob Dylan or Neil Young – I mean that there’s some nasal edge to the voice, and at times the voice just sounds plaintive. The amazing thing is that the songs in which Geertsma’s voice has the most obvious struggles and victories (the reluctant ballad “Bare and Empty,” the heartbreaking “Give Me Some Time”) are the songs which will have you returning to them. That’s part of the charm of Americana – it’s a sound that is so honest, so real, so uncompromising that you can relate to it. You can sing along brokenheartedly to “Bare and Empty,” and if your voice warbles, well, so does Geertsma’s. Feel safe and comfortable singing along.
Does that mean that All Too Well is a sloppy mess? It certainly does not. In fact, it is much the opposite – the album is lovingly constructed and immaculately produced so as not to lose the mid-fi sheen that creates an immense sense of wonder throughout the tracks.
Even though all the songs have that underlying sense of awe, they aren’t all similar – they’re parsed out pretty evenly between rockers, poppers, and ballads. The ballads, which I first came to love them for, are even stronger than on their debut This Place, while the more upbeat songs jangle and even roar (the end of “Bare and Empty”) with a unique sense of rightness. It just feels correct when they rock out, especially at the end of “Why Can’t I Understand?”, where an overarching guitar line steals the show from the entire song, including the dramatic vocal line.
“Run and Hide” has one of the most infectious guitar riffs Ringer T has ever written, while “So Soon” echoes their previous work (especially “Anew,” a standout on This Place) in a pleasing, comforting, non-derivative way.
But the winner here is “On Your Side Again.” It’s most definitely the “commit this to mix-tape” song, and for good reason. The song starts out with a calm acoustic strum, a shaken egg, and Geertsma cooing “ooo” in a melody that has both confidence and heartache wrapped in it. He then drops these lines:
“I keep coming back/to where I began
Should I keep going on again?
It’s not like it’s bad/just a little sad
That we can’t just be what we had.”
And then there’s a subtle chord change, the kind that you wait for, hope for in every song, cause it signifies an epic chorus on the horizon.
“I tried to be that kind
but I don’t believe there’s time”
And now, here it comes, the thick strum and tom hit building to the chorus….
Crash!! Everything comes in! Drums, guitars, bass!
“Well, guess it’s on your side again
And I wonder, will it end?
Can’t you see I’m just a kid?
I don’t know what I’m doing.”
From the straight-forward rock drums to the yelping background vocals to the pulsing bass to yearning electric guitar sound, this is passion distilled. This is not a chorus, this is a chorus. You will sing, and sing loudly. It is the perfect mix of insecurity and confidence – it captures that hopeless confidence of standing on your own without any sense of what’s going on. If songs are supposed to convey an emotion, then this song, this album, has grasped the concept to a T.
Ringer T’s All Too Well is an incredible album. It’s a downer, for sure – but it is also a near-perfect transcription of the sound of a broken heart. And I know that this may be a little possessive, but really – is there anything as American as a broken heart? Get this album if you’re a fan of good songwriting – you can thank me later for introducing you to the joy that is Americana.