Al Riggs: Lavender Scare


Self-released; August 2

There are bedroom-pop auteurs that consistently make good and varied albums, and there are those that make a lot of albums. Then there’s Al Riggs. They occupy the rarer subset of bedroom-pop auteurs that do both. The Durham musician’s Bandcamp boasts nine albums since 2016, and their hit-to-miss ratio is startlingly favorable. And while they have a certain elemental sparseness, these mostly aren’t songs of tossed-off simplicity; Riggs draws rich, complex melodies, themes, and timbres from poetically restricted means.

Prior INDY favorite Hell House had roots in crepuscular folk-rock, but Lavender Scare—one of Riggs’s best to date, which we premiered last week—goes full-on synth-pop, though it retains a quicksilver live feel, thanks to the use of MIDI-controlled virtual instruments. At various points, it has shades of rainy seventies singer-songwriters and aughties-mp3-blog ones, of Brian Wilson’s glazed churn and The Magnetic Fields’ moody bagatelles, of Xiu Xiu’s pounding electro-pop and Spacemen 3’s epic drift. 

On the coolly haunting opener, “Trauma Reversed,” Riggs’s lyrics glint in evocative fragments through gray clouds of reverb; the most prominent is the refrain, “You make a mountain of a man when you listen / When you break this house with your pride,” before the song dissolves into a beautiful silver starburst. This is a nod to the album’s maxim, “The first Pride was a riot,” a reminder of Stonewall radicalism in the commercialized queerness of Pride Month.     

The album’s title, too, carries a political charge, referring to the U.S. government’s McCarthy-era persecution of gay people. But Riggs diffuses those blaring alarms into the piquantly personal, soft-edged songwriting they’re known for. The organ-driven psych-pop of “Blacklight” is accented with whispering clicks that grow into threshing blades, whipping between stereo channels. Standout “Moon and America, The Great Dance” has the most interesting palette, twisting Auto-Tune vocals through a hurdy-gurdy-like chord progression. I especially love the detailing on the beginning of “New Family Car,” the spontaneous vocal rhythm and claps that slide into a glowering drone-rock chord. There’s fine sequencing in its high-contrast placement next to “Bloodmoon Satyrday,” a sustained-piano dream of pastoral country stretched between slow snares and fast hats, with horn tones pouring in like syrup.

By the time the spring-wound arpeggios and low-slung vocal melody of “Dogs in Popular Songwriting” arrive, we’re engulfed in a misty, vivid world that feels beautifully alone, as if populated only by Riggs and the listener. It’s best entered via headphones, where each faint flutter and wry or cryptic observation stands revealed.

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