Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

AL Riggs Grinds on “America’s Pencil”

Sometimes I feel like AL Riggs is the sentient version of that Tom Waits’ song “What’s He Building?” They’re always coming up with something, even if you’re not direct witness to it, but you know that when Riggs emerges from that crooked house down the street, regaled with potted plants and rife with Panamerican clutter, it’s gonna be good.

The debut single from Riggs’ forthcoming I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep, is one of these tidbits from this upcoming songwriter mastermind. “America’s Pencil,” starts with an indulgent grind with plummy piano echoing its irreverent despair. There’s a certain sort of chagrin with the first line married with these heavy guitar tones and ribcage piano: “I’m tuning pianos for whoever needs it / don’t use a tuner / they trust me.”

There seems to be a strangely nostalgic bitterness here, a Lot’s Wife sort of thing going on — getting salty about being salt. “I’m paid for my talent / never my time / wouldn’t be getting gigs if they timed me,” leads into the crashing pre-chorus where Riggs proclaims, “the city loves to pretend it needs me.” It’s a feeling known all too well for musicians and creators alike, and yet, harkens to the time periods of our lives where we’re younger and pretending that we’re the main character, the ideations that come with such a notion and the ways we think it’s going to boost us creatively. 

This idea of life objectification or main characterization is oft explored in rock music, but not so wittily as Riggs does. They know the things they’ve done in the past, that making things more important than they need to be for creation’s sake disallows one from actually engaging with the world, and everything becomes a product or a project. It’s a very American sentiment. 

But amidst all of these confessions and retrospects, the Mona Lisa smile of it all, is a sweet organ hiding between guitar solos, sweeping piano, hushed harmony. It’s strangely cathartic listening to AL Riggs trying to figure out what makes for a good song, or good art, and all the steps that come prior to such an occurrence, if one is as lucky as Riggs with such notions.

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I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep promises to be a crusher of an album, with Paisley Fields and Lavender Country on the flanks of the record. If “American Pencil,” isn’t enough to convince you that Riggs is ready to see you as you are as they witness themselves, or escort you to hell and back and then invite you into their weird house at the end of the street, full of the whizzgangs and whatchamacallits of a person who had to develop their own sound and home, I don’t know what to tell you. The fact of the matter is that AL Riggs is about to show us what they’re building in there and invite us inside, and it’s something worth being truly excited about.