No one is as DIY as Ben Ricketts. He wrote the songs, played the instruments, set the sequences, and did the recording and mixing for his new album Songs for Ruined X-Rays.
Much of Ricketts’ oeuvre serves as a reminder that to numb oneself to life’s disappointments and defeats is to give up on experiencing its happiest highs. “It’s better with the wires exposed,” Ricketts sings on “Wires.” The pitch-shifted notes of the primary melody exude heartfelt sincerity, a hallmark of the Mississippi-turned-Memphis musician’s songwriting.
- Songs for Ruined X-Rays
“I recorded this in my old apartment and my home between June 2019 and May 2020,” Ricketts writes in the album’s description on Bandcamp. “A lot of these songs came from experiences shared with my wife during their experiences with thyroid cancer, as well as different experiences we’ve shared over the last couple of years. In these songs, you’ll hear a lot of things: hours in the hospital, frustrating journeys through modern dystopia, nights at home, weekend getaways, pre-owned books, endless anxiety, committed love, and a whole lot more.”
Songs for Ruined X-Rays blends wistfully eerie synth swirls with warm keyboard tones and acoustic guitars. The amalgamation of digital and analogue sounds creates an aural landscape that reflects the composite reality of contemporary life. Listening to a Ricketts album is like living, for a 45-minute stretch, inside a dream world.
- Ben Ricketts
Ricketts’ newest work is by no means derivative, but like The Lips or MGMT, he understands that a simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, synth, and quietly crooned vocals can, in the right hands, be far more powerful than six instruments cranked to 11. One gets the feeling that Ricketts hardly dares to hope — he begins a thought, leaving it to the listener’s imagination to finish it.
On “Mask from a Magazine” Ricketts paints a picture with well-placed shakers, drum machines, acoustic guitar, and a digital drip noise that sounds almost like the syrup injector on a soda machine. “I wanna give you spaceships on Mars,” Ricketts sings.
“Radio Kisses” drips with sensual ’80s prom reverb. When Ricketts hits a major chord in “Tilt” — at about the 2:30 mark — it sends the heart lurching sideways. “Saint Cargo” begins with foreboding synth sounds; it’s more Vangelis on Blade Runner than Yoshimi at this point. The proverbial hero’s journey through the underworld is paid off, though, with the groove of “The Glow.” The final song, as with the rest of the album, is unflinching in its refusal to turn away from life’s myriad sadnesses. Equally, though, it refuses to be overwhelmed by that sadness. Songs for Broken X-Rays wears its beating heart on its sleeve, and Ricketts’ childlike wonder suffuses every track with warmth and hope.