Al Riggs decided to name his record Hell House, but he also decided, it seems, to make a sonic home blanketed with gentle acoustic guitars, cushioned with mic fuzz, and carpeted with the soft patter of percussive shakers, rather than a home engulfed in noisy inferno.
Riggs has said that part of the impetus for his latest record was living in a punk house in Chapel Hill last year, and the accompanying dissonance of being an introvert suddenly thrust into the midst of a network of musical communities. This period of life—which began shortly before Donald Trump was elected president—may be specifically what the title alludes to, or it may refer to a more abstract conception of a tormented mental state. In any case, Riggs's songs sound anything but hellish, and lack any sense of doom or despair. Rather, these songs invite and uplift, and even as they convey sorrow, act as channels for catharsis.
Opening track "Go When You're Lonesome" carries a certain sadness but also offers encouragement in the form of "a room to go when you're lonesome"—an earnest lyric led by carefully plucked guitar lines. "Christmas Parade" is a simple, bouncy number based around raggedy drums, acoustic guitar strums, and a sentimental tale of being invited to an annual holiday parade. Even "Burning Next Door," one of Hell House's more ominously titled songs, begins and ends with a celestial mélange of effects-laden saxophones.
"Let's have a room full of friends with it," Riggs talk-sings on "Let's Have a Room." He does so with resolve, following the line shortly thereafter with, "If you need some air, go get it," as if to say, "This Hell House is filling with smoke, maybe you just need to step outside." Riggs's latest is an offering of solace, a safe house built in reaction to time spent in a darker domain. The melodies are sometimes faint, the instrumentation sometimes sparse, but all the more welcoming in being so.