Breakup albums are the worst. Self-absorbed, bleating, and riddled with clichés, they provide catharsis for the artist while sucking the life out of the listener like a swarm of whiney mosquitoes. Luckily, Josh Ritter has spent enough time on the listening end to know what not to do when it came time for him to throw his own broken heart into the ring. The resulting Beast in Its Tracks, written in the wake of his divorce, treats the situation with anger, warmth, despair, humor, honesty, and most importantly, empathy for both of its subjects, something that many records of a similar disposition fail to achieve. Ritter approaches the arrangements for the 13 songs with the same candor, forgoing any unnecessary embellishments and allowing the melodies, like the newly single protagonist, the freedom to sink or swim all by their lonesome. Less expansive than 2010's So Runs the World Away, yet still rich enough in atmosphere to make for a relatively seamless transition, Ritter doesn't just sit at the end of his bed with a guitar and emote into a tape recorder. He likens the throes of bitterness, distrust, and depression to images from a Hieronymus Bosch painting on the jaunty, calypso-tinged "Nightmares," admirably searches for a silver lining on the nostalgic "Hopeful," sends a "Thank You," "Condolences," "Get Well," and Congratulations" card to all of the involved parties with the life-affirming "Joy to You Baby," and even finds love again on the ethereal, moonlit-closer "Lights," proving that every fever breaks eventually.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger