A lecturer in creative writing once told me that a good poem can never be a good song, and vice versa. He claimed that despite the things they share — rhyme, lyricism, brevity — they could not occupy the same space, exist in the same words.
Singer-songwriter Danny Ritz ’23 gives lie to this notion with his most recent EP, “Remedy,” released on Friday. The record is suffused with poetic aphorisms in the tenor of Ada Limón’s sensorily rich lyrics and steeped in the nostalgia of Ocean Vuong’s free verse. Ritz’s intentionality in composing the seven tracks is evident in his statement of purpose: “I wanted to make a project about what it means to heal.” The result is an opulent yet whimsical EP that meditates on the nature of memory. “Remedy” is conceptual yet grounded, swaying in the same fluid atmosphere as a poem while touching upon the most delicate idiosyncrasies of coming of age.
In the fall of 2021, Ritz put on a two-night musical event, “Brothers: A Theatrical Concert,” which included fragments of the songs from “Remedy.” Ritz deliberately chose the title “theatrical concert” because the terms “concert” and “musical” each felt insufficient to describe the liminal space in which the project existed. Just like “Brothers,” “Remedy” resonates infinitely wider than a single medium. These tracks contain so much theoretical and technical depth, it is difficult not to imagine them in a cinematic or multimedia context.
“Lily of the Nile,” the sixth song on the EP, particularly stands out with its robust lyricism and impressive production. Ritz’s voice resounds tender yet mournful, as though serenading his listener: “I picked this flower for you / cut it straight off the stem / I stained my fingers with its flesh / a purple flower for you.” These lines’ evocation of such a distinct, fleshy experience operates like a close-up shot, attending to the minutiae of youth. We begin to feel the ink on our fingertips and the pollen in our noses as we listen along. Around a minute into the track, Ritz’s weary voice and its distorted echoes join a dreamy piano melody in pouring out unrefined emotion, elevating the composition into an ethereal register. It is the moment when the lovers in a bildungsroman escape the torrents of rain and run into ruins; when Ritz sings “Perfect like rubble / Whereas I babble on, my Babylon,” the catharsis climaxes. “Lily of the Nile” is a song of undoing oneself to envelop another.
While “Lily of the Nile” brilliantly uses shifting tempos, transporting listeners to distinct fragments of a memory, the third track on the EP, “When the Night (Must Feel Alone),” exhibits even more poignant stylistic variation. Beginning with a gentle and refreshingly simple piano solo, “When the Night” first registers as a ballad in the style of bari-tenor Ben Platt. However, Ritz’s soaring vocals and synth-rich outro set it apart from Platt’s somnolence. It grows into more of a surrealist mindscape than a muted dreamscape. Ritz arguably delivers his freshest visual and punchiest rhyme with the lines, “The stars carve light like holes / And still I’m falling through / Staring down at Earth / wondering what I’m worth.” The barely audible release of the sustain pedal in the final seconds of the quasi-ballad makes for an inspired and intimate ending.
The eponymous track, “Remedy,” completes the trio of more lyrically driven and slow-paced songs on the EP. Though the name “Remedy” feels like a trite motif for a record that centers on healing, it well encapsulates Ritz’s creative project; he uses memories as a salve, medicine for growing older and losing old selves. The first lines of “Remedy” are the most somber and the most beautiful lyrics of the entire record. Ritz sings, supported by a beautiful choral backing, “I think of you / think of the end / a plotted graveyard / in my head / I chase the waves / of how we’ve bled / and chart a shipyard / from my bed.” Ritz’s signature cartographic language again mimics his action of trying to piece together a self in the contours of painful memories. The harmonies linking the end rhymes “head/bed” give listeners the sense that his attempts at self-synthesis are beginning to bear fruit, even if only in glimpses.
Despite Ritz’s obvious skill as a more cogitative and poetic lyricist, “Remedy” is not without its more playful, easy-going tracks. The opener, “So Things Are Fair,” has a quirky choral introduction that recalls Harry Styles’ “Treat People With Kindness.” Like Styles’ track, “So Things Are Fair” is charmingly theatrical — fitting for Ritz, who has spent much of his life on the stage. It’s a Passion Pit-esque song for the sticky indie summer, while making sure not to sacrifice any production value or vocal prowess in existing as such.
Its endearing lyrics like “We pound our bellies / two kettledrums / So we can compare / our little songs” remind us of bedtime stories like “Where The Wild Things Are.” This storybook charm pairs well with Ritz’s unbridled vocals to evoke a childlike joy. With a breezy sing-along chorus and a second-person point of view — “I sit beside you / still as can be / I hear inside you / our symphony” — “So Things Are Fair” perfectly welcomes listeners into Ritz’s EP. The dose of trumpet is also delightful, leaving a similar impression as Bleachers’ saxophone-heavy baroque pop.
“Great Pretenders,” which follows “So Things Are Fair,” is perhaps disadvantaged by its position in the EP, as the latter track’s relative whim and synth-pop energy overshadows the same qualities in the former. Still, the song is a pleasant listen with some sweeter lyrics, such as “Thank God I had your back / Thank God you had mine,” that are less concerned with profundity than tenderness.
The EP’s energy is most palpable in “Add It Up” and “Fourth of July.” The former track feels at first like an echo of “When the Night,” but unravels into a series of surprises. Ritz’s raspy voice and the groovy bounce of the backing track make “Add It Up” a perfect dancing-around-the-kitchen-with-cookie-dough-in-hand song. The repeated proclamation “I see love” triumphantly asserts that the magic in the mundane is merely awaiting our gaze. This is a high art piece that still makes for an easy listen.
Finally, “Fourth of July” glitters with its digital chimes and lively electric guitar. Fittingly for a closing track, it is the song you remember the most and the one you find yourself coming back to, again and again. For a moment, Ritz’s pronunciation of “hoping” sounds like “hold me” — almost an invitation into an embrace. This song simply has so much warmth to share. Repeating the phrase “It’s up to you” throughout the outro, Ritz seemingly offers us agency not only in crafting our own listening experience, but also in crafting our lives.
“Remedy” is ultimately an EP that defers to us; we are invited into it but not prescribed any one way to exist in its atmosphere. Ritz’s prismatic talents as a songwriter, poet and producer are evidenced in this project, but most importantly, the record radiates his vibrant imagination.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.