Idaho-bred singer/songwriter Josh Ritter's V2 Records debut follows in the footsteps of 2003's Hello Starling only in instrumentation. While he retains his literate tongue and expressive voice, there is far less humor on Animal Yearsthan on his previous two outings. Producer Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse) keeps Animal Years intimate but transient, like a circus train crawling through a small town on a busy Saturday afternoon. Essentially built around two startlingly affecting diatribes on the war in Iraq, Ritter utilizes the voices of Peter and Paul, as well as Laurel & Hardy, to eke some kind of explanation from both the Administration and the Creator. The first, the deceptively sweet-sounding "Girl in the War," threatens "The angels fly around in there, but we can't see them/I got a girl in the war, Paul I know that they can hear me yell/If they can't find a way to help her they can go to Hell." The second, "Thin Blue Flame," is a nearly ten-minute rant that follows the Velvet Underground "Heroin" arc of tinder to spark to full-on blaze in a way that hasn't worked for anyone in a long time, but most certainly does here. The other cuts never reach the same heights, but standouts such as "Wolves," with its sunrise gallop and "Whole of the Moon"-era Waterboys piano, and the languid "Monster Ballads" soar only inches beneath them.