rivers – of dusk

a musical trope that has become nearly synonymous with eau claire over the past ten years is the rustic, acoustic-driven tones of acts like the daredevil christopher wright, kalispell, and of course, bon iver.  at this point, a continuation down that already-beaten path may run the risk of seeming redundant, as if the artists might be trying to cash in on an established aesthetic rather than creating something genuine.  on the opposite end of the spectrum lies rivers, a three-piece currently splitting time between the midwest and the east coast; folk music is merely the vessel through which the band conveys their ideas, as opposed to their endgame.  on their debut effort, of dusk, rivers offers up a collection of songs that offer up a fresh new perspective on an established tradition.

dexter wolfe’s songwriting has always had a slightly enigmatic quality; even in the hard-hitting, comparatively aggressive setting of his previous band sky lion, it was evident that wolfe took various cues from introspective stalwarts like elliott smith and elvis costello.  the former’s influence resonates clearly throughout of dusk and particularly on “even if,” an early track that remains a standout through the album’s duration.  wolfe proves himself to be rather skilled in the department of imagery as well, bookending the album with lyrics like “beneath yellow leaves / with rolled up sleeves / eyes lost in the branches / of your family tree” (see “weeping willow”) and “it was the start of something beautiful / i heard her heart and tripped, well… i fell right down” (see “where though lies, death ripples”).  his capability to weave personal accounts with metaphor and personification plays off as effortless, and more importantly helps to establish rivers as a lyrically mature and formative ensemble.

the music that accompanies the poetry on of dusk is perhaps even more impressive.  alongside wolfe – who handles guitar and piano chores in addition to vocals – are pat kuehn and colin carey, who tackle upright bass and percussion duties, respectively.  kuehn’s bass playing is the timbral element that immediately stands out and seeks to separate rivers from the other bands who share a similar aesthetic; the long, mournful bowed tones augment the melancholy in the beginning of “even if,” but kuehn’s role also serves the purpose of driving the music forward in spots where carey’s percussion is rather sparse.  by itself, the resonance of the upright bass gives rivers a distinct, orchestral quality, one which is further explored multiple times through the string and horn arrangements found on “saudade” and “the locket.”  even carey’s drumming can feel symphonic at times, as he adds sparse percussive supplements to the more delicate moments on the album and aids the band in achieving their select few moments of absolute crescendo.

sharp songwriting and intuitive arrangements adorn of dusk, and its slightly haunting characteristics make the record a suitable companion for the chilly air that predominates these waning spring nights.  largely self-produced and entirely self-released, rivers and of dusk have proven to be adequate advocates for the continued support of independent, local music; sometimes all it takes is years of determination and perseverance.  you can stream the album here and find all of the dates for rivers’ upcoming tour, as well.

8.0/10

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