Tell me about your river. This is the challenge of the Rivers Home series, ten tiny discs dedicated to the work of ten different artists, each given free reign to present a river – their river – as they see fit. As such, the series differs from Cédric Peyronnet’s similarly noteworthy series, which takes as its starting point a single river. The Rivers Home series began last year with a slate of five, and has just concluded its run with an equal number.
Seth Chrisman, by now no stranger to these pages, offers a low-key, ambient tribute to the Rio Grande. His entry is gentle rather than raging: a lazy river of lapping waves, swaying reeds and passing wildlife. One can imagine drifting down this river, trailing a hand in the water. The Boats achieve a similar effect with their single-track entry, dedicated to the River Calder. Being named The Boats certainly helps, and the languid track casts a spell similar to that of their recent 12k album, reviewed here earlier this year. The band’s shift from electronic to ambient is not quite complete, as the two compete for supremacy over a bed of field recordings. What has changed is The Boats’ confidence in handling longer tracks, which now seem like second nature.
Dan Whiting builds anticipation with a shorter track before diving into the long form on his ode to the Georges River. His impressionistic opener reminds us that place inspires mood, and that memory can be translated in numerous ways. A river may not actually drone, fizz, and twinkle, but it can produce white noise while bugs buzz and light reflects. His second piece begins with more ominous tones: not quite as ominous as those of the recent Bruce Greenwood TV show, “The River”, but enough to imply that not every river is benign. Whiting’s entry provides a welcome change of timbre that can best be appreciated as part of the set. The light electronics of the closing minutes are as welcome as an unexpected channel at low tide. In like manner, Savaran reflects the deep with low drones, speaker-to-speaker guitar notes, rustles and waves; at times, it’s quite apparent that the River Dovey is an estuary.
In the game, “Which of these is not like the other?”, All N4tural is the clear answer. The moniker sounds like that of a boy band, but the track titles are mythological: “That dragon came from far Siam”, “I tried to tell the ferryman:, “Nut the sirens led me away, though I turned back once”. Given these titles, no sound would really come as a surprise, although the muted percussion and buried chorals of the opener do seem un-riverlike, certainly impossible to identify as a product of the Rhine. The screeches of the aforementioned dragon hearken back to the olde warning, “Here be dragons”, written during the era of river demons and ocean behemoths. Not everything works on this disc, especially the masked vocals, but the extreme change of pace is laudable, as it paves the way for greater variety in future efforts. Taken as a whole, the ten discs are a Rashomon of rivers: on their own, each is subjective, but together they present a fuller glimpse of hidden truth. (Richard Allen)