Monday, August 31, 2015

Album Review: Riverside - Love, Fear And The Time Machine

Over the course of their career, Riverside has staked a claim as one of the most important bands in the modern prog scene. They receive rapturous reviews, push their own boundaries, and I've even heard it said that they've been on the best run in the world of prog since the glory days of Rush. Myself, I'm not willing to go quite that far. They are a band I enjoy, but one that has often failed to deliver on the promise they embody. While I quite like "Anno Domini High Definition", it is the only record in their discography that has any energy to it, any sort of rock edge. Mostly, they border so often on the softest material possible, that they become a white noise machine.

This time out, Riverside abandons the gimmick of making album names that are acronyms, but not much else has changed. This is still the same Riverside you know and (maybe) love, with their atmospheric take on prog, and heavy doses of emotional vocals.

"Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat)" opens the album in a way that epitomizes what Riverside is all about. A single plaintive guitar winds through a simple riff for several minutes while the vocals tell a somber tale, with some gorgeous harmonies laid over the top. There's a hint of an electronic beat underneath a few moments, before the song finally segues into a full band arrangement. Even then, the energy is decidedly laid-back, and the band is more focused on making something beautiful than rocking out. I'm not sure it's the most engaging way to open a record, but the melodies are beautiful, and pure Riverside.

Even when the band turns up the volume, which they do on the following "Under The Pillow", their harder-edge sound is still soft and soothing. The focus shifts a bit here, with more emphasis put on the guitars, which introduce a dark, descending riff, and then segue into a beautiful, extended solo. Combined with the hints of organ that pop out of the background, Riverside is excellent at setting a tone with their music. There's a very specific vibe that they evoke, one that comes out in every one of their records, but I sometimes wonder if it is the reason I struggle to relate to their music.

Riverside's music is beautiful, but it is also somber. There's a string of melancholy that runs through everything they do, and as someone who tries to use music to life myself up, that sense of sadness does make the music harder to enjoy. While it's expertly crafted, it explores an emotional range I seldom want to investigate in my listening. It's difficult to feel good while listening to Riverside, no matter how good they are at making the music they do.

Take for instance the opening minutes of "Saturate Me", which play with time signatures through a riff that ebbs and flows, with a flurry of muted notes that don't appear at first glance to fit a pattern. It's a wonderful bit of music, because you hear something interesting if you're paying close attention, and something entirely different, but equally worthwhile, if you are listening to the surface level. But from there, the song turns back into a typical Riverside track, and all of the buildup seems to have been for naught.

The best track here is easily "Discard Your Fear", the first single, which is the only song that has any sense of urgency to it. The usual Riverside trademarks are here, but the song moves just a touch faster, and that makes all the difference. Instead of sounding like a soundtrack for a rainy day, the song has a hint of bounce to it, and the melody is able to hook me. It's a gorgeous song, and only makes me wish the band could have explored this road a bit more often.

I'm not saying this is a bad record, but it's not one for me. People who love music that mirrors their darker feelings will absolutely love this. It's a beautiful record, and certainly a well written one, but it isn't what I want out of music. That's not a criticism of Riverside, or of myself. We are the proverbial ships passing in the night. They do what they do, I want what I want, and though we probably won't be able to come together, I can still respect them and their music.

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