Rio en Medio

Frontier [Deluxe Edition]

Rating: 1.5/5.0

Manimal Vinyl Records

Upon first listen, Rio en Medio’s Frontier is boring- really fucking boring. It is, though, boring in a way that begs to give it another try. There are enough disjointed tracks and electronic pings to suggest that this album will unfurl if it’s given a chance. From song structure to overall mixing, it’s clear that these songs were developed with a tremendous amount of patience and care. So, I thought I better stay open-minded and give this another shot. More than most albums, I was determined to fully appreciate Frontier. Soon, narratives began to emerge, melodies became familiar and all those seemingly random electronic interjections were anticipated. Finally, I thought, I had gotten a hold of all the subtle nuances hidden throughout these tracks and understood the direction in which Rio en Medio was trying to take the listener…and still, Frontier was really fucking boring.

Unfortunately, the conception of this album is exponentially more interesting than the execution. Exiled in her isolated New Mexico home, Danielle Stech-Homsy (for whom the Rio en Medio moniker is synonymous) spent a winter setting music to a series of interrelated poems she had written. Utilizing her baritone ukulele and a myriad of synthesizer effects, she constructed an album that adhered to no standards of melody, repetition or song length. Frontier is an ambitious project and there is no doubt Stech-Homsy recorded the album completely without boundaries, which begs a question; why does Frontier sound so lifeless and constricted?

From the opener “Heartless,” the vocals are cold and robotic, further hollowed out by the complete lack of forward momentum in the music. Well, fine. As the lyrics say, “Yeah it was cold / It was a bad, bad time.” Not the most captivating way to start an album but at least we have our theme. It soon becomes apparent though that that theme is a template. The vocals are performed with droned, wounded whispers, while the music is a stagnant, formless background. Track after track pass without notice, with large portions of time filled by synthesizer hums and vocals mixed so low they are buried in the static swells. The songs “Standing Horses” and “The Last Child’s Tear” offer much-needed gasps of variation but they are not enough to raise the listener out of the sterility lulling from the surrounding tracks.

A surprisingly organic rendition of The Cure’s “Pictures of You” closes the album and heralds in the bonus tracks. “Pictures of You,” unlike anything else on the album, features warm piano and beautifully ominous strings, suggesting that had Stech-Homsy cast live instruments in the place of her electronic swirls, it may have breathed life into an album that otherwise sounds like the tedious death of an hour. The bonus track “The Light House” further proves the strength of Stech-Homsy’s compositions when she strips away all the echoing cosmic mess.

It’s hard to completely condemn Frontier since it is rich with ideas, composition, and dedication but every time I forced myself to enjoy the music, as much as I respected the ideas, I found my mind wandering to far better albums.

by Brian Loeper

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