Continues the maximal, electro-folk rock of the first volume while upping the optimism to even greater heights.
Due to more than just his involvement with baroque indie groups like Arcade Fire and the Unicorns, Richard Reed Parry’s approach to composition feels tied to a pop sensibility. Especially on his latest set of albums, the two-volume Quiet River of Dust, Parry draws in elements of world song and folk music and delivers them through the lens of European classical music and progressive electronics. This concluding volume continues on the maximal, electro-folk rock of the first while upping the optimism to even greater heights.
As much as Parry conjures a folk atmosphere with his naturalistic lyrics and an instrumental makeup that resembles a bluegrass group, he further relies on production to help sell his world. On the minimal and bouncing “In a Moment,” the cavernous reverb on Parry’s voice and the electronically treated field recordings of animals and rushing water nearly barrel the listener over with their suggestion of wide open spaces and lush forests. The counter to these signifiers are the reedy, grainy keyboard sounds that play throughout That Side of the River, which relish in an analog electronic warmth and a vinyl hum.
After Parry establishes this synth-tinged acoustic arrangement as his focus on the first few tracks, which are admittedly drier compositions, the remaining two-thirds of the album takes more musical risks. The acoustic guitars and the lilting strings mostly sit out on the eight-minute “Where Did I Go,” which showcases booming, arena rock drums before dismantling into pure kosmische ambience. “Throw a Cup of Water” retains fingerpicked guitars and chugging cellos, but feels similarly massive and includes a somewhat inexplicable vocal sample of Japanese speech that feels out of place on an album that feels so committed to North American indie music and Parry’s worlds of pastoral fantasy.
Against how full-bodied and lush of a sound Parry conjures throughout, his choice to sing on each of these songs in a precious, breathy indie-boy whisper often detracts from the album’s epic qualities. “It’s all Around You” reaches for cosmic proportions in its swirling mass of sound, but the effect is dampened by Parry’s strained falsetto. Music this concrete, despite its abstract philosophical conceits, needs lyrics delivered through an equally assured voice—a cohesion that is unfortunately missing for most of That Side of the River.
The moments where Parry’s voice is bolstered by background vocalists help fill out the space. Even just simple “oohs” and “ahs” on “Throw a Cup of Water” or the refrain repetitions on the final two tracks, “A Few Last Things” and “A Long Way Back,” add enough depth and power to make Parry’s music feel as important as he intends. “A Long Way Back” is easily one of the album’s shining moments, with the instrumentation exploding into colorful, bombastic ecstasy. The tune is instantly planted in listener’s brains, and concludes this album cycle in a blaze. After the stretch of nature metaphors and other musings on the first nine tracks, this straight-forward ode to a lengthy journey as the conclusion drops Parry’s intellectual guard and exposes the true passion behind the music.