Album Review: River Whyless ‘A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door’
In the Internet Age, listeners are forced to watch first hand as bands cut their teeth. This often results in as many mediocre, or even bad, songs as good as the band finds its voice. Such is not the case with Asheville, NC’s River Whyless. Their debut album A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door has the confidence and mature songwriting of a band with more experience.
The songs never fall flat or feel lost. They have an undertone of traditional folk music, but there is more Caroline Smith and The Goodnight Sleeps and Givers in this release than Bill Monroe. River Whyless did not shy away from ambitious, bold songwriting on this release. Every aspect of the album is large, from the subject matter to the arrangements. It has the thoughtfulness of a major studio release, without the frills or overproduction.
The album opens with “Leaf.” Running water leads toward a simple, repetitive guitar riff before breaking into resounding strings. The intertwining vocals of Ryan O’Keefe and Halli Anderson are what generate the Givers comparison. A rustic, earthier version of Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco. However, the comparison ends with the vocals.
By the album’s third track, “Stone”, River Whyless has settled in. The song has a certain theatricality to it, sprawling across a broad spectrum of melodies and subjects. Religion, love, self-doubt and loneliness all appear – themes the band will return to throughout the remainder of their story. “Stone” reminds me of Fleet Foxes’ “The Plains / Bitter Dancer”. Both songs begin with a cascading wave of oohs and aaahs. They have the same epic quality, as if both bands were attempting to make music fit for a church.
If “Stone” serves as the intrepid, statement piece of A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door, then “Cedar Dream II” serves as the album’s invitation. This track is the most immediately accessible and addictive of any on the release. See our Fresh Track post from earlier this month to stream the song and read a more detailed analysis. “Pigeon Feathers” is another track that comes close to “C. D. II” in immediate relatability. The finger snaps and claps at the song’s bridge offer one of the album’s most unabashedly joyous moments.
River Whyless takes us back to the undaunted, ambitious outline of “Stone” with closing track “Yu.” This time the instrumentation starts out jammier, feeling less calculated. The album closes with some of the first tastes of synth, sending the listener off in a brief, tripped-out haze.
Written by Rob Peoni