Rivers, the new album from Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums compiles two distinctly different five-song EPs; both of which use aquatic themes, both of which were recorded in Iceland.
The arresting first half (originally the Retina EP) is a primal set of songs whose minimal instrumentation is limited to slightly processed martial drum figures and vocals from lead singer Mariam Wallentin, with lush accompaniment from an Icelandic chamber choir (the same choir featured on BjÃ¶rkâ€™s vocal-centric album Medulla).
Recorded in a Reykjavik church, the sound is gothic and cavernous, and while raw, it isnâ€™t harshâ€”the dramatic choral arrangements add a haunting, classical restraint and Wallentinâ€™s voice is powerful, but controlled. Songs like â€œBleed Like There Was No Other Floodâ€ and â€œPeeling Off the Layersâ€ are the most chilling entries; the latterâ€™s bleak climactic refrains are shiver-inducing.
The second half of the album (originally the Iris EP) is similar to the first half in its minimalist instrumentationâ€”while there is no choir, a steel drum is used as the central instrument, and the occasional synth flourishes appear. It could be that we typically associate steel drums with tropical environs, but this half appears more upbeat (or maybe just â€œless darkâ€) though no less raw in emotion. The song titles alone (â€œThe Wave,â€ â€œThe Lake,â€ etc.) more overtly display the water theme.
The second is the lesser of the albumâ€™s two halves, but â€œThe Wellâ€ closes things nicely with its clipped, crashing drums and oscillating steel pan patterns. Simply put, Rivers is a theatrical and gripping record from an engaging band, perfect for the impending darkness of autumn and winter.