River – S/T


There are moments when I truly enjoy listening to River’s US debut album and moments when I find it virtually unlistenable, making it quite clear that this is not an album for every listener or every mood. In fact, the entire album isn’t even for a single mood, as over 20 songs and 72 minutes you get tastes of bossa nova pop, 50s cabaret-style crooning, modern electro-pop, and sugary-sweet indie-pop.
The project of French-native Fabrice Herve for more than five years, River’s debut full-length culls 20 tracks from more than 50 songs, and perhaps Fabrice could have done a bit more culling, as it is rather overpowering. Yet he proves on this album that he has a significant amount of talent to offer pure pop fans of all varieties. A multi-instrumentalist with a unique flare, his songs run the gambit from electro-pop to cabaret crooning, yet what remains constant is Fabrice’s unique vocals. Quite high-pitched, you’ll be hard pressed to tell if it’s a male or female singing these words in the romantically tinged French accent.
The bossa nova “Better Than You” is only marginally fun for the genre, which I generally find deeply enjoyable when done properly. “Les Violets Verts,” with its piano-bar melody and softly crooned vocals reminds me of some of (The Real) Tuesday Weld’s 50s style pop, while “The Recital of My Life” – which, like several songs here, seems to center around the proposal of marriage to someone special – sounds like a bouncy show tune. Then there’s the sugary indie-pop of “Happy Summer Nights,” which only suffers from lo-fi production. “The Hairdresser” is soft and lush, with some unique percussion and a quieter tone that’s different from much of the rest of the album. “Un Diner Sur I’herbe” is bouncy with a toy-piano feel to it, and “Dream On” feels like one of those ultra-spastic Japanese pop tunes you hear in anime.
Where River’s music shines is in the more modern, electro-pop moments. “At Home” has danceable beats and keyboards contrasting a soft and subtle atmospheric. The five-minute instrumental “Harold the Wonder Boy,” with its sax bits, poppy beat, synth backing, and sampled vocals is one of the album’s true joyful gems. There’s a bit of a funky sound to the ultra-slick “Writing,” and “Let’s Climb to the Moon,” the album’s most danceable track,” uses a thick, funky beat and some sampled vocals to give the song the depth lacking on other tracks. There’s almost a post-industrial / house foundation to “The Bridge,” which feels a bit odd here, while the softer Euro-pop vibe of “Pet’s Field” works much better.
I could have digested River’s music far easier in two 10-song albums than one 20-song release. Perhaps that way he could have kept the crooning tracks out of the more delightful indie-pop tunes. Regardless, this eclectic mix of bouncy, danceable, and sultry indie-pop is really just a taste for US fans, and I suspect future releases will have more consistency and cohesion.