PLAYING DETROIT: River Spirit Embrace Surrender on Debut LP

Photo by Hillary Ilyssa

On its first full-length release, Detroit-based experimental group River Spirit delivers a lush collection of songs that seamlessly floats between genres and sends a clear message of renewal and reflection. Vanessa Reynolds (vocals, guitar), Dan Steadman (guitar) and Paul Wilcox (drums) strike a stunning balance by combining addicting melodic structures with unexpected chord changes and sonic textures to create a captivating sound on Me I Fall.

Reynolds says that its title track and first single set the tone for the album as a whole. “In some sense, I feel like a lot of our thoughts around it have been about transitional spaces,” says Reynolds. “‘Me I Fall’ references a fall into the well of whatever your anxieties might be… whatever comes out of that introspection to make room for the future and opening up and introducing new patterns of thought.” Reynolds’ urgent and cascading vocals mimic the feeling of losing balance and surrendering to whatever happens next. Joined by Steadman’s cyclical riffs and bassist Betsy Soukup’s vast string melodies, the song descends into a whir of confusion and possibility.

This pattern – first confusion, then resolution – seems to be a theme throughout the record. As a lyricist, Reynolds has a gift for making some of life’s toughest phenomenons – aging, uncertainty, regret – sound eloquent. But even when reflecting on darker moments, she chooses to lean on the side of optimism rather than nihilism. In “Dim The Light,” Reynold’s refuses to let other people or her own past decisions determine her future or self-worth. “I change my mind / I don’t want to go another day reflecting on how I can change the course of yesterday,” she sings in the song’s refrain. Steadman and Reynolds’ undulating guitar melodies serve as a call and response, mirroring the mind’s internal dialogue.

The record takes a break from introspection and allows for a moment of pure bliss on “You,” the album’s most R&B forward track. Reynold is both conversational and poetic on the song’s refrain: “You’re my one and only and no one can hold me but you / You can be my homie / You can come and hold me / Show me what’s inside when you open the door / And I don’t have to look anymore.” Her voice sounds like rippling water, always moving but still crystal clear.

Perhaps the strongest moment of clarity comes on “20 Years,” where Reynolds is joined by her two sisters, Juanita Reynolds and Cynthia Burton, for a gorgeous meditation on the passage of time. Ultimately, she comes to peace with the notion that we are just a combination of where we’ve been and where we’re going: “You know there’s still time and you surely aren’t the person you were then…but every day you wait on the bridge of where you are and where you’ve been.”

Reynolds says it best herself when she ties Me I Fall to a tarot card reading given by a friend on the way to band practice. “One of the cards was the death card,” says Reynolds. “I always loved the death card… it’s about transition and letting certain parts of yourself die to make room for more expansive places. I think that another thing about the death card is fate – letting yourself go to fate even if you don’t know what’s coming up next.”

Me I Fall will be available for streaming on January 25th. You can pre-save the album here, and listen to the album’s title track below.

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