Posted on: April 9, 2024 Posted by: Kim Muncie Comments: 0

From the striking tone beneath its title track to the more aggressive melody of the climax of “My Sweetheart,” the movement of the music is always playing an important part in telling us a story in the new EP from Phoenix-based Dorsten, To the River. It’s fairly common to try and pull different elements together within a mix to generate a vibe to match lyricism, but I would be lying if I said this band wasn’t going above and beyond to give us something engaging in this new collection. 

Production quality is always a primary focus of mine as a critic, and this is a rare instance where an indie duo not only rejects the plasticity of a mainstream look but outright pushes themselves to give us as controlled a sound as can be created by a pair as indebted to the legacy of acts like The Decemberists as this one is. You don’t have to be a critic to pick up on the discipline behind the performances here; in fact, I would make the argument that the very stylization of the most emotional songs here, like “Chewing Gum,” speaks volumes on its own. 

Both “Chewing Gum” and “Vernazza” elegantly capture the sonic depth that Dorsten is bringing to the table with them in this EP, and I think one could even say that the simplistic construction of the songs in the tracklist makes it even easier to appreciate the detail in this mix. We’re not getting lost in a lot of outside content or unnecessary dialogue; there are no fortified samples, no bloated effects, nor any ironic points of humor to balance out the emotionality of a verse which, to be honest, is half of what turned me on about the lyrical narrative in this piece as a whole. From one song to the next To the River couldn’t sound much leaner and meaner. 

Melodies are never absent from view in songs like “Vernazza” and “Losing It,” but instead sewn into the bedrock of the music rather than featured as a cosmetic front for the tracks. You could say that Dorsten is being a little more rebellious than they have to be and I’d agree with you, but what sticks out to me here is their deliberate rejection of augmented grooves and synthetic harmonies, both of which are becoming scarily common in a lot of alternative folk. These artists prefer an organic sound, and that’s clear from the get-go in this record. 

I didn’t know what to expect out of a new folk EP out of the Phoenix underground but I can tell you now that Dorsten is one of the more intriguing and talented acts in or outside of their scene making this kind of music at the moment. They’ve got a handle on what they don’t want to be, and although there’s still some work to do in shaping their complete identity, I think this EP highlights their complete lack of pointless excesses that normally keep quality acts from breaking the barrier and finding their audience. 

 Kim Muncie

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