Richard Reed Parry is an extraordinarily gifted musician. His main gig is with Arcade Fire, but he has collaborated with a who’s who of indie acts of the last decade: The National, Sufjan Stevens, The Unicorns, and Islands. On this release, he invited Peter Gabriel, members of Yes, Jim O’Rourke, and The Flaming Lips. I like all of these groups, so I was very interested in what this album would have to offer.
Quiet River of Dust, Vol. 1 doesn’t disappoint, not even close. The results of the collaboration is a complex, atmospheric soundscape with enough melody to tie it into something not quite ambient, not quite pop (indie or otherwise). This is a bold release designed mostly for listeners who have heard it all.
The last two Arcade Fire releases, Reflektor and Everything Now, found the band experimenting with elements of dance and electronica. Here, Parry goes a completely different direction. At times he uses synths, and other contemporary tools of the studio, but he employs them toward creating a sense of space. There is air present everywhere in these recordings. This is music one can breathe in. Or space out, smoke up, or nod off to.
He finds a space somewhere between the meandering ambient exercises of Brian Eno, the soundscape montages of new age, and the idyllic indie folk of early Fleet Foxes. “I Was in the World (Was the World in Me)? Is the track the whole album is a prologue to. The song announces its ambition from the moment Parry sings over a finger picked acoustic guitar: “I was in the wind with the wind in me … staring at the lake staring back at me. Watch the whole world start to turn.” Here’s what Parry says about the song, according to Under the Radar:
“I Was in the World, Was the World in Me is a song about the elements and our bodies being inextricably interwoven – about being a human and experiencing a moment in nature that’s so direct and powerful that we lose our sense of where we end and the world around us begins,” describes Parry poetically. “A simultaneously blissful and terrifying moment of “losing yourself”: swimming in a river, realizing that the same beautiful tactile sensation you’re having in the water is, in a way, a living version of what you might experience at the moment of death – the molecules of your body actually merging with the molecules of the world around you…we become ashes, thrown into the sea, absorbed up into the clouds, raining down onto the land and into the rivers… as we turn, turn, turn again.”
Bells enter on a triplet feel over the vocals and strummed acoustic guitar. Oohs and ahhs fill out the space. “Staring at the sky staring back at me, as we swallow up the sun.” More oohs and ahhs. Bells become more emphatic as static that imitates waves flood the stereo spectrum. Tympani keeps rhythm. Another “verse” begins, with the bells still on a triplet, but a synth arpeggiates sixteenth notes creating a polyrythmic and hypnotic dance. The song ends with waves of static and choral-like, heavy vibrato voices. Drums, whistles, and feedback create a cacophony. Ending in a resonating, night time, cricket chirping awesome ambiance. This is ambitious music, but never overtly showy.
With Quiet River of Dust, Vol. 1, Parry has synthesized everything he has learned in his many collaborations and synthesized them into something new, and uniquely his own. A mature work. An impressive display of multi-instrumental control and mastery of the recording space. Nothing is too much or ever aimless. A careful display of a musician at the peak of his formidable talents.
Don’t believe me? Take a listen to this: