Less is more. It’s an adage that doesn’t just apply to contemporary composers and post-rock avant-gardists. It also applies to pop music, perhaps moreso than the aforementioned groups. Pop music, by its very nature, is supposed to be easily accessible, and what better way than to keep things sweet and simple.
“Sweet” and “simple” are definitely two adjectives one could apply to River, with his breezy, sophisticated pop, with a healthy dose of bossa nova spices and electronic flavorings. River opens on a very beguiling note; “Better Than You“ ‘s breezy acoustic guitars and breathy, ultra-Euro female vocals positively drip with sophistication. It’s the kind of song that aches to be played on the Aiwa mini-system of some swank East Coast eatery or clothing salon.
For the most part, the album continues in that vein. In truth, River is at its best when it hearkens back to the days of Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha, merging club-born rhythms with airy pop and European class. And of course, there’s that undying sense of romance, turning each song into an aching lament for absent love amidst the fluffy keyboards and thumping rhythms.
The album’s downside is that this only accounts for about half of the album. Tracks like “At Home,” “Will You Marry Me?,” and “Pet’s Field” get it so right, especially the gorgeous downtempo atmospheres of “Pet’s Field.” But River’s not above throwing in what can only be considered filler, the sort of silly pop that sounds like bad Field Mice b‑sides (“Happy Summer Nights”) or silly Pizzicato Five covers (“Un Diner Sur L’Herbe”). And don’t even ask me to explain “Switch On,” which sounds like Fantastic Plastic Machine temping as a ragtime band.
Tracks like these may certainly be cute and sweet, and that’s all fine and good. Heck, some tracks, like “Un Diner Sur L’Herbe,” are still pretty catchy in and of themselves (if you consider the Sonic the Hedgehog theme catchy). But when taken with the album’s whole, they feel either weak, out of place, or just plain wack. Listening to the album’s strong moments, there’s no reason for this to be a 20 song, 73 minute epic. A bit more judicious editing (or any editing, for that matter), would’ve been nothing but help for the album, thinning the herd and resulting in a fitter, slimmer listen.
Less is more. Learn it. Love it. Live it.