March 03, 2003

Rivulets "Debridement"

Sad songs say so much, especially when the writer of said songs knows and understands that singing sad songs requires an effort of both words and music. Without listening to a single note, Rivulets' sound is painfully obvious. The association with Low's label Chair Kickers Union should give you an idea of what you're about to hear; the assistance of Jessica Bailiff, Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Jon DeRosa seals the deal. Friends and assistance aside, Rivulets' sound owes nothing more than the singular vision of Nathan Amundson. It really shouldn't matter, though, and thankfully,
Amundson side-stepps these concerns, by making music that's entirely his own.

To his credit, he also understands that brevity is the soul of wit, and that his kind of music isn't conducive to a long listening time. Debridement may be soft and folk, but it sure isn't easy listening. The acapella "An Evil," with its haunting, tortured repetition of "There's an evil in this room," should be your warning that this musical journey is not going to be anything less than emotional. I wonder, though, how much atmosphere plays a part in his music; being from the bitter-cold northern regions of the country, like his friends in Low, I wonder if this atmosphere directly affects his music.

From the striking beauty of "Conversation With A Half-Empty Bottle" and "The Sunset Can Be Beautiful (Even In Chicago)" to the simple "Shakes" and "Will You Be There," Amundson is one of the few artists who can sound so lush with just a simple guitar, without having to resort to big, loud effects that drown out the music. The pain is there, it's subliminal, and it's real. He never lets up on the sadness; at times, he hints at Nick Drake with a touch of Will Oldham, but he's no mere imitator; instead, his voice is haunting and beautiful in a more classical way, much like Flare's LD Beghtol or Pale Horse and Rider's Jon De Rosa--who appears on "Bridges" and "There's Nothing I Can Do." When he teams up with Jessica Bailiff on "Cutter" and "If It Is," the songs blossom into something utterly heavenly--lifting the sadness, allowing a little bit of sun to shine through, but only for a moment, so as not to break the sad, somber mood.

I'm hesitant to call Debridement a sad record, though, because it's not sad. Amundson has a stethoscope to the human soul, and while his songs may be lovelorn, they're strinkingly beautiful in a way that gives you a sense of hope. It's like a child watching a thunderstorm--they're scared by the darkness, and too inexperienced to know that the storm will soon pass. That's how I felt after listening to Debridement--sad, a little melancholy, but, like the darkness, this too shall pass.

--Joseph Kyle

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