Whatever the craft, whether you are a musician, a writer, an artist, actor, athlete, anything whatsoever (artistic or not, really), making a strong impact is something to be desired. And while impact is one thing, legacy and lasting value are what separate the sudden fads from the reveled and remembered.
Now in the process of building on the foundation that was their debut, 2014’s stellar Ars Moriendi, North Carolinian mini-community The Collection have returned with Listen to the River, a second exploration into the struggles and stumbles that lead us to where we’re heading.
Vocalist/lyricist David Wimbish describes the album as a way of “reexamining and reorienting” a sunken sense of faith, courage, and spirituality while, alongside ex-wife and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mira, “processing the divorce and recontextualizing the relationship.” With the collision of these two struggles, River’s songs were a way to approach both simultaneously. Within the first moment of the album, Wimbish croons “Oh, there was sorrow in every word / Oh, how it longed to be heard. / But for the first time, I am not speaking / I am just listening until I can hear you / On my own.”
Where the first single “You Taste Like Wine” keeps things joyous and bright with horns and keys dancing, followed by the snap-along “Mama,” we hear the first and few instances of upbeat tempos. Each track is worthy of praise (and I’ll try to remember to circle back to them) but what follows is the first true standout Listen to the River offers us.
The booming drums that lead into “Birds,” each beat louder and heavier than that which preceded it, build their way to something huge. The combination of the echoing percussion, ethereal backing instrumentals, and Wimbish’s tender-at-times vocals culminates in a chilling anthem of dealing with uncertainty. As it draws to a close, he bellows “They say ‘You ask too many questions / You start too many fires / You dream of resurrection / But you’re too scared to die.’ ” Initially perceived as a criticism, its effect changes when Wimbish no longer has to sing it alone, joined by the support of vocals behind him. By the time its last round is sung, this notion of disapproval and self-doubt transforms into one of potential and oneness and optimism.
A bit later, there’s a slight feeling of nostalgia for the group’s previous album. Ars Moriendi, featured a trio of songs titled “The Younger One,” “The Middle One,” and “The Doubtful One,” each One a four-to-five-minute storybook. Here, we are introduced to “The Older One,” who “finds light in the darkest of rooms, sun in the smallest of moons … taught movement can be safe.” Whether fictional character or autobiographical pseudonym, these moral dichotomies presented by “The Older One” show the protagonist’s change, growth, and maturation.
Much like The Younger and Middle Ones, a drop around halfway through breaks the song in two. The gentle fall and rebuild throughout the final hundred seconds or so are both placed and performed perfectly – muffled vocals fading away, making room for a soft, haunting piano exitlude. The change in direction is sudden, though not unexpected from The Collection. Where the final minute is nothing more than simple pianowork, the conclusion feels like the tapes kept rolling because there was just a bit more story to be told.
Listen to the River comes to a close with “The Listener,” and it is a perfect example of what makes The Collection such a special group. The song itself is, bear with me, admittedly lackluster at times. But with that said, by taking full advantage of their size and range and the weapons at their disposal, they buff and shine a simple piece of sea glass into a souvenir.
As mentioned before, this album was written as a way of processing and dealing. And with that comes questions. If there are meanings to be searched for or answers hoping to be found, “No Maps of the Past” contains the questions – “where did all of our time go?” “How did I used to hold you before you knew that you needed it?” “If everything always feels new, then what if nothing is?” It may seem hyperbolic to say each word is as important as the next, but in this instance, the song as a whole is more powerful than it would be dissected into lines. Throughout, the song maintains a perfect balance of strength and delicacy, shelter and vulnerability, wretch and reconciliation. In the end, it presents what the group set out to achieve – the creation of something, hoping to honor the past while accepting the present.
So, to circle back to my initial point, what do we have here – just a strong first impact or a lasting value?
For The Collection, it isn’t a this-or-that; the answer is just yes.
Three summers ago, Ars Moriendi hit my life like a lightning bolt. It was an album that sang to me every word that I couldn’t myself conjure.
And now, once again able to find the bright and the beautiful within the dark and despaired, Listen to the River is a testament in learning you can hold onto the past without it holding you down, and that you must allow yourself to let things go where they go, let things happen as they happen, let the currents carry you where they will.
Release Date: March 24th, 2017
Run Time: ~45 minutes
Check Out: “No Maps of the Past,” “Birds,” “Mama”
1. ”Threshing Floor”
2. “You Taste Like Wine”
5. “No Maps of the Past”
6. “Siddhartha (My Light Was a Ghost)”
7. “Sing of the Moon”
8. “So Many People”
9. “The Older One”
10. “The Alchemy of Awe”
11. “The Listener”