In previous reviews I have already indicated that as a reviewer you have a privilege. You can discover bands that you would not otherwise discover, simply because there are too many bands nowadays that can be interesting so you miss that one. Another side of the same coin is that all the albums that you do not review, can also be wonderful discoveries that you could easily miss. Although Downriver Dead Men Go released their debut album Tides in 2015 (see review), this is my acquaintance with the band. Would Departures, their second album, belong to my discoveries or not? By the way, the band consists of Gerrit Koekebakker (vocals and guitar), Michel Varkevisser (guitar and backing vocals), Fernandez Burton (bass guitar), Manuel Renaud (drums) and Remco den Hollander (keyboards). They had guest contributions from Steen Gees Christensen (duduk on the song Departures), Inge den Hollander (backing vocals on the song Departures) and Joanne Platts (spoken words on several songs). The band is from the Netherlands and they do live in the area of Katwijk aan Zee.
Take a look at the album cover at the top of this review. What do you see? What I see is a dead bird, nothing more and nothing less. The thought that I have when seeing the dead bird is not really a very inviting way to play the music of Downriver. However, I am curious about what it is, that a dead bird decorates the front of the album. Blue-eyed, farewell and loss are thoughts that comes to mind. Would my associations have common ground with the music or the lyrics, or would you be misled? I will try to describe what I hear and what this does to me as a person, to let you as a reader visualize the music. After writing the review, I found out that it has become longer than I initially wanted. However, I have decided not to shorten it. At the bottom of this review you will understand why.
Lamentation is the shortest song on the album with 4:04 minutes. It acts as an intro with a lot of keyboard and some guitar sounds. It has a special atmosphere, it directly moves your mood, melancholy comes to the surface. More and more you dive into the album.
Mother starts with spoken words from Joanne Platts. We hear her voice and lyrics more often on this album. Her words encourage you to think about it. After the beautiful voice of Joanne the keyboard starts rippling and the guitar builds up quietly. Building calm is in any case a term that belongs to Downriver. When Gerrit starts singing, you hold your breath for a moment, what an emotion that man puts in his voice, especially when you read the lyrics and consider what content this should have for him, beautiful. All instruments are played in an emotional way, you can hear that everything you hear reinforces the lyrics. Towards the end of the song a deep guitar solo comes your way and engulfs you.
Loneliest Of Creatures starts again very quietly with keyboard sounds. The guitar enters, but, of course, quietly. Slowly the cymbals and bass guitar welcomes you. When Gerrit starts singing, you feel the depths of the lyrics through his voice. After a while a quiet guitar riff will take you away, it feels so incredibly good. Actually during the whole album I ask you to keep the textbook with you, while you're sitting with a headphone on so you do not miss anything of the music. In this song Michel does some backing vocals that does not fit in for me. I cannot put my finger on it, it is just a feeling. After five minutes you get a guitar solo as it was played by David Gilmour, it touches you and you do not want it to stop. At a certain moment Gerrit sings the word 'Understand', together with a celestial guitar solo, it comes out so nicely, this is so, so subtle. The song fades nicely, but that is also necessary to catch your breath again.
After the beautiful ending of Loneliest Of Creatures, Prison Walls pops aggressively through your speakers, totally post-rock. After a minute the band switches back from the 6th gear to descend to the 2nd gear with room for stunning keyboard sounds, supported by wonderfully quiet bass work. The lyrics are also particularly important in this song. My interpretation is that as a person we are sometimes locked up in our relationship, it is now so different from how it once began. The end of the lyrics, 'I close my eyes and these walls will come falling down, and things will be like before' supported by heavy played, threatening keyboard sounds and then it speaks of hope again for change, eventually it will be fine! After this we shoot back in 6th gear, all aggression has to be done. Again a splitting guitar solo that pulls your heart out, lets your tears flow over your cheeks when you bring everything you've just experienced together. The last minute the music quietly fades away again, but that time and space you really need to recover from the journey you have just undergone.
Home starts with the words 'The most deafening screams are those of silence, spoken by Joanne Platts. Well, that's quite a text, here you can chew on, if you ask me. It is a nice statement. Musically it starts with guitar playing, while the keyboard colours the background. The guitar playing, somewhat oriental, touches you once again, full of emotion. I really can not get enough of it. In my experience, Home is really missed in this one and is the only wish: take me home! You feel so much pain in this song, really every note of music you hear reminds you. Also in this song Michel has the backing vocals at times and in this song he does that very well. You get to hear a fantastic, spherical keyboard solo, as well as another deep guitar solo that goes through the bone to the end of the song. You can not change the volume higher and higher and hope that the solo lasts forever, which unfortunately does not happen. Fortunately, this song has also a fadeout moment. I fall into repetition, but you just need that moment.
Uncertainty starts with bass and drums, we have not heard this before. This song builds up very quietly and has a lot of atmosphere. Because of the beautiful post-rock elements you can no longer sit or stand still, you just have to move, the song'moves' you, literally. Again beautiful guitar work that really does something with your mood. After a minute or six the song fades away and you think it's over. However, Joanne really has something to tell you again after which the song goes on instrumentally and gradually builds up in the post-rock style, very subtly. Here and there I hear elements from the magnificent song Echoes by Pink Floyd, very beautiful. This instrumental jam, as I call it, should have lasted much longer in my opinion. It is not very complicated, but it pulls you into a certain trance that you do not want it to stop.
The title track, Departures, is a very special one. It starts with a duduk, played by Steen Gees Christensen, a 75-year-old Dane. This instrument is an experience in itself, it has a lot of depth. The duduk is supported by the beautiful voice of Inge den Hollander, who offers a nice counterweight to the duduk, a very nice combination. This song gives me the feeling that we are at a funeral and say goodbye to our loved one, fully supported with a church organ and a very fragile singing Gerrit, very, very beautiful and very, very special. A real 'wow' track.
Familiair Face is the second to last track on the album. The start reminds me of the song Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, although that only takes a little while. The song has a wonderful atmosphere, builds up but does not go to the 6th gear. It really is about the lyrics in this one. It contains beautiful orchestral keyboards and a beautiful trailing guitar solo.
To Have and To Hold is the last song. Quiet guitar playing supports the heavy words, you feel the pain in the vocals, again. It is a beautiful ending track of a very emotional album with lyrics that touches you and that really get you thinking.
For me Downriver Dead Men Go is another gem that I discovered and I am very grateful for that. As a result of this album I had the honor to do an interview with Gerrit and Remco. You can read this interview here (see interview). I find it hard to categorize their music. What their music mainly entails are heavy textual and musical themes and emotion, and emotion is such a term that is difficult to express in words again. Bands that play in the same style or contain the same kind of themes are for me Antimatter and Nosound, but also Steven Wilson comes into my mind. This album is a journey that you have to undergo, time and time again and again, forever.
***** Michel Stolk (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2018