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Single Review: “To the River” Dorsten 

Last year was surprisingly hot for alternative folk all things considered, but this spring, things are getting particularly intriguing for fans of the genre’s most lyrical side thanks to a new offering from buzz-worthy duo Dorsten, To the River. Dorsten doesn’t waste any time getting into the guts of a complicated approach to heavy folk with songs like the namesake track and “My Sweetheart,” both of which borrow rather liberally from the retro folk aesthetic as well as traditional pop sources, and while it’s true that this kind of music tends to have a more insular audience than most would, theirs is a sound that could be appealing to just about anyone with a taste in Americana that hasn’t been saddled with a lot of filler. 

Sophie and Alex Dorsten are in total command of the master mix here, and although I always prefer a member of the band to be on the other side of the board guiding the final process, this is an example of exceptional detail coming to fruition without a hitch. There’s not a spot of murky melodicism in tracks like “Chewing Gum,” even though the song is quite literally dripping with the kind of sonic intricacy that could make any music lover a fan of this band. We’re treated to a clear definition of what every instrument is doing from one track to the next, which isn’t something that I get treated to in the majority of the new folk records that I review, indie or mainstream alike. 

The brooding elements in To the River are hardly limited to the lyricism of the songs but instead extended to everything from a drumbeat to the patterned layering of vocal harmonies in “My Sweetheart,” instead of trying to impress us with a lot of additional componentry that just would have obstructed our view of their natural sound, this is a duo intent on putting all of their eggs in one sterling basket as to give us an idea of what their live performances would likely sound like. If they have even a small fraction of the presence they have in the studio on the stage, I have a strong feeling they’re going to be fine when it comes to developing a reputation on the road.

If smart folk music is your thing, you have no business ignoring the works of Dorsten and what they’ve got cooking in and out of the studio in this record is worth paying attention to. They’ve got a lot in common with the hipster folk artists of the early 2010s, but with one major caveat; they’re not trying to follow the rulebook of an antiquated concept in pop music. This is very physical music and intimate lyrics, and there’s nothing within this EP that I would classify as coming from a place outside of the profound relationship these siblings have with the product they’re presenting. All in all, this is a must-listen folk release for sure. 

 

 Brent Musgrave

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