On his first song-oriented album, the Arcade Fire’s composer-in-residence folds folk music and dissonance into delightful odes to nature’s pleasure and power.
Aside from being the easiest Arcade Fire member to pick out in a police lineup, multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry has also enjoyed the most visible extracurricular career of his bandmates. A self-taught composer, Parry elevated the orchestral undercurrents of the Arcade Fire into the defining feature of his post-rock ensemble Bell Orchestre, a steady stream of commissions for the likes of the Kronos Quartet, and an album for classical bastion Deutsche Grammophon. But Parry is also the son of a folk-singer and a former hardcore kid who frequented the same all-ages Toronto haunts as future members of Fucked Up. On Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1, his first song-oriented solo album, he folds formative loves of campfire sing-alongs and disruptive dissonance into a meditation on nature's serene beauty and destructive force.
Parry’s classically inclined solo pursuits have often felt like understated answers to Arcade Fire’s arena-sized catharsis. The same holds here, even as he deploys some of the bigger band’s favorite tricks—exultant group vocals, thundering drum builds, dramatic crescendos. But Parry uses those devices to fashion a world a million miles away from the digital-age angst and dystopian disco of Arcade Fire’s Everything Now, instead taking a pastoral path toward similar themes of unplugging and savoring IRL experiences.
Alongside collaborators like the National guitarist Bryce Dessner and Little Scream leader Laurel Sprengelmeyer, Parry arrives at an earthy, elaborate sound that harks back to the golden age of mid-2000s blog-prog: the ornate art-folk of Sufjan Stevens, the high-beam harmonies of Dirty Projectors, the ritualistic abandon of Animal Collective. The album even stands as a rootsier counterpart to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, sharing DNA with its creator’s main gig but cultivating it in a more impressionistic manner.
Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 (yes, a sequel arrives next year) is also our first real opportunity to hear Parry sing outside of the Arcade Fire’s throat-shredding group choruses. His voice is gentle and graceful, reflective of his reverence for the natural phenomena he details. Within the first few seconds of opener “Gentle Pulsing Dust,” he’s treating his window as a cinema screen that frames some never-ending sylvan documentary. Overtop fluttering oscillations and circular acoustic patterns, he sings, “First the rain begins, and the quiet settles in/And it’s awesome.” Though that peaceful rainfall begets an apocalyptic seven-day storm, Parry’s sense of ecstatic wonder remains unaffected by the tumult, as if he were leading a cult-ceremony salute to nature’s higher power.
Shout-outs to barn cats aside, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 transcends twee platitudes about our environment to amplify the raw emotions and introspection one can experience inside it. The album’s origin, after all, dates to Parry’s 2008 visit to Japan. Venturing into the woods near Mount Koya, he heard uncanny singing that reminded him of his late father’s folk band. “On the Ground,” the song that stems from that experience, feels like an attempt to communicate with those disembodied voices, Parry’s synth-modulated words echoing inside an unanswering void. Parry rallied members of his dad’s old group, the Friends of Fiddler’s Green, to help rouse those spirits, too. Together, they forsake the typical crescendo for a series of skyward surges, like fireworks being shot off one at a time.
For a guy whose band became famous for singing about perseverance in the wake of death, Parry spends much of Quiet River of Dust peacefully contemplating life on the other side, be it through the affecting ambient instrumental “Sai No Kawara (River of Death)” or the album’s staggering nearly 10-minute peak, “I Was in the World (Was the World in Me)?” As that song attests, communing with nature isn’t only a way to feel more alive; it offers a sneak preview of death, allowing you to imagine yourself as one with the earth. The song’s structure mirrors our departure, as Parry guides a Neil Young-like country-rock lick into a cyclonic swirl.
But the most telling moment emerges after the storm subsides, when only the hum and chirp of insects remain to remind us that the Earth will keep spinning long after we’re gone. Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 is an enchanted forest of a record—deceptively tranquil, but always buzzing with hidden life. Parry’s other band famously told of us of a place where no cars go. This is what it feels like to actually be there.
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