Editor's Rating

The music on Keeper of the Dawn screams of ghostly evocations, shamanic rites and powerful hallucinations. Ancient River traverse genre boundaries effortlessly, stitching seams with melodies where once there were islands of disparate exoticism.

6.7

At a time when every man and his bong can be said to be exploring the final frontier with cathedral reverb plastered all over their stoned guitar noodling, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand apart from the rabble. Ancient River try their best at saying something new by, perversely, not saying very much at all. The music on Keeper of the Dawn screams of ghostly evocations, shamanic rites and powerful hallucinations, but there are few lyrics on the record. Some words occasionally brave the washed out soundscape, but do so like cautious fish under winter ice.

Ancient River is the ‘sonic brainchild’ of one James Barreto, a veteran of the Florida psych scene and former member of the Ohm. Barreto has been steadily putting out material under this handle for a few years, essentially as a studio-based artist. Since 2011, however, the band has been operating as a performing duo, with Alex Cordova holding the sticks. The album opens up with a track called This Is The Time and as soon as the lead guitar kicks in, it becomes apparent that Ancient River propagate a sound that is uncannily similar to what Tame Impala used to do. This doesn’t do them any favours – but, to be fair, the foundations of all psychedelic music rest on nostalgia for the 1960s. In that respect, Tame Impala are far from original either.

What Barreto and Co. have to offer becomes evident later. Like travelling salesmen who peddle miracle balms to chicken-faced farmers in rural communities, Ancient River adopt a distinctly American vocabulary. They embrace models of fortitude on tracks such as Mother of Light and Journey Into the Light of Darkness that recall tumbling hooves pulverising a bed of cattle skulls, smoke snaking out of revolvers and sands soaked with the blood that once ran through the veins of a man with proud, red skin. This approach is reminiscent of Eyes Like The Sky by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Both albums use a romantic Americana backdrop for their sonic surveys. Yet, whereas the aforementioned album requires attentive listening due to its dominating spoken word narrative, Keeper of the Dawn is happy for you to kick back and drift.

ANCIENT RIVER james barreto & alex cordova

In contrast to this sympathy for the Wild West, the title track has a spectral trip hop feel, helped in part by wistful backing vocals and lazy organ chords. Even though the 1990s are very in at the moment, especially in the murky realms of electronic music, on paper this sound should prove uncharacteristically uncouth within a psychedelic context. This isn’t the only time where the band’s flavour for other sounds come into play, however. Specks of blissful cool float in and out on other parts of the record too. Cordova and Barreto manage to traverse genre boundaries effortlessly, stitching seams with melodies where once there were islands of disparate exoticism.

Ancient River are a psychedelic band for a psychedelic time. Unsustainable economics and political tensions pave the way for creative introspection. This, in turn, creates protest music which has the potential to inspire powerful insurrectionist movements. Ancient River do not incite revolution, but they do attempt to steer past tired cliches associated with the psychedelic style, and instead encourage you to embrace the Other: Americana over motorik; synth-laden soundtracks to space westerns over overdriven guitar assault; fading photographs of fickle nature over hypnotising geometric design, etc. Like a lizard staying still in the static heat, or a polyp that grows quietly inside of you, Keeper of the Dawn produces a fountain of emotions that are difficult to describe. It is an engaging listen and a pleasant promise of further fire.

Keeper of the Dawn is out now via Summer Moon. Ancient River will be touring the US extensively throughout the summer.

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