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Rivener – Rivener (Twin Lakes/These Are Not)

Rivener - Rivener
28 January 2018

Following two 3-song, album-length cassettes, 2016’s Svengali Gaze and 2015’s Fire in Repose (which clocked in at 25 and 34 minutes, respectively), this 6-track, 43-minute LP is the first vinyl release from this esoteric New Haven, CT art-rock duo. The group consists of guitarist/keyboardist Paul Belbusti, also the leader of prolific psych-folk outfit Mercy Choir, and drummer Michael Kiefer, of weighty sludge-rockers Myty Konkeror. However, even putting aside the fact that their music is instrumental, Rivener sounds nothing like their other bands. To wit, Rivener all but abandons any modicum of melody and conventional song structure, in favor of an improvised, instinctive approach and irregular, inharmonious arrangements. Aptly described in their bio as “shape-shifting explorations of no wave, noise, free jazz, and psych,” their abstruse compositions are leisurely and labyrinthine, alternating between meandering mood pieces and migraine-inducing, Metal Machine Music-like maelstroms.

On the opening “Noiren,” Kiefer’s stickwork is skittish and slapdash, yet also loose and lissome, like a ping-pong ball buoyantly bouncing around a bingo machine at half speed. Hovering overhead, Belbusti’s squealed, strident guitar spurts interlace with shadowy bass throbs and squiggly, submerged static tones, conjuring up a nightmarish science fiction noir. The nearly 12-minute long “It Takes a Pillage” is even more bellicose, with feedback-drenched, floor-shaking guitar eruptions that bring to mind backfiring motorcycle engines and rumbling blast furnaces. Two-thirds through, it morphs into the brusque bursts of a repeated, stop-start riff, as if Belbusti is baiting us with the first few notes of a blues-rock song that never materializes. Belbusti’s proggy power chords on “Rainbow Turned to Stone” are more piercing and pulverizing, while his effects on “Xool” are noodling and wobbly, like someone futilely struggling to find a signal on a defective shortwave radio dial.

The sparer, 11-minute drone “Discoveries of Fire (Saints, preserve us)” finds Kiefer’s fidgety, frenzied stickwork taking front and center, while fulminating guitars froth and fester just beneath the surface, bubbling like molten lava in a just-about-to-erupt volcano. Compared to the previous five tracks, the closing “Tsardana” (named for a red grape that grows on the island of Crete), has an almost straightforward, trad-rock texture, with Middle Eastern strains and a Doors “The End”-evoking sensation, yet still fits firmly into the album’s free rock framework. If Webster’s Dictionary defines “riven” as “to wrench open or tear apart or to pieces,” then as self-declared “riveners,” Belbusti and Kiefer appear to be applying a destructive axe to familiar, well-trodden rock forms. (twinlakesrecords.com, thesearenotrecords.com, rivener.bandcamp.com)

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