To simply categorize the music of Rivulets as spare or desolate is to unjustly deny it the hot blood sizzling through its very veins. Sure, on the band’s 6th album In Our Circle, there are prairies of space over which notes and tones often hang like dust specks in a light beam. But there is a pulsing intensity to these moments, these Rust Belt incantations. Denver-via-Minneapolis Songwriter Nathan Amundson might be laconic in his presentation, but his music is abound with thoughtful sentiment and rich in soul. Think of the way the seemingly austere music of Low (with whom Amundson has toured and collaborated), Jason Molina or even, say, the repetitive psych-metal of the vastly under-appreciated Lungfish, vibrated with raw nerve and dark energy. In Our Circle vibrates with a similar hard-earned confidence and perhaps with an even darker energy.
’In Our Circle’ dwells heavy in a contemporary American psyche. Rare is the news that doesn’t feel worse than the day before. If we’re currently in the Autumn of the American Era, then ’In Our Circle’ sits out there in late November in a first snow made of ash. And this is from a band who once called an album We’re Fucked. But the hounds of time are really nipping at our heels now. “Another dark day, another dark day, another dark day, another dark day", Nathan Amundson quivers in his lovely, breathy tenor over a slo(ooo)w shuffling strum and a striking lap steel. Coming at the album’s midpoint, one might see this as Rivulets waving the white flag halfway through. But there’s a comfort in these blues, some sort of communal sadness in the dark. If the dad in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had a guitar in his grocery cart, these would be the last songs he played before he used the guitar for campfire kindling.
You’ll find fuzzed out Neil Young and Crazy Horse anthems (“Not Today,” “You Can Never Come Back”) and spaced-out folk miniatures that sound like they could be early demos from Automatic for the People (“Won’t Be Long Now,” “Wire”). But by the time you reach standout, closing number “Lucky“, you’ll surely be moved. “Lucky” comes very close to defying the sentiment of all that came before it on In Our Circle. “And I’m thankful you still put up with me”, Amundson keens only to deliver the 2nd part of the couplet. “And I’m lucky, I’m so lucky, that it’s a dream". It’s a profound moment on the record, one that underscores the sort of soulful nihilism that haunts it’s every corner. Yes, we’re absolutely doomed. But we’re all we’ve got.