[Full disclosure: Riviera’s Derek Phillips is Glorious Noise’s co-founder. The reviewer, Stacey K. Anderson, doesn’t personally know any of us. – Ed.]
Forget what Clarence said – every time a bell rings, California gets a lyrical thrashing. Bands from the Eagles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have denounced the Golden State as a slum of exquisitely painted media chimps, a cracked bed of abandoned dreams, and a Venus fly trap with an appetite for decency. A whole lot of stabs have been taken at the once-hallowed microcosm, and most made with the same whiny blade.
At least Riviera sees it differently. In Broken Hearted Dreams, the sonic philosophers pause in their earthy prose to take a jab at the state and temper it with optimism. They question the lure of the land in a way that sounds fresh; when Derek Phillips sings about hanging around “just time enough to get our blood clean” (“Friends in California”), he sounds wiser to the balance of state and psyche than most other wanna-be geographers.
The rest of the EP plays out similarly and is enunciated with wry humor. Riviera’s variance is the strength that many of their folk peers lack. They keep modest progressions, alternately mellow and distorted instruments, and unpretentious lyrics. The title track, a standout, plays out as a gorgeous symphony of layered instruments and atmospheric effects. “Democratic Déjà Vu” boasts scale-ascending guitars straight out of the British Invasion – if only the Yardbirds had cracked some good jokes!
The midtempo “Such Sweet Sorrow” is a lush stunner as saccharine as its name. A little Lou Reed rasp goes a long way to make the discussed relationship pulse with life and promise. The track blossoms with the best gradual, natural dynamics build since Live’s “Lightning Crashes.”
While Riviera’s diverse musical inputs make for interesting product, they do foray into jittery electronic effects and stay there for an uncomfortable bout. The effects immediately following “Left Behind” are a jarring departure from the tranquil acoustic ballad and seem unwelcome and alienated in such a cohesive package. More would be a curious path traveled; less would be an unsteady tic lost.
Riviera holds promise in their mature hooks and an overtone of sadness that never suffocates. With open eyes and searching ears, they run out smiling into the spring showers on their waterfront.