the Broken Face – by Mats Gustafsson

rivulets [Chair Kickers Union, 2002]; Rating: 8

from the Broken Face

Rivulets is the moniker of Nathan Amundson, a new member of the very limited group of people that’s capable of channeling melancholia into sonic goodness. There’s a risk involved in presenting tense, folk-induced misery; that you take yourself too seriously thus distancing your music from the audience.

That’s never the case with Rivulets’ self-titled debut album as Amundson never tries too hard, he’s just letting the delicate balladry that’s stuck deep inside himself out to anyone that might be interested. And in the light of the opening "Creased" that should be quite a few since it has the sort of big sound that despite its tenderness fills every inch of a room in no-time and then just floats around its own notes. It makes me think of Red House Painters and that is hardly ever a bad thing.

I can’t say that I am sure about this but the name Amundson indicates that his roots can be found in my neck of the woods, possibly in Norway or Iceland. It’s difficult to think of a more suitable bridge from the US to northern lights than the soft-spoken "Swans" and the subtle take on xylophone-meets guitar pop of "Four Weeks" feels like sitting by the window hoping that someone close will appear on the deserted street but all you get to see is this year’s first real winter storm. As with many of the other tracks it comes draped in a distant layer of effects that gives the song-based music a mysterious, slightly droning vibe.

On "Barreling" Mimi Parker of Low lends her percussion and god-sent voice but that’s not the only connection to said outfit on this album. Apart from occasionally sounding a bit like this Duluth-based combo it’s the fourth release on Low’s Chair Kickers Union label and Alan Sparhawk also played on, recorded and mixed this gorgeous slab of frosty moods.

Think of the hazy grace of Low, the heartrending honesty of Will Oldham and the songcraft of Nick Drake and you understand it’s hard for me not to give this one my wholehearted recommendation.

Mats Gustafsson, the Broken Face

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