As I prepare to give the new Riverside a spin (it is arriving much later in the U.S. than in other parts of the world), I thought it would be worth offering my thoughts on the previous work of Riverside, in particular the last full album, ADHD.
Five songs at 44 minutes and 42 seconds. The intrepid Carl Olson (of Ignatius Insight fame and now fellow Progarchist) first introduced me to this post-Communist Polish band, and I’ve been more than a little fond of them since our first encounter.
Brilliantly, their first three studio albums–collectively known as “Reality Dream”–form one story. Though I’ve listened to the albums too many times to count, I’m still not exactly sure what that story is about. It follows a man who is either a saint and having endless mystical visions, or else he’s insane and trapped in an asylum.
Either way, I like the story.
ADHD appeared at an important moment for me, musically speaking. Compared to some of the other “big” releases of 2009, ADHD towered.
Dream Theater’s album that year, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings,” served as an incoherent exercise in notes chasing notes and embarrassingly written lyrics.
Even more disappointing, Pure Reason Revolution’s “Amor Vincit Omnia” offered nothing but miserable sexual decadence and ridiculous Euro dance-type music. The title should’ve been Lust Conquers All, not Love Conquers All. How this could have been the same band that released the captivating “The Dark Third,” I have no idea.
Riverside’s ADHD redeems them all. Labeled “harder” and “heavier” by several reviewers, ADHD is nothing if not insanely intense. Is it hard? Yes. Do notes chase notes? Yes. Is there sexual deviance in the lyrics? Yes. But, unlike the music of Dream Theater’s most recent cd, or the lyrics of Pure Reason Revolution’s new album, Riverside’s heaviness, notes chasing notes, and lyrics all have a purpose; they each serve the entirety of the album. Indeed, nothing in this short 44plus minutes is in vein; every aspect of the album has its purpose and knows its place.
Indeed, Riverside expresses intense anger and frustration about the state of the world—the “liquid modernity” identified in the first track, “Hyperactive.”
Modernity destroys real community. “In the mass of different runners/Different lies/We can’t make time to realize/How the same we are.” And, modernity results in isolated, insecure (“hatred for my inner chaos”), and self-centered individuality.
We’ve lost the flow of generations, and we wallow in our subjective realities. “I used to be one of you/With the same spark in my eyes/And now I don’t belong to this place/It’s a matter of merciless time/I wholly vanish.” So far gone are we as a people, that we obsess about our own created gadgets, the products of our will and ingenuity, and our immediate fame, here and now. “Come to me now/I will cure your soul/I’m the savior of our times/I know exactly what it needs/You’ve let yourself go/You’ve felt so down/So my hi-tech salvation is just for you.”
Properly, progressive rock reviewers love their tradition and the heritage of the music. Reviewers always compare releases of Riverside to Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, and Tool. These are fine comparisons, but Riverside–from the opening note on their first album to the ending note on this most recent release–are very much their own band. Frankly, while building on what Pink Floyd offered, Riverside has topped Pink Floyd in terms of musical ability and atmosphere. More than anything else, Riverside has confidence its in its own abilities and direction, it understands the parts each member of the band plays in the band as a whole, and it recognizes the importance of voice (human and instrumental) in its music.
While each member plays exceedingly well here, the keyboardist, Michal Lapaz, stands out the most. From the opening note to the end of the album, his work defines ADHD. No keyboardist has played this well since Steve Winwood on “Blind Faith,” Greg Allman on “Fillmore East,” Rick Wakeman on “Close to the Edge,” or Mark Hollis on “Spirit of Eden.” I can’t even put my admiration in words. Every time I listen to him play on ADHD, I can only provide a rather sincere but inarticulate “phew.”
I give Riverside’s ADHD one of the highest rankings I can. This album is simply exemplary. Thank you, Riverside. Thank you, Poland.