When: Sun., Oct. 9, 8 p.m. 2016
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9
Formed at Appalachian State University and now based in Asheville, River Whyless has been steadily growing. The mountain quartet worked quietly with Horse Feathers frontman and producer Justin Ringle on August's We All The Light, the follow-up to 2012's A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door. The band's recent Triangle gigs have included opening slots for Langhorne Slim and Lake Street Dive and an appearance at last year's Hopscotch. The band's crossover appeal makes for a good fit with both a roots troubadour and retro soul revivalists, thanks to dreamy ditties that split the difference between indie pop and folk. The hallmarks of a River Whyless song—lead vocal trade-offs backed by sweet harmonies and gentle, lush arrangements that incorporate vague worldly influences and plucked violin strings—will likely seem familiar, even if the band is a mere blip on your radar.
We All The Light is destined to draw bigger and bigger crowds for River Whyless as the band refines its take on fashionable pop-folk fare, but the album does little to set its creators apart from a slew of similar acts. Its trio of bright-eyed singer-songwriters consistently trot out idealistic themes of inclusiveness in the hope of incitng a passionate response, but these often ring hollow. In "Baby Brother," nebulous lines like, "Well you can talk to God in the morning when you are sober/well you can talk to me when you are all fucked up tonight/we all deserve the light," seem designed for listeners to make their own meaning. The song's Eastern instrumentation also lends the track a pseudo-spiritual feel.
Sure, such crimes can easily be pinned on more successful acts like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and scores of likeminded artists and imitators, but that doesn't quite excuse River Whyless for following that well-trod path, four years after a promising record whose ruminations on the human condition were far more fully formed. On the next go-round, perhaps this young foursome can reconcile the ambitious songwriting of its unrefined earlier work with its newfound polish and creative arrangements. But if that happens, don't expect to see them performing in the Back Room. —Spencer Griffith
CAT'S CRADLE BACK ROOM, CARRBORO
8 p.m., $12–$15, www.catscradle.com