Music You Should Know: The Immersive, Nature-Centered World of Richard Reed Parry’s ‘Quiet River of Dust’

Quiet River of Dust, Vol. 2: That Side of the River - Richard Reed Parry
Quiet River of Dust, Vol. 2: That Side of the River - Richard Reed Parry
With both volumes of ‘Quiet River of Dust’, Richard Reed Parry creates a visual world that encourages us to question ourselves and life around us.

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In Richard Reed Parry’s Quiet River of Dust Vol.1: This Side of the River, released last year, the listener is taken deep into nature. Sounds of spacious synths and atmospheric guitars scuttle throughout as a lonesome journey on foot is undertaken. “First the rain begins, the quiet it settles in, and it’s awesome,” goes the beginning of opening song “Gentle Pulsing Dust,” an immediate embracing of water. In “Finally Home,” the countryside is at the core. “I stayed out late with the barn cats ’til the barn cats were fully grown, I fell in love with the a haystack, it was a place I could call my own,” Parry sings slowly and dreamily, shortly followed by a chorus of ‘who who who who’ reminiscent of the howling of a wolf.

Quiet River of Dust Vol.1 - Richard Reed Parry
Quiet River of Dust Vol.1 – Richard Reed Parry

The second part, Quiet River of Dust Vol.2: That Side of the River, released 21 June 2019, dives deeper below the surface. It’s said to be about the murky waters of memory and dealing with the unconscious mind, things that come to attention with lyrics such as ‘and when they find me, there’ll be nothing resembling me’ (“Lost in the Waves”) and those in “It’s All Around You” that draw upon loneliness amongst living things. As Parry ponders in the album’s release notes, ‘what separates us from dissolving into the experience around us? It’s a feeling I’ve definitely had many times, where the boundaries of self and world are permeable to the point of disorientation.’ Thus together the albums conjure up a world of fantasy, the sounds of birds calling at the end of “In A Moment” and the UFO-style buzzing in “Cups in the Ocean” setting a carefully crafted atmosphere. Narratives, such as ‘He takes my hand in his/ An unsmiling happy grin’ (“Gentle Pulsing Dust”) and ‘Where does a small child go when there’s nobody home?’ (”where did I go?”) introduce characters innocent and odd like the subjects of fairytales.

I was amazed and then I was away
Grew a gill and two glittering fins
I can breathe, I can hear, I can live without fear
And I love everything that I see
“Lost in the Waves”, Richard Reed Parry

To accompany the songs and introduce a literally more rounded experience, Parry filmed a variety of scenic locations that have been edited into one succinct visual experience. They include towering mountains, enveloping trees/greenery, and bubbles floating through a void with the silhouette of a human body inside them. They were shown for two weeks (June 25- July 6) every evening at the Satosphère, a planetarium style room with the audience lying on beanbags, in Montreal’s Society for Art and Technology. Here the visuals went hand in hand with the music, or the music hand in hand with the visuals, Parry and his band composing an ambient soundtrack on the stage in front as the audience gazed up attentively.

In Quiet River of Dust Vol.2: That Side of the River there’s a greater sense of loneliness, likely due to it being ‘that’ side of the river- the one that’s more distant and filled with slight mystery. Closing track “Long Way Back” is a campfire singalong that feels far away from society but enclosed in the way that trees and wildlife wrap themselves around you. Used as the opener for the show, the song was set to a landscape of mountains that grow as the song progresses, making you feel smaller and smaller.

Quiet River of Dust, Vol.2: That Side of the River

Live, lying down, there’s the constant illusion of being below ground level, floating on a stream or sinking to the depths of the water, sea creatures occasionally expanding in size and making you feel minuscule as they drift past. Throughout “Song of Wood” there’s the effect of floating along a stream, thin trees on either side reaching up to golden sunlight, turning occasionally as the current guides you along, while the splashing in the song seemingly touches the body. There’s nothing harmful about it, just a connecting with the peacefulness, a ‘heading for that lake/ heading towards the shallows.’  Then in the finale, “I Was in the World (The World Was in Me)”, rapid waves hurtle forwards momentarily submerging you under before you reach up and gasp for breath only for the action to be repeated again and again.

I was in the rain with the rain in me
Falling from a cloud I could barely see
Staring at the fog staring back at me
See the colours start to run
Oooh, turn again
I was in the waves with the waves in me
Floating on the top of a rolling sea
Staring at the sky staring back at me
And we swallow up the sun
“I Was in the World (The World Was in Me)”,
Richard Reed Parry

Aggression coincides with the intensity of the music: Flashes of colour when there’s crashing of drums and cloudy streaks and ripples when the atmosphere’s calm. At times it’s difficult to tell whether one is in the deep sea gazing longingly up at the surface level light or hovering purposelessly through outer space. For a show set in a dome, the visuals weren’t as clear as perhaps anticipated but, in hindsight, the slight blurriness added to the songs’ intentions- an unclear sense of direction while being swallowed up by the natural world around us.

Richard Reed Parry, recognizable as a core member and multi-instrumentalist of Arcade Fire, wrote both volumes following an eye-opening trip he took to Japan in 2008, finding himself walking alone through a snowy cedar forest. The locations featured in the visuals include Isle of Mull in Scotland, Sutton in Quebec, Cape Cod, and Oslo but, close-up or generic, they could be anywhere real or fictionalised. Vocally, Parry has the whimsical calm tones reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens while musically maintaining the rushes of drama familiar in classic Arcade Fire. But overall it feels incredibly collaborative, whether it’s the musicians in his accompanying band, the people helping bring the visuals to life, the message of the songs, and us as the recipient. We can often feel like we’re alone, especially if lost seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but, really, how we can we be alone when there’s so much life around us?

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:: stream/purchase Quiet River of Dust, Vol.2 here ::

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