EP REVIEW: River Becomes Ocean – ‘December’

River Becomes Ocean EP

Five piece Brighton, UK, alternative rockers, River Becomes Ocean, have offered up their second EP, December — five tidy tracks, packed with personality and passion.

River Becomes Ocean consists of Marvin McMahon on lead vocals and piano, Danny Snow on backing vocals and guitars, Ben Bartup on guitars, and Dorian Neidhardt on drums. They compliment each other perfectly, and use many surprising elemental snippets throughout their tracks culminating in imposing walls of sound in which to lose oneself.

Their sound has been compared to fellow British rockers Bring Me The Horizon. It is a fair comparison, but don’t be fooled: River Becomes Ocean have developed their own signature sound and one day, newer artists will be compared to them.

December tells the tale of a rocky, tumultuous relationship between two people wearing rose colored glasses; not so much about each other, but more about the world around them.

Opener ‘We Will’ begins with ethereal tones and harmonising, and launches into punishing vocals and thrashing drum beats. There is a sense of getting lost, and found again, with someone, while desperately avoiding reality: “Tonight, we make this world our own.”

It is all about going on a journey with someone, but being determined to come out at the other end with this person. The chanting of “No one can ever stop us now” enhances the sense of immortality the two lovers must be feeling. There is a light violin solo right before the end build, only adding to the multiple contrasts between soft and hard, dark and light, all crammed in under four minutes.

‘Lies’ begins with a synth soundscape, lulling us into a false sense of calm and order, as do the opening lines: “Come take a seat and have a drink with me / you can tell me how you really feel.” But this poor, tortured man has already made up his mind: he knows his relationship is a lost cause, he is done with hurting and heartache, and keeping his life on hold. Staccato drum and cymbal taps add to the turmoil he is feeling. You have to strain to hear the guitars on this track, as they have been pushed way into the background, seemingly to give an air of rationality to the decision to end the relationship.

‘Seven’ is loaded with catchy ripping guitar riffs and more ethereal chanting, which is suddenly overtaken by screaming, hoarse vocals: “This heartache is over / this weight’s off my shoulder.” Neidhardt’s rapid drumming is the hero of this track, never missing a beat. It tells of jaded emotions and a love gone sour. The addition of a child singing adds a strange paradox to the guttural instrumentals and dark subject matter, including the imagery of pulling multiple knives out of your back.

McMahon’s twinkling keys open the second to last song on December, ‘Buried At Sea.’ He makes it clear in the lyrics that he has stopped caring and now has a heart of “stone.” Drumming is, once again, the prominent music element by far in this number.

Saving the best for last, ‘For Now’ has crazy digital delay guitar effects at the start, with McMahon vocally stretching himself more than ever. The hauntingly beautiful chanting and hooky riffs are stellar, and could be listened to ad nauseam. Cue the additional female vocalist’s first appearance, with her repeated “Don’t give up on us” overlapping his “Forgive me” please. The sheer vulnerability of it all is very moving, and nicely wraps up the EP.

They have only been around for three years, but River Becomes Ocean have a long, illustrious career ahead of them. They shine so bright in a world of mediocrity, offering insight into the instability of the human spirit.

December tells the story of a literal loop akin to that of a Groundhog Day relationship. That is, reliving the same emotions, fighting, making up, breaking up, starting again, on a week to week basis. Funnily enough, unlike the relationship itself, you could easily play this collection of five songs on a loop and it would take quite a while to get sick of them. Sixth listen, and counting.

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