So much of Riverby’s newest album, Absolution, out today on Take This to Heart Records, is about control. Finding it. Taking it. And, if you’ve watched the video, you know it’s appropriate that its opening track “Baseless” feels like a full on baseball bat swing to the face. It’s a song that literally, figuratively, and musically, refuses to pull any punches. “It’s basically ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ with the weirdest riffs in between,” Riverby’s lead singer/songwriter August Greenberg told Left of the Dial when they joined us on the podcast in February. It is also a deeply personal song, one that, when it was released, came with a content warning, and as August said, “This was kind of the first real song about something that happened in my life like that, that I put out there, so it didn’t even matter whether the response was good or bad, the fact that there was one at all, was terrifying.”
Produced by Jim Wirt (Jack’s Mannequin, Fiona Apple), it’s obvious that with Absolution, Riverby’s music was in the hands of a careful, meticulous producer (the band has talked at length about Wirt’s insistence that they record chord by chord, for example), but as August explained, “I so desperately didn’t want it to sound overly produced,just because when you see me live, I’m yelling. I’m doing whatever. I’m ripping my vocal chords out because I don’t know how to chill out . . . I’m like, ‘I gotta yell!’ I didn’t want any part of it to sound too perfect.”
Following “Baseless” Riverby gives their listeners a little chance to breathe on “The Moon,” a song that starts sweet and spare, but builds in urgency. You can hear Jim Wirt’s influence on this song most especially. No one hearing “The Moon” will be surprised to learn it was produced by the same guy who’s been a long time collaborator of pop-rock pianist Andrew McMahon. The closest thing “The Moon” has to a chorus is the series of “ooh-ooh-OoOh”s—sung with the help of Celia Tice and The Lunar Year‘s Katie Hackett—which are peppered throughout and not entirely dissimilar to the so-called “millennial whoop” that shows up in morethana couple of McMahon’s songs. “The moon” is a sneakers-slapping-pavement song that, like the song before it, addresses its subject directly and without artifice.
How does it feel to know you only exist in my past? How does it feel to learn life comes at you fast?
“Birth by Sleep,” the second single from Absolution,is Riverby’s self-described “Fall Out Boy song” (specifically it’s their “Lake Effect Kid” if we had to nail it down) and perfectly exemplifies what makes the album so incredibly strong. It’s slick and features some of the richest, cleanest harmonies on the album, but still retains a raw edge that keeps the song from feeling sterile. And it has an immediately memorable chorus that you’ll want to sing and dance along to. It’s a raucous, confident song that highlights Riverby’s ability to remain relentlessly earnest while keeping their tongue planted firmly in their cheek.
It really is Riverby’s deftness at playing in two spaces at the same time that makes them pretty remarkable. Their music is tight, polished, clean, but the edges never feel sanded off; their lyrics are honest, open, vulnerable, but still clever and sometimes even downright funny. When Riverby played “Birth by Sleep” at Chris Gethard’s New Jersey Is the World live show at the beginning of March, the “How many nice guys does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” joke that makes up most of the second verse got one of the biggest laughs of the night.
In a world where music streaming services have made the whole-album listening experience less common, it’s exciting to hear an album that ends on an undeniable closer. Absolution‘s final track, the anthemic, heart-swelling “Imagine the Ending” is a real love song to community. It is also, with its clever enjambment and unexpected internal rhyme running throughout, as much poetry as it is love letter. In fact, one of the most moving moments from this album is an allusion to Riverby’s own song “The Tell Tale Heart.” We’ll save talking about it too much here, so listeners can experience it for themselves, but this specific call back feels like August is exercising a kind of catharsis brought about through the very creation of Absolution.