A study in contrasts, Rivers finds Wildbirds & Peacedrums exploring the conceptual possibilities of their approach. Once again, Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin limit themselves to voice and percussion, but this album -- which combines the limited-edition EPs Retina and Iris -- features some of the duo’s most ambitious and fullest-sounding music. Wallentin and Werliin ventured to Iceland to record these songs, recording the expansive Retina in Guðríðarkirkja church with cellist and arranger Hildur Guðnadóttir and the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík Chamber Choir. Trading the fiery outbursts of Heartcore and The Snake for a deeper dive into Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ wintry, introspective side, Retina feels at once sacred and avant-garde. The choir underscores Wallentin’s expressive vocals, adding to her ethereality on “Bleed Like There Was No Other Flood,” shadowing her like a battle cry on “Fight for Me” and echoing her joy on “Tiny Holes in This World.” The dark, meditative feel of these songs recalls Björk’s later work -- not a surprise, since the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík Chamber Choir worked with her on Medúlla. What is somewhat surprising is the amount of restraint the duo shows not just on Retina, but Iris as well. Recorded in Reykjavík’s Greenhouse Studios, Iris focuses on Wallentin’s voice and the watery tones of the steel pan. Though “The Wave” suggests that these songs will be more like the band’s previous work, a calmer, softer Wildbirds & Peacedrums presents itself on songs like “The Drop” and “The Lake.” While the duo’s more explosive side is missed -- they don’t really cut loose until Iris’ final track “The Well” -- a more sophisticated and soulful aspect of their music surfaces on “The Course,” where Wallentin sings, “I need a prayer to hold my course/To get a god to give me the force.” That Werliin and Wallentin recorded all of these songs within a week is impressive enough, but the new directions they hint at for Wildbirds & Peacedrums are even more exciting. Rivers isn’t as immediate as either Heartcore or The Snake, but fans should find it satisfying once they’ve had time to let it soak into their ears, brains and hearts.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2