‘To the River’ EP by Dosten

Its gilded climb into impenetrable melodic catharsis is undeniably a short and sweet one, but make no mistake about it; “My Sweetheart” is not a post-pop track sporting some added lyrical depth. On the contrary, much like its four counterparts in Dorsten’s new EP To the River, this is a work of duality, blending the best elements of heavy pop and, ironically enough, progressive folk of a leaner variety than the mainstream usually supports. – Alex Dorsten mans one end of the controls while his sister Sophie Dorsten presides over the other, but it soon becomes apparent that these two players don’t need a lot of frills to make big music sound even bigger than it already would have. If anything, the lack of bombast in this mix makes their progressive edge all the more seamless, ultimately fostering one of the most fluid Americana records I’ve listened to in the past two years inside of a twenty-minute running time. Say what you will about the surreal folk scene as it stands today, but this is one twosome that’s taking its aesthetics to a different level altogether.

The most comparable track to “My Sweetheart” in this EP in terms of calculated construction is “To the River” itself, but there are no two songs on this record that sound precisely the same. I don’t get the feeling that Dorsten is particularly fond of formulaic songcraft, and their willingness to step outside of the lines and flirt with elements of postmodernity in “Vernazza” and the lyrical substance of “Chewing Gum” confirms as much.

It’s a shame that there aren’t more bands in the southwest that are as eager to experiment with their sound as this pair is, but this could be the primary reason why their EP sounds as definitively different from the competition as it does this season. They’ve still got room to grow into this blueprint, but what they’re already doing with this chemistry is worth marveling at on its own, mostly because it suggests a rearrangement of progressive aesthetics that could bring the genre into the 21st century in a way a lot of critics were not expecting at all.

From the moment we get started in the haze that precludes “Losing It,” it’s obvious that we’re going to be listening to some powerful songwriting and performing in Dorsten, and while I’m normally a lot more cautious when it comes to similar EPs, this one is simply too easy to get into. Contemporary Americana is inarguably an acquired taste being that it’s often comprised of theatrical indulgences that don’t make a lot of sense in the typical pop format; that said, the way Dorsten is using it in this record is something to be inspired by, and it represents a hybrid move akin to what the surreal pop and crossover singer/songwriter artists have been accomplishing in their circuits over the past couple of years.

Gwen Waggoner