Full Album Premiere & Review: River Flows Reverse, The Homing Bird’s Trace

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 14th, 2022 by JJ Koczan


Hungarian psychedelic collective-within-a-collective River Flows Reverse release their second album, The Homing Bird’s Trace, this week through Psychedelic Source Records. The story of its making, which I’ve included below so you can read it from the point of view of the band rather than have me re-tell it, is a winding path that feels both true to life and true to the spirit of the music they create, which is open, pastoral, welcoming, vibrant, at times hypnotic, at times (righteously) confusing, and able at a moment’s notice to conjure coherent gorgeousness out of what feels like an ether of mellow-psych improvisation and exploration.

The project is one of many under the banner of Psychedelic Source Records, which is both a label pressing releases and promoting them digitally and kind of the tent under which various jam sessions take place. River Flows Reverse issued their debut, When River Flows Reverse (review here), in early 2021 (vinyl arrived later), and with it bid the world jó reggelt kívánok across a 2LP’s worth of material that finds answer and expansion on the 45 minutes of The Homing Bird’s Trace, which even in longer pieces like “Seconds” (7:50) and “Birds” (10:46) feels more song-based while maintaining the free-flowing spirit of arrangement makes it and made its predecessor so engaging. Built out of improvisational elements, there is a soft poetry to instrumental stretches like opener “Demons,” where sitar and banjo and zither complement vocals, keys, guitar, bass, drums, etc., and amid the sitar drone and hum of “Black Lake,” they touch on ’60s acidism in a way that both stands out from its surroundings and melts into them.

Players come and go, with drummer Tibor Kovács and multi-instrumentalist Bence Ambrus (who also runs Psychedelic Source) as the only two parties featured on every song. Because of this, it might seem like The Homing Bird’s Trace is somewhat opaque, but by the time “Demons” is 15 seconds into its sub-five-minute run, there’s no shortage of light shining through.

Whatever context rests beneath the surface of these artists’ history with each other through various forms and incarnations, River Flows Reverse invites you along with its headphone-worthy meditative wanderings, which are folk as much as jazz while still born of rock and roll — a bit of rumble at the start of centerpiece “Kingdom” tells the tale and goes a long way, even though the song is ultimately more about the vocal melody, provided by Krisztina Benus (also of Lemurian Folk Songs) as one of several highlight performances — and come across as wholly committed to the process of planting creative whims to see what gardens can grow atop a drum progression. From this, “Birds” seems to emerge as an entire world of its own, reshaping itself across its 10 minutes as part raga, part post-rock, subtle prog and ambient shades making themselves known in the keyboard and drums soon answered in the shimmer at the start of the penultimate “Karnevál III.”

So it goes. For as varied as the actual songs themselves are, with the trumpet showing up at the start of aptly-named second-track-on-second-record “Seconds” followed soon by flute and closer “Shadows” distinguished by its lysergic melancholy and the switch that brings Lőrinc Sántha back in on whispery vocals — there’s a kind of pulled guitar note at 1:52; still a smile on offer somewhere — amid the pitter-patter of ride cymbal taps, there is no lack of fluidity. And, given the fact that The Homing Bird’s Trace wound up as a River Flows Reverse album at all — because if they wanted to call it something else, one imagines they simply would — they would seem to know it.

These songs share a sense of reverence for the organic with When River Flows Reverse, as well as a unity through disunion; the effect of broadening the audience’s expectations by doing what feels right. It is a simple idea and something very, very few songwriters can accomplish. I have no doubt some of this material was edited together, that maybe more than one take of vocals or guitar was required to properly capture what they were going for, and if that’s the case at all, I don’t think it makes the strummy flourish of “Black Lake” any less authentic.

Whether it’s Sántha‘s vocal there or the noodling lead work of Dávid Nagy over Ambrus‘ cyclical sitar drone, or Iván Eln seeming to complete the thought on lead guitar in the finale — though it’s drums and banjo that have the last word; somehow fitting — The Homing Bird’s Trace is singly beautiful. It trusts the listener to weave through whatever disparate aspects might be perceived and to find its heart in the melody and the vibe, both of which await with arms wide. Structures exist but are duly vague, verses come as recitations, and the immersion of the entirety seems to encourage mindfulness even as it is otherworldly, moving. If you are willing to follow, River Flows Reverse will serve not so much to lead as to allow you to join in their own journey, to be a part and participant in the experience of this material as it happened. If one thinks of records as capturing moments, either as they happened or moments of creativity in a broader sense, The Homing Bird’s Trace is one fortunately preserved.

It would be truly silly and not at all in keeping with the soul of this music to try and predict when, if, or how River Flows Reverse might continue on from here. Even thinking about a future collection of songs — which might already exist for all I know — feels somewhat cheap in terms of looking at The Homing Bird’s Trace. Instead, let’s take a breath and be present in the present, here for the expansiveness on offer right now, leaving the rest to work itself out as it will or won’t. If what we have is today, The Homing Bird’s Trace would seem to argue in favor of taking it in as much as possible, and while I don’t necessarily agree with every position being taken in the statement on the project below, the resonance and character of this collection remain vital and sure to bring comfort where it is needed.

You’ll find the album streaming in full on the player below. Years from now, I will be proud to have hosted it.

River Flows Reverse

River Flows Reverse – The Homing Bird’s Trace (2022)


Recorded in Páty track by track, soon after the birth of Olívia.

It all started with a seedy yet friendly practice space on the Buda side, named after Miki, the underground cult hero. This is where Bence and Lőrinc (of the band Indeed) met. And as this venue was a true melting pot for musicians, jam sessions took place and the band Lemurian Folk Songs was formed, which Krisztina joined as singer. Ákos was also a regular at the venue and joined the community. However, to everyone’s dismay, Miki’s had to close down. So its musicians and bands began a wandering round town to find new places to practice and chill at. It was at one of these new venues (another old factory complex) where Ivan and Tibor entered the scene (both from the band Contremarque). Lemurian Folk Songs and Contremarque had lots of joint gigs. This led to Tibor drumming on Bence’s solo projects. Ákos also returned with his ambient postrock – showcasing his talent at a garden party – dazzling even the birds.

Volume I of the LP When River Flows Reverse was recorded haphazardly as musicians came and went, in a dank shanty in the very same garden during the global pandemic. Dávid, the guitarist of the jam-trio Slight Layers, Predictions hooked up with the gang in a psychedelic practice space-complex in Bajza Street, on the Pest side. Márton and Bence are childhood friends, having formed their first band in fourth grade. Nico is the trumpeter from the French band Hold Station. The other trumpeter, Miklós was recorded by accident while mixing another album. The song Homing Bird’s Trace (excepting the drums) was recorded during a pause of dogs barking and a baby crying, as it was during this time that Olivia – Krisztina and Bence’s daughter – was born.

The whole album is an edited, building improvisation with the drums serving as the foundation. None of the songs manifested before they left the instruments and recorded. The general mood of the release shifts slowly from glad to sad as a true mirror of our times gloomy reality. Truth be told, this is not depressing music. Depression is a new-age bullshit for boring, blinkered people. Nature is not sad, mountains don’t cry, the Sun isn’t melancholic. Sure, it can be cold and freaking scary alone in a rainy forest but the forest itself doesn’t feel depressed. Humans with souls folded by demons are the ones who have turned away from nature. But birds will keep on homing until the very end, rivers still run till they run dry, and lakes’ depths are truly the deepest black.

Mainly produced by Bence Ambrus and the Psychedelic Source Records crew.

1 – Demons
Tibor Kovács – drums
Krisztina Benus – vocals, keys
Bence Ambrus – guitar, noises, sitar, bass, lyrics, banjo
Iván Eln – guitar
Márton Havlik – Zither

2 – Seconds
Tibor Kovács – drums
Krisztina Benus – vocals, keys
Bence Ambrus – guitar, mandoline, bass, lyrics
Iván Eln – solo guitar
Márton Havlik – folk flute
Nico Delmas – trumpet

3 – Black Lake
Tibor Kovács – drums
Krisztina Benus – keys
Lőrinc Sántha- vocals, lyrics
Bence Ambrus – guitar, sitar, bass
Dávid Nagy – solo guitar

4 – Kingdom
Tibor Kovács – drums
Krisztina Benus – vocals, keys
Bence Ambrus – guitar, bass, lyrics
Dávid Nagy- solo guitar

5 – Birds
Miklós Kerner – trumpet
Krisztina Benus – vocal
Tibor Kovács – drums
Bence Ambrus – sitar, bass, lyrics
Ákos Karancz – ambient guitar
Dávid Nagy – noise guitar, slight solo
Márton Havlik – folk flute

6 – Karnevál III
Tibor Kovács – drums
Bence Ambrus – bass, slide guitar
Ákos Karancz – ambient guitar
Iván eln – solo guitar

7 – Shadows
Tibor Kovács – drums
Lőrinc Sántha – vocals, lyrics
Bence Ambrus – fingerpicking guitar, bass, banjo, slide guitar
Iván Eln – solo guitar

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