Review:: Listen To The River | The Collection

Whatever the craft, whether you are a musician, a writer, an artist, actor, athlete, anything whatsoever (artistic or not, really), making a strong impact is something to be desired. And while impact is one thing, legacy and lasting value are what separate the sudden fads from the reveled and remembered.

Now in the process of building on the foundation that was their debut, 2014’s stellar Ars Moriendi, North Carolinian mini-community The Collection have returned with Listen to the River, a second exploration into the struggles and stumbles that lead us to where we’re heading.

Vocalist/lyricist David Wimbish describes the album as a way of “reexamining and reorienting” a sunken sense of faith, courage, and spirituality while, alongside ex-wife and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mira, “processing the divorce and recontextualizing the relationship.” With the collision of these two struggles, River’s songs were a way to approach both simultaneously. Within the first moment of the album, Wimbish croons “Oh, there was sorrow in every word / Oh, how it longed to be heard. / But for the first time, I am not speaking / I am just listening until I can hear you / On my own.”

Where the first single “You Taste Like Wine” keeps things joyous and bright with horns and keys dancing, followed by the snap-along “Mama,” we hear the first and few instances of upbeat tempos. Each track is worthy of praise (and I’ll try to remember to circle back to them) but what follows is the first true standout Listen to the River offers us.

The booming drums that lead into “Birds,” each beat louder and heavier than that which preceded it, build their way to something huge. The combination of the echoing percussion, ethereal backing instrumentals, and Wimbish’s tender-at-times vocals culminates in a chilling anthem of dealing with uncertainty. As it draws to a close, he bellows “They say ‘You ask too many questions / You start too many fires / You dream of resurrection / But you’re too scared to die.’ ” Initially perceived as a criticism, its effect changes when Wimbish no longer has to sing it alone, joined by the support of vocals behind him. By the time its last round is sung, this notion of disapproval and self-doubt transforms into one of potential and oneness and optimism.

A bit later, there’s a slight feeling of nostalgia for the group’s previous album. Ars Moriendi, featured a trio of songs titled “The Younger One,” “The Middle One,” and “The Doubtful One,” each One a four-to-five-minute storybook. Here, we are introduced to “The Older One,” who “finds light in the darkest of rooms, sun in the smallest of moons … taught movement can be safe.” Whether fictional character or autobiographical pseudonym, these moral dichotomies  presented by “The Older One” show the protagonist’s change, growth, and maturation.

Much like The Younger and Middle Ones, a drop around halfway through breaks the song in two. The gentle fall and rebuild throughout the final hundred seconds or so are both placed and performed perfectly – muffled vocals fading away, making room for a soft, haunting piano exitlude. The change in direction is sudden, though not unexpected from The Collection. Where the final minute is nothing more than simple pianowork, the conclusion feels like the tapes kept rolling because there was just a bit more story to be told.

Listen to the River comes to a close with “The Listener,” and it is a perfect example of what makes The Collection such a special group. The song itself is, bear with me, admittedly lackluster at times. But with that said, by taking full advantage of their size and range and the weapons at their disposal, they buff and shine a simple piece of sea glass into a souvenir.

As mentioned before, this album was written as a way of processing and dealing. And with that comes questions. If there are meanings to be searched for or answers hoping to be found, “No Maps of the Past” contains the questions – “where did all of our time go?” “How did I used to hold you before you knew that you needed it?” “If everything always feels new, then what if nothing is?” It may seem hyperbolic to say each word is as important as the next, but in this instance, the song as a whole is more powerful than it would be dissected into lines. Throughout, the song maintains a perfect balance of strength and delicacy, shelter and vulnerability, wretch and reconciliation. In the end, it presents what the group set out to achieve – the creation of something, hoping to honor the past while accepting the present.

So, to circle back to my initial point, what do we have here – just a strong first impact or a lasting value?
For The Collection, it isn’t a this-or-that; the answer is just yes.
Three summers ago, Ars Moriendi hit my life like a lightning bolt. It was an album that sang to me every word that I couldn’t myself conjure.
And now, once again able to find the bright and the beautiful within the dark and despaired, Listen to the River is a testament in learning you can hold onto the past without it holding you down, and that you must allow yourself to let things go where they go, let things happen as they happen, let the currents carry you where they will.

Release Date: March 24th, 2017
Rating: 4.75/5
Run Time: ~45 minutes
Check Out: “No Maps of the Past,” “Birds,” “Mama”

The Collection

Track listing:
1. ”Threshing Floor”
2. “You Taste Like Wine”
3. “Mama”
4. “Birds”
5. “No Maps of the Past”
6. “Siddhartha (My Light Was a Ghost)”
7. “Sing of the Moon”
8. “So Many People”
9. “The Older One”
10. “The Alchemy of Awe”
11. “The Listener”

New Trailer:

Ars Moriendi Documentary Trailer | The Collection

Our friends in The Collection have released the trailer video for their upcoming documentary on the making of their album, Ars Moriendi. We loved this album so much that we listed it as our second favorite album of 2014. Please check this trailer out and show these guys some love!

Review:: Ars Moriendi | The Collection


When first prompted with this assignment, I entered with a heavy heart.

I had recently dealt with the self-inflicted loss of a close friend, and upon receiving this album, I learned the members of Greensboro, North Carolina’s The Collection composed the record within the aftershock of a friend’s suicide. The album combines often dark, uncertain thoughts with roaring, massive instrumentals and passionate vocals. This sort of juxtaposition lends a hint at the reasoning behind the album’s title: Ars Moriendi. Sharing the name of ancient Latin text written during the period of the Black Death, which detailed protocol on how to “die well,” the record acts (to me, being overly-analytical) as translations of the values the texts taught – that dying has a good side, that there are chances for consolation and redemption, that death is not something to be afraid of. It is, literally, the art of dying.

“From Dust” acts as an opening bookend, teasing with soft violins and chimes, growing rapidly before leading directly into “Scala Naturae,” which features a striking vocal spot from Mira Wimbish, one of a few that she delivers. When lead vocalist David Wimbish joins her within the minute, the two combine gracefully. Presenting the supporting vocalist is an interesting choice, and is one that I was pleased with.

While “The Borrowers” is technically in the coveted third spot here, “The Gown of Green” is the third full track. Regardless, both ≈3:00 songs could interchangeably hold the spot. “The Borrowers” quickly shifts from gentle to huge and back again, with thumping drums and a horns section, while the latter sticks to the more-conventional strings and percussion without sacrificing grandeur.

On the first of what I clustered together as a trilogy, comprised of “The Younger One” and later “The Middle One” and “The Doubtful One,” Wimbish begins softly, singing just above a calm acoustic guitar. Just as it seems to end, his strums intensify and rapid drums bring the song to a dramatic, echoing exit. “The Middle One” (which I’ve pegged as my favorite of the three) begins plucky and folksy. Mira loans her voice to duet segments yet again, this time acting as support rather than taking lead. Even with the two sharing vocal duties, the vocals as a whole take a backseat on the song. Just under the midway mark, a brief piano solo triggers an instrumental avalanche of horns, violins, percussion, and keys. David’s vocals soon resume, but are left a bit overshadowed.

With quick shifts in both range and tempo, “The Art of Dying” features arguably David’s best vocal performance throughout Ars Moriendi. The accompaniment behind him races through, and as a low dip signals what you’d expect to be the end of the song, it swells back up once more and closes out in the midst of a great chaos. Just as this one unexpectedly continues further, each of the pair of songs that follow it – “Broken Tether” and “Capernaum” do the same. On the later of the two, the finale features a swirl of strings and drums, and fits with the song very well. With the first, on a song that was upbeat and playful, the closing minute brings a dark, eerie piano solo. Had it been offered on its own, it could have been more successful, though its presentation here makes it feel tacked.

The five-minute “To Dust” brings the album to a close in solid fashion, which is impressive, because to do so after the gorgeous “Some Days I Don’t Want to Sing” was a tall order. Even as the shortest song on the record, “Some Days …” leaves one of the largest impacts. On a record that displays countless musicians’ skills with dozens of instruments (see lineup below), here we have nothing more than piano and violins tucked beneath Wimbish’s vocals. And while the bright-and-cheery atmosphere that is present throughout the majority of the album masks the topics of death and uncertainty and potential faithlessness, there are no masks here. There is brokenness and pain present in Wimbish’s vocals, and his trembling whimpers are revealing and heartwrenching and absolutely stunning.

If Ars Moriendi has only one message to say, it’s this:life doesn’t end when a person dies. Death is always thought to be this enigmatic, answerless thing that we all fear. But, while the album was written following the loss of a close friend of the group, it brought about something new and beautiful and hopeful. And while it may not provide answers or closure or anything concrete and definitive, it still provides something. It takes tragedy and turns it into something triumphant.

Release Date: July 15th, 2014
Rating: 4.75/5
Runtime: 55:35

01. “From Dust”
02. “Scala Naturae”
03. “The Borrowers”
04. “The Gown of Green”
05. “The Younger One”
06. “Garden”
07. “The Middle One”
08. “The Doubtful One”
09. “The Art of Dying”
10. “Broken Tether”
11. “Capernaum”
12. “Some Days I Don’t Want to Sing (O’ Death Where Is Thy Sting?)”
13. “To Dust 

David Wimbish- Accordion, Guitar, Banjo, Cello, piano, Brass, Throat
Tom Troyer- Guitar, Glockenspiel, Flute
Steven Berbec – Trumpet
Mira Wimbish- Accordion, Throat, Auxiliary Percussion
Whitney Johnson- Throat, Glockenspiel, Auxiliary percussion, Organ
Tim Austin- Drums
Hayden Cooke- Bass
Philip Keller- Baritone, Auxiliary Percussion
Christina Goss- Piano, Rhodes
Christina Brooke- Cello
Maria Fischer-Violin
Hope Baker- Clarinet
Josh Weesner- Violin
Graham Dickey- Trombone
Edd Kerr- Guitar
Sandra Wimbish – Trumpet
Joy Waegerle- merchant, keeping us sane, smiling

Past, possibly present, and hopefully future members: 
Ben Thompson- Bass, organ, Auxiliary Percussion
Luke Thompson- Aux Percussion
Chase Salmons-Drums
Jennifer Millis – Cello
Blake Burchette- Trombone
Xavier Hobbs – Trombone
Heather Faulkner-Violin
Stacie Cummings-Cello
Joanna Hampton- Piano, Trumpet, other doo-dads
Steve Rozema -Trumpet, Glockenspiel, Piano, Banjo

Written by Eric Riley