It’s a shame to see how bands operating outside of recognised genre boundaries can often struggle to pick up much from that, but in some cases, it’s definitely understandable. There are bands who are so dead-set on peddling their own unique vision of music that wider translation just doesn’t seem viable, and while they may only be around for brief moments, it can lead to some truly incredible music in its own right. On the other hand though, there are bands whose idea of skirting across the outside of genres amounts to pulling wholesale from the past without any sort of update (the current retro-rock blight should be enough evidence for that), and up to now, River Becomes Ocean have shown all the signs of a band with a severe lack of willingness to break away from the late-2000s post-hardcore they’re currently hitched to. It’s led to lead singles that haven’t been awful for the most part, but the biggest redeeming factor being a feature from Cancer Bats’ Liam Cormier has only highlighted a lack of real inspiration on their own merits, and subsequently dropped expectations for A Motion Paralysed into a charitable mid-range at best.
In hindsight though, even that may have been too optimistic, especially when A Motion Paralysed’s medium of choice is a brand of milquetoast, overwrought Britrock paired with the monochromatic slushiness of a latter-day Young Guns release. Considering how far alt-rock and post-hardcore have come in terms of drive and organic intent is enough to make this seem like a significantly disappointing experience already, but for what may also be the first real dud of 2019 puts River Becomes Ocean in an uphill battle, especially when this is the foot that they’ve landed on.
It’s a tough claim to dispute too, especially in the wider context of the scene at large; hell, even with Cormier packing less fire than usual on Silence Means Nothing, his appearance only highlights how wide the rift is. Of course, the biggest factor is how River Becomes Ocean present themselves sonically, and to be blunt, this feels like it would’ve been sloughed off with the shovelware back when super-polished Britrock was actually in style. There’s definitely an argument to be made in favour of incorporating influences from classical music and film scores into alt-rock to make an already soaring formula swell even more, but the runny synth lines and mixes that feel packed with fluff to disguise how hollow they actually are manage to skirt totally around how much more effective an organic presentation would be. It leaves tracks like Face You and Happy packed with a woolly, undefined sense of bluster and an uncompromising shine that does them no favours, and the attempts at pulsing electro-rock on The End and You Said falls into the muffled, foggy holding pattern of The Amity Affliction’s Misery, albeit only slightly better. Even moments that do feel a bit more connected to their heavier post-hardcore roots like This Hell Is Heaven Sent and Silence Means Nothing largely land as anomalies among the flat, colourless landscapes that comprise so much of River Becomes Ocean’s sound, and given how much of a slog this album can be to get through, each listen becomes harder and harder to isolate anything that truly stands out.
As such, it’s hard to blame the band’s efforts in making themselves appear as desirable as possible, and claims of a deeper, darker lyrical focus woven into the subtext of relationship-centric post-hardcore could make strides towards that if they were able to deliver. And again, the disappointment that runs through A Motion Paralysed is palpable, not only because said claims feel spurious at best, but because outside of the odd lyrical twist deep below the surface, River Becomes Ocean’s content feels remarkably scarce. It’s good to have moments like Take My Hand with content that feels more explicitly grounded in subject matter like the refugee crisis to form even some semblance of depth, but the slow, shallow ballads that bulk out an exorbitant amount of this album don’t feel like a suitable alternative; even if there was a bit more detail, it’d be fine if still unremarkable, but with nothing of the sort, A Motion Paralysed simply coasts by in the extreme. There’s a simper and melodrama to Happy and Never Enough that’s not compelling or earned, and You Said just ends up grating in the way it guts itself with prioritising flash over substance. It’s not always that bad – the fact that the majority of this album is more harmless that worth truly raking over the coals speaks volumes – but emotional rigour is not a prominent feature in River Becomes Ocean’s wheelhouse, regardless of how much they try.
But that ultimately leads to a more pertinent question – what is in their wheelhouse? A Motion Paralysed doesn’t provide much convincing evidence for anything, and what’s left is a husk with incredibly fleeting glimpses of a band for whom “okay” seems to be the most reachable target. Maybe there’s more to come in the future that further growth with turn into a reality, but right now, from the undercooked, overworked nothingness that A Motion Paralysed brings to the table, that doesn’t seem to be down the pipeline. At least it’s not horrendously, offensively awful, but something that gives an impassioned response on any end of the quality scale is always better than something that leaves no impression.
For fans of: Young Guns, The Amity Affliction, Breathe Atlantis
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Motion Paralysed’ by River Becomes Ocean is released on 18th January on Department Musik.