Fresh from the superb album that is Cool Dreams, Holly Zell’s song The River has unsurprisingly been making waves online. Zell’s creativity emerges within a bare and intimate soundscape here, her gentle vocals shine in a totally new way, and as the song gathers momentum – the intensity rises, the lyrical poetry captivates, and the whole thing stands tall in a brilliantly refreshing manner.
As suggested when we took an in depth look at the album in full, Holly Zell has a way with writing that doesn’t fall victim to the industry standards or expectations. Instead, she follows her own rules and her own inner desires to express. This song in particular makes for the perfect example of a piece that encapsulates the very sentiments at its core. The song artistically underlines the ideas and feelings of traveling and seeing the world and its nature in a powerful way, growing from minimalist and whispered, to almighty and powerful, and this happens musically, lyrically, and through Holly Zell’s own breath-taking performance.
To re-witness this single actually, as a separate experience from the full album, is to really see the unique nature of Zell’s writing and her vocal style. The bare piano sound at the beginning paints a Disney-like picture, but this soon evolves into something else entirely. In the way that songs like Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? offer unexpected melodic strength and power, The River utilises contrast in an equally clever and effective fashion. The smooth and subtle verses pave the way incredibly well towards what is a sensational and immersive hook – a huge moment that really rains down around the listener.
The more you hear this, the more addictive and satisfying it becomes. This is alternative pop at its greatest – that chorus, the melody, the descending nature of the notes, the musicianship, the performance; this is precisely the kind of unpredictable, alternative pop hit that would have the younger music fan singing out loud into the hair brush or whatever else was lying around. What’s great about it though is that the lyrics are so far from what the majority of mainstream releases tend to offer. This is not purely a relationship song, with a basic, familiar story-line. On the contrary, this is poetic and expressive, inspiring travel and deeper realms of thought, and all of this adds even more value to an already stunning piece of music and writing.
Absolutely worth a listen at volume, and indeed a download. The album in full is a must but The River as a starting point is an easy joy for music fans who’ve tired of the same old structures and soundscapes.