Hidden Rivers: Where Moss Grows
Being Serein's showrunner and curator, Huw Roberts conceivably could get away with releasing pretty much whatever he wants on his Wales-based label, regardless of its quality or fit. But though that might be the case, Where Moss Grows, his debut solo album under the Hidden Rivers name (Roberts also partners with Otto Totland in Nest, whose Retold appeared on the label in early 2010), evidences no drop in quality compared to the other releases that have appeared on Serein since its 2005 founding.
Though its title could be read as Robert's adieu to the duo project, the opener “Flying the Nest” plays like a statement of intent, if a brief one. Pastoral and outdoorsy in tone, the piece signifies a concerted move away from concrete environments for natural, timeless surroundings (or, as the press release aptly describes it, the “sylvan valley”). That being said, Where Moss Grows isn't a retro exercise in ‘70s-styled folk that rejects the considerable impact electronic technologies have had on contemporary music production. In fact, Roberts largely eschews acoustic instrumentation altogether on the forty-two-minute collection and instead concentrates on synthesizers and drum machines as sound-sources for its eleven tracks.
In keeping with the established Serein aesthetic, Where Moss Grows is understated, elegant, and polished. Every note and gesture feels methodically considered and executed, and Roberts resists the urge to encumber the tracks with needlessly complex drum programming. Instead, basic beat patterns anchor the material, their rhythms used to subtly support the melodic dimension and provide animation when necessary.
Whereas “Futureproof” evokes the synthesizer rush associated with someone like Oneohtrix Point Never and certain Spectrum Spools artists, “White Light Peak” finds Hidden Rivers creeping into Boards of Canada territory when a synthesizer's muted warble clears a path into the piece's sequencer-laden undergrowth. The combination of synth washes and a crisp, downtempo pulse in “Red the Sun's Cold Disk” likewise hints at some degree of affinity between Hidden Rivers and the revered Warp act. In general terms, Where Moss Grows isn't ambient per se but rather a hybrid creature with connections to IDM, ambient, electronica, and prog.There are moments during representative pieces such as “Over an Open Field” and “The Liquid Mirror” that suggest Roberts regards the natural world as a paradise of sorts, or at the very least the preferable alternative to the urban locale. It's a, dare I say, extremely pretty and oft-serene recording, one capable, one imagines, of inciting the birds outside one's window to sing along with it, were the album to be played loud enough to be heard outside.