It Holds Up: Rika – ‘How to Draw a River, Step by Step’

Posted: by The Editor

Rika-How to draw a river, step by step-LP – Goddamn Records

Rika’s earliest releases established them as the Austrian equivalent of bands like Empire Empire and Joie De Vivre: inheritors of a slow, meandering style of emo pioneered by Mineral and Christie Front Drive. Their 2009 split with Everton, from its art to its shoddy, overblown production, almost feels like a holdover from a decade earlier, and the split with Empire Empire that followed stretched that sound its logical endpoint; their contribution, “Skutner,” approaches seven minutes of starry-eyed balladry. Delicate arpeggios fall away to be replaced by spurts of distorted twinkling, riffs get drenched in and then overtaken by trumpet, and the whole song matches toward the triumphant climax that so defines the genre. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Skutner” is essentially the apex of this style of emo, a singular track that captures what makes the genre at its best so captivating.

Naturally, the band’s debut LP represented something of a lateral move.

There were, of course, those interlocking riffs that call to mind the giants of the ‘90s, and tracks still build to swooning, cathartic finales, but How to Draw a River, Step by Step is more richly textured than its predecessors. The band settled into a slowcore and post-rock inflected groove that foreshadowed what bands like Foxing, Pianos Become the Teeth, and Caracara would be doing in just a couple of years.

It’s an interesting record to look back on in the wake of ‘fifth wave emo’ and whatever else. There’s shades of Pinback and Death Cab in the gentle sway of “Retrospect,” and Carissa’s Wierd or Ida would be better touchstones for the ambient lull of “See-Through” than any traditional emo band. “Mute” and the 90-second “Safety Points” find the band hewing closer to post-rock than any indie or punk subgenre (and they’d go even farther down that rabbit hole on the double-A-side “Tired Hands” and “Solace” single that came out two years later). It’s a record that exists in the tradition of emo without necessarily existing within its confines; sure, “Ultramarine Blue” and “Departure” are stained with the twinkly arpeggios that are such hallmarks of the genre, but they’re exceptions more than the rule on How to Draw a River. In a lot of ways, the record it feels most clearly indebted to is Clarity, a record beloved mostly because it elbowed its way out of the genre and gestured toward something more expansive.
It came out only a year before Empire! Empire! and Joie De Vivre, the two leading bands in this particular lane of emo, would each put out their final release, and by that point, both of those bands had borrowed a bit from the mathier end of the spectrum too. There was nothing in the genre that was this gentle and unobtrusive anymore, and for the most part there wouldn’t be, as even the other bands whose take on emo was more downtempo tended towards different reference points (explicit post-rock or Antlers-style maximalist indie folk). Even now, most bands in emo focus on bringing back the style of the revival or pushing the fifth wave sound farther or abandoning the style altogether; few are doing this sort of stuff anymore.
Maybe that’s what explains why How to Draw a River seems to have received little attention. Maybe it’s because Rika isn’t American. Whatever explains it, the LP isn’t even mentioned once in BrooklynVegan‘s fairly comprehensive list of emo albums turning ten this year, and given the band’s inactivity since 2015, there’s unlikely to be any ten-year tour for How to Draw a River. But it’s something of a time capsule now, as one of the last records of its kind, and it sounds as good now as it did a decade ago.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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