With songs like “Failing Farm” and “War is Kind,” Kindness, a Rebel — the latest release from Asheville, North Carolina’s River Whyless — is in many ways about our current moment as a country. Even the album title refers to the idea that when things are at their hardest, simple kindness can be the most difficult yet effective form of resistance.
To this end, drummer Alex McWalters tells me touring behind the new release has helped the musicians step outside the echo chamber of most contemporary political discourse.
“You realize we have much more in common,” he says, than most media would lead us to believe.
Kindness, however, isn’t just about politics. “Another Shitty Party,” sung by vocalist Halli Anderson, is about just what the title implies. With album production credit going to Paul Butler, McWalters says the four-piece band, who all met in college, had a “fifth brain in the studio,” adding a new and exciting twist to the band’s usual collaborative creative process.
For example, the album’s first track, “All of my Friends,” was stuck in a rut and almost jettisoned, McWalters recalls, until a pocket piano was introduced and the whole thing “just came back to life.”
And the production on the War-on-Drugs-esque tune “Born in the Right Country” is so perfectly cohesive — with an urging tempo, an expansive mood, light synthesizers and a wordless hook sung by Anderson — you’ll catch your breath in wonder that something so electric can still be rendered from more or less a guitar, bass and drums arrangement.
Since its release earlier this summer, Kindness has earned River Whyless tons of well-deserved exposure, most notably an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, a significant rite of passage for any band. McWalters calls the experience surreal.
“You have this impression what it’s like on the outside looking in,” he says. But once on the inside, nerves got to him. “I was blacked out half the time,” he jokes.
River Whyless plays with Adam Torres 10 pm Thursday, Aug. 9, at Hi-Fi Music Hall Lounge; $15 advance, $18 door, 21-plus. — Will Kennedy