August Greenberg has a bank of 150 songs. They’ve been working on this trove since 2015 after a move to Philadelphia, letting their comfort with the acoustic guitar stretch and strengthen. After a show at local venue Kung Fu Necktie, August met guitarist Tyler Asay, pulled him into their world, and the two of them emerged with The Guide to Oversharing in May 2019. Produced by Tyler and enhanced by friends met at local gigs and in other projects, it was their first outing as Riverby, departing from the solitude of bedroom recording for a homegrown dabble into pop-rock glitz and flute-kissed poetry.
During an open mic smoke break in nearby Manayunk, Riverby scooped up bassist Doug Keller to relieve Tyler of dual duty. Dan Nazario would round out the quartet on drums, debuting on “Maybe,” a single overseen by his producer brother Justin. As the band’s live presence continued in and around the city, the band was Frankensteining song ideas to deliver something more intentioned and focused than its predecessor. But when looking at Smart Mouth in the rearview, August views their debut album with less-than rose-colored glasses. “We were just getting high in a basement messing around. If you listen, you can hear how out of tune things are.” (Nevertheless, the home-recorded Smart Mouth and its bright, punchy pop punk earned them a spot on the Take This to Heart Records roster and nods from local tastemakers The Key and national ones, like NPR.)
The road to Absolution—out March 25th via T3H—began with a fine-tuned comb through Riverby’s influences, everything from the Dragon Age series of role-playing games to a brush with the Pixies and Talking Heads. August initially approached the follow-up as a concept record tied to specific tarot cards, but the final narrative rested around the unlikeliest of inspirations: religion in the face of the end. “It’s about ending fear with mortality and finally coming to solutions with your shit, closing the door on things that have been festering: your history and yourself, and making peace with God. i don’t even believe in God, but on the off chance He’s fucking real, I’d like us to be cool.”
Riverby entered the studio with Jim Wirt (Jack’s Mannequin, Fiona Apple) in July, a process that could be summed up as gleeful surrender. “Jim wanted us to record guitars chord by chord. It was hell, but he said it would work out. We let him do whatever he asked, and it did work out,” August recalls. Wirt’s advice extended to song-shaping touches, like the scattershot cowbell/shaker rhythm on “Off With Yr Head'' and the swells of Rhodes exhaling through “Heavy to Hold.” The band was also augmented by Camille Faulkner’s string arrangements, adding dramatic heft and shocking urgency into songs that were already, for the most part, bursting at the seams with activity. (A key exception to this is “Chapel,” a spare acoustic ballad that had August resisting every impulse to cart in the full band.)
Absolution builds on Smart Mouth’s imperfections by baking them into the formula. “Making a perfect record is so dumb,” August admits with a slight laugh. “When you see me live, it’s not perfect, so I wanted to capture that.” This lack of restraint led to moments of discovery in the studio, like how the venom spat through opener “Baseless” pushed back against denials of sinister behavior while being mostly ad-libbed. The thundering and wounded “Say It,” a song blueprinted in 2018 left to rot on the cutting room floor, was saved by the studio time, transforming far beyond its first stage.
Riverby’s twin flames of self-reliance and self-preservation continue here, just with more teeth. August barrels through “The Moon,” the band’s love letter to early-2010s indie, exasperated and frustrated as the band grows skittish. “Burn Yr House Down,” targeted towards an abuser, is vicious and acid-tongued, a write-in for most chaotic when played live. “Birth by Sleep” topples the pedestals built by dopey conceptualizers, a eureka moment that August left a shower to write down, shampoo still in their hair.
Absolution gains its title and thematic elements from a hidden gem tucked away in “Imagine the Ending,” a closer honoring a departed friend and the tender connections at the heart of the band. What began as an epic eight-minute closer was whittled down by thirty seconds each time it was rehearsed—netting an emotionally dense moment amplified by churning strings. No spoilers for the hidden track. Sometimes you don’t get all the answers right away. No one knows that more than Riverby.
Absolution is out March 25th via Take This To Heart Records