When you click onto Joey Vriend’s website, you’re greeted by a quote: “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.” I don’t know about you, but quotes about the universe always make me anxious. There’s something about thinking in such a colossal scale—contemplating finitudes and infinitudes and our itsy-bitsy roles in the grand scheme of things—that makes me want to bury myself under my covers. But as I listen to the gentle sound of gurgling water that accompanies the quote, suddenly it all becomes very zen.
Joey Vriend’s third single, “Like the River,” tackles philosophical questions of life while remaining anchored to a simple melodic line that allows us to view these daunting observations from a more serenely reflective lens. It’s just Vriend, a piano, and occasional instrumental ornamentation.
“It’s been so long that I can’t explain / just what it was between joy and pain.” Vriend opens with a vulnerable statement on the passage of time. To him, time has been a sort of numbing agent, a device that blurs the lines between his emotions (for better or worse). I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately that deals with passing time, and for the most part, the themes all sound the same: time marches on, move on, let it go. Vriend reaffirms this idea in thought, but his methodology is a bit more unique.
While the song’s structure mainly follows the pop format with earnest and sincere lyricism that echoes the songwriting of Leonard Cohen, there’s also a cinematic grandeur fitting the universal scale of the song’s subject matter that harkens to the scoring of Hans Zimmer. As Vriend approaches the chorus, a percussive synth beat pushes the melody along, continuing to crescendo up to the ringing of cymbals colliding. The product of this sound is unmistakably cinematic, a perfect stage for the singer to reconcile his place, however small, in the universe. “I’m like the river,” Vriend contemplates calmly. Like the river, he keeps surging forward, never looking back.
Vriend tells us that pondering universal questions doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad or scary thing. Often times it’s a fruitful experience that allows you to learn about acceptance and perseverance. Understanding it in this way, the sonic texture of “Like the River” is undeniably comforting. Even when it builds to a climax, the water never feels disturbed, but rather gently strengthened by Vriend’s deep introspective voice and softly ringing instrumentation.
“Like the River” isn’t a sprawling song that takes you on a rollercoaster, but it’s one that is deceptively layered and nuanced. If you just close your eyes and listen to the music, you can’t help but feel at peace, if not for three minutes. The universe is vast, but Vriend somehow makes everything seem ephemeral. It’s enough to give you goosebumps, really.