It’s so easy to simply exist in the modern world without ever putting thought to where exactly it is that we are existing. How many times have you stopped what you were doing and tried to think of the people who came before? Perhaps the people who came before weren’t even the people who found the land. How far back can you trace who lived off the land where a Starbucks now exists? Or even your home? Sadly, I don’t believe this is something that many people ever take the time to consider.
Will Powers, who is the creation of Canada-based musician Oli Palkovits, has translated this message into song. In an interview with Aesthetic Magazine, Powers discussed the inspiration behind the song and stated, “Living in the twenty-first century amidst a pervasive ignorance of colonial history has pushed me to learn about the general circumstances that enabled us to be here today, and obliges me to convey a message of respect to that place.” He went on to describe a house located on a river, which was owned by his family and ultimately served as the basis for his inspiration.
Reminding oneself about the land they are standing on and who was there before, “Rivers,” paints beautiful images using creative wordplay. Paired with a simplistic yet effective combination of guitar, bass and drums, the song seems to sweep you away the moment you press play. Beginning by observing the simple things in life, such as the fish swimming through the river, Powers suggests that the water is simply a “looking glass,” and that if we look below the surface we can begin to see the true nature of where we are standing. This reflection on the relation between water and all of life is a common theme throughout the rest of the song. By emphasizing, “The shining silver lining, scales of armor,” Powers is seeing the fish in the water as a sort of silver lining for him to connect with the past. Continuing looking to nature’s relation with water he sings, “A dynasty of pigeons on the mountain / Are perched along the flowing spouts, the fountain / And are drinking in abundance,” followed by the poignant message of, “You take it where you can get it.”
Suddenly we are led into a Pink Floyd-esque instrumental section comfortably placed in the center of the song. A droning keyboard quietly begins to hum in the background while an ethereal slide-guitar begins moving up and down the fretboard. Continuing to speak of the commonality of all things in life, and relating them to water, Powers sings, “Old stone tablets have collapsed / Are being washed away by rains of ataraxia.” Old stone tablets, which could represent important historical documents, such as the ten commandments, can be seen as the pillars of our modern society. Ataraxia, which is a state of calmness, is what will wash over us once we shed these pillars away and reunite with nature. By the final verse of the song, we see Powers fully embracing that which came before him, “Shedding off the layers, I enter the river / I raise my arms, open up my heart.” By entering the river, he is symbolically becoming one with the land, “And so forth I am also embedded in the current.”
A simple yet creative reminder to stop and think, I believe that this song is incredibly effective at what it sets out to do. While the instrumentation leans on the simpler side, it only helps elevate your attention to the lyricism and message of the song. The style in which Powers sings can create confusion at times, as some lines are difficult to understand. However, this only caused me to listen more closely and seek out more details in regard to the things he was singing about. No matter your opinion on the song itself, you cannot disagree with its message. Next time you find your mind wandering, reel it in and think about the history of where you are.