Dorsten – “To The River” (EP)

The new wave of Americana influences in pop started not too long ago and has only gotten stronger in the last few years, and in 2024 it’s bringing forth an era in provocative alternative folk music that a lot of us simply didn’t see coming. Phoenix duo Dorsten’s cerebral folk sound is perhaps the perfect example of what the appropriated aesthetic can produce in ideal circumstances, and their new EP To the River is probably the best way to get introduced to it. To the River is a five-track amalgamation of emotionality as translated through superbly crafted melodies, the likes of which you just aren’t going to find a whole lot of when browsing around the top of the charts at the moment.


The lyrics come alive in “My Sweetheart,” and “Chewing Gum” not through the push of the vocal but through the fragile presentation of each verse, which initially seems to contrast with the construction of both songs but sounds perfectly paired by the time we finish either track. Dorsten does not have to be all that elaborate with their poetic statements in this record largely because they’re already communicating so much to us on the instrumental front that to have been more linguistically intense would have been to make their overall look in this EP one of cluttered insistence rather than clandestine strength. They know what they’re trying to make here, and that just can’t be said for every band in their position today.

The lead vocal here from Sophie Dorsten is perhaps reason enough to get lost in the depth of this EP’s best moments, and her masterful contribution helps to make the tonal charismas of “Losing It” and “Vernazza” specifically all the more compelling. There’s nothing wrong with inviting indulgence into the mix if you’re going to use it the right way, and in collaboration with her brother Alex, there isn’t a drop of chemistry that goes without its share of the spotlight by the time we conclude the tracklist here. Every good outing in Americana is one that’s built on the concept of balance, and this is something I find very hard to argue with when listening to a piece that feels and sounds as complete and straightforward as Dorsten’s To the River does.

It might be an aesthetical crossover that lacks some of the frills that other folk records dropping right now contain, but for my taste in indie pop, this is a five-track record that does its players justice. This isn’t just poppy Americana – it’s melodic poetry with a decidedly emotive center, and that’s not something I’m able to find a lot of in any corner of music these days. With the talent of these two players in their prime taken into consideration, there’s no getting around the potential that their style is going to have if cultivated in the right manner moving forward. They’re off to a great pace for 2024 in this set of performances, and I think you’re going to agree.

Mark Druery