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Mr. Hymn: "El Río" | EP Review

"A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts," Dominic Sena, known as Mr. Hymn, claims on "Wake," the opening song on his newest EP, El Río. On El Río, though, these thoughts are hardly empty or banal. In a stirring four-song package, the Orlando artist manages to navigate tricky waters, exploring what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.

The album's title is purposeful and symbolic; El Río, which means "the river" in Spanish, was "made in search of something," the artist states on his Bandcamp. "As I continue to swim through this life, and attempt to listen to the river, I am writing down all I see."

Like a body of water, the EP resembles a stream of consciousness — a rush of impressions that stress being aware of one's role in the world. "Wake," for example, is a meditation on the environment and climate change. Its lyrics, spoken by a third party, sound much like the voiceover for a scientific film. ("We are destroying nature. We are so tied up in our minds that we've lost all our senses and don't realize that the air stinks, water tastes like chlorine, the human landscape looks like a trash heap, and much of our food tastes like plastic.") Pianos tinkle in the background before clanging drums burst out, the rhythm transforming and waking us up, spurring us to action.

The remaining songs on the EP ("El Río," "Endlessly," and "Believe") operate along similar premises, but with different constructions. "El Río," sung in Spanish, starts out with churning water in the background, before pivoting to a more energetic beat typical of synthy bedroom-pop. The lyrics, while sparse, are contemplative, marking the transition from innocence to experience in a world moving perhaps too rapidly and unjustly: "Yo nado en el río / Yo como la fruta prohibida / Yo protejo mi jardín / Y sé que voy tras de mis lágrimas a la verdad." ("I swim in the river / I eat the forbidden fruit / I protect my garden / And I know I'm going through my tears toward the truth.")

"Endlessly" mixes classic bedroom-pop motifs with sounds of a science-fiction movie, with drone-like whirs and hums permeating the background. The song aches of loneliness and of wanting to belong. ("Now I'm far from home / Not that I ever really had one.") A rhythmic "oh so far away" adds to a feeling of being trapped in melancholy.

The final song, "Believe," ponders the meaning and merit of moving forward, looking for what we may have lost. "The sun will rise even if you do not wake / The moon will light all the branches by the bark / And their leaves will fall," Mr. Hymn sings in a steady, unwavering voice. A techno/psychedelic beat reaches a crescendo, then breaks like a wave upon the shore. "Crystallize the eyes of all who still know what they see / Crystallize the hearts of all who still choose to believe," Mr. Hymn says in a heightened voice, his tone almost haunting.

Although Mr. Hymn claims "I'm still so far away" at the end of his final track, El Río comes a little bit closer to finding a sense of truth.

Check out his earlier EP, "The Scene Won't Wait," here.

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