Anna St. Louis’s “If Only There Was a River” feels like it could have come out sometime between “Niño Rojo” and “Ys.” It’s a gorgeous album, full of well-written songs whose constituent parts are mainly voice and guitar (and occasional strings), and in that way it’s got a vibe like a Smog or Bonnie Prince Billy record. St. Louis has a fascinating voice, like a country singer crossed with an old-style crooner, and it’s that charismatic voice that makes the record as compelling as it is. She sings about love, wanting, understanding, and counterfactuals (i.e. on the last song on the album, “River,” she sings “If only there were a river,” in an interesting grammatical change from the title of the album—this suggests that wherever she’s singing this line is definitively arid and there’s not even a remote possibility that a river might emerge, as opposed to the title of the album, which suggests that a river is possible). She also incorporates natural imagery throughout her songs, singing about water (on “Water” and “River”), wind (“I lean into the wind/and drown” on “Wind”), and big skies.
On “Desert,” especially, she creates a kind of Western vignette out of this natural imagery. Someone has been left to eke out a living in the desert while waiting for a beloved to return, all while observing the actions that take place out there: “nobody knows/nobody sees…that the back roads seem kind of wild/that the dust blowing around for miles/the pilgrims are hoping to find/their rivers had not run dry.” Resigned to isolation and abandonment, she sings, accompanied by lightly distorted guitar and strings, that “nobody sees/this deserted maze that is wrapped around me/and the fire went out/honey/long ago/But still I pretend that you’re coming home.” A beautiful song about a bizarre relationship.