Rain Phoenix’s River is a touching tribute to late brother 26 years after his death

Avery Wohleb

For the first time ever, Rain Phoenix has released solo music. On Oct. 31, Phoenix dropped her debut album River, a 32-minute record consisting of tame, acoustic tracks that focus on her personal experiences with death and grief.

The album is a tribute to Phoenix’s older brother, River. 26 years ago on Halloween, the highly successful young actor and musician died from an overdose outside a nightclub in Los Angeles. Having been present at the time of River’s passing, Phoenix has avoided nearly every opportunity to speak about her late brother in the public eye since. 

Nearly three decades later, Phoenix is ready to open up. With an abundance of public support from her younger brother Joaquin, who has been in the spotlight having recently starred as the lead in the newly released film “Joker,” Phoenix is openly mourning River in the best way she can: through music.

It is immediately clear through the half hour of music that Phoenix found the album to be an outlet toward closure on the death of her brother. While the lyrics are equally as powerful as they are heartbreaking, the low production value of the songs sometimes minimize the purpose of the album to Phoenix. Though some songs are able to shine through the haze, others do not, making the album inconsistent in the overall quality. 

The album begins with “Immolate,” a track Phoenix dropped on River’s birthday in August. From the start, the piano ballad makes it clear where Phoenix intends to go with the album, singing lyrics such as “I can still see a light, I keep it alive.” With minimal instrumentation and raw, unfiltered vocals, the song seems so highly personal it almost feels intrusive to be listening to. At times, Phoenix’s sluggish annunciation makes the lyrics indecipherable, but ultimately it doesn’t feel inappropriate alongside a slow, defining introduction.

“Stay Together,” the second track, contrasts in its more developed nature and tiptoes towards a country sound. With several moments of bizarre instrumentation, such as abrupt moments from a synthesizer or a music box, the song sometimes seems inconsistent in direction. Repeating lyrics “Everything goes away” next to an upbeat arrangement, Phoenix takes a peaceful approach towards death that is ultimately undermined by a chaotic and unpredictable song.

The album concludes with “Hey Heartache,” where Phoenix reminisces of previous years in a touching reveal of grief. With a heavy orchestral accompaniment, the track is the most developed of the album, a perfect ending to a relatively mellow record. Singing “When I was a child, running wild, you were right there with me,” Phoenix recalls memories with River, shedding light over a loss that is clear to have so deeply affected her within a well created piece.

Above all, the album is a heartwarming and personal tribute to a young man taken away much too soon. River successfully conveys Phoenix’s journey with loss and the ups and downs that come with it. Where grief once bogged Phoenix down, it is clear she has come a long way with it, creating a delicate love letter to her late brother in the form of eight beautiful and intimate songs.