Canadiana singer-songwriter Ivan Rivers is a fella of a few handles: The Bard of Brucefield, The Eternal Sigher, The Sad Adult Superstar, and principally, the Celebrated Folk Icon of Huron County, Ontario. His latest project is the dual release of two EPs, Mystic Keg & Confidante, originally released fall of 2016 as the Celebrated Folk Mixtape. Featuring releases recorded at two disparate parts on his stumbling sojourn down the path to enlightenment, Mystic Keg & Confidante capture two sides of a complicated and sorrow-soaked psyche determined to unearth poetry and heart from the muck and mire of 21st-century living. Here’s the story as the Celebrated Folk Icon would have you hear it.
“I had been holding back an EP I recorded in 2013 called the Mystic Keg EP. Recorded in Golden Gate, Florida with Derek Perry of Naples beach punks Fake Problems, Mystic Keg featured detailed production and arrangement from Derek, as well as luminous contributions from some of my favourite bands, like Derek’s FP bandmates Chris Farren and Sean Stevenson, Tanner Jones of Florida emo-ites You Blew It!, and Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady. This was the first half of the mixtape.
The second half was entitled Confidante and was recorded in my country home in Brucefield, Ontario, some two and a half hours west of Toronto by the sandy shores of great Lake Huron. Andrew Patten of Toronto folk heroes The Most Loyal recorded and fleshed out the production with help from his wife Sarah Davigno (also of The Most Loyal) and Canadian pedal steel ace Aaron Goldstein (Daniel Romano, City & Colour, Donovan Woods).
Conceptually, the Celebrated Folk Mixtape was supposed to make light of CBC-core, adult contemporary folk values and merge them with hip-hop mixtape culture in a way that was to relieve the emotional heft of the album’s storytelling. Mystic Keg was an EP recorded two years after the death of my father; lyrically-obsessed with themes of loss, religious and existential meaning, and an otherworldly optimism amidst despair that I preached both as a mantra to myself and as dogma to the listener. Confidante was the fallout, all songs written after the inevitable breakdown, bipolar diagnosis, and manic episode that came from trying to sustain that level of positivity while being a twenty-something obsessed with vintage Conor Oberst-style bloodletting and the ever-looming, rarely-illuminating Western-culture quest for meaning.
The mixtape idea, unfortunately, was a product of manic thought as I underwent another bout of mania, obsessed with embodying some hip-hop/folk pseudo-mogul character. After seeing Kanye West and Chance the Rapper in a month’s span and constantly smoking dirty country weed, I started smoking Snoop’s batch from Toronto dispensaries, buying ridiculous and expensive jewellery, freestyling at college parties, calling myself a mystic shaman, and broadcasting this insanity all over social media as a lead up to the tape’s drop on Halloween. The days before I entered hospital and began recovery, I opened up for Justin Rutledge, accidentally posted a lewd, nearly nude video to my Snapchat story, dropped my mixtape, hallucinated Beyoncé as an angel, and had my song ‘Was It You I Left Behind?’ playing on a local radio station in my home county. It was a comedy of errors to say, like, the absolute least.
Despite these turn of events, I’m committed to the release of these projects and stand behind their artistry, as I can’t reverse the sands of time no matter how much celebrated folk strength I esoterically conjure. Mystic Keg and Confidante stand alone and together and are inextricably linked to the fabric of the celebrated folk narrative of my life. As a more manic me would say, A$AP Rivers always striving for that #celebratedfolkzen (*shudder*).”
Aside from the circumstances of the tape’s release, the two EPs tell a tender and torrid tale on their own, masterfully spun by Rivers and his celebrated folk friends. Mystic Keg is Floridian swampy and just as mystic as the title suggests, with expert arranging by Derek Perry bringing the varied palette of the record to light; check how the album moves from the cosmic backwoods wonder of “Buzz Eternal” to the emo revival-indebted “Grappling with a Feeling” to the stoned gospel rave-up of “I Am In Yr Darkness.” Confidante is its eerier and drearier counterpart, featuring songs soaked in sorrow but lovingly handled by Andrew Patten, from the Twin Peaks-esque synth incantations of “Certain Soul” and “Confidante” to the twee-puckishness of “Human Touch” to the country balladry of “Ancient Grains” and “Was It You I Left Behind?”.
And he wouldn’t be called the Celebrated Folk Icon if he wasn’t a masterclass songwriter and storyteller. Rivers evocatively excavates emotional depth from his tragedies and rings and sings universal truths across both releases. Where “I Offer Proof” posits Rivers as “the view from the party patio pitchin’ empties” or “the childhood treehouse where you grew up and made love in”, he also begs for “someone to find me and fuck me and tell me that I’m beautiful when I know I’m not” in “Boy in the Void.” There’s a striking balance between emotional authenticity and attention to the minute moments of everyday beauty, like the near last call atmosphere in “Confidante” where “soft hearts sparkle beams” and “utterances blend”, where Rivers earns his celebrated folk handle.
After a turbulent few seasons, Ivan Rivers now lives in the Royal City of Guelph, Ontario, after bouts in small-town Brucefield and big-city Toronto, where he lived for six years and started his solo career under his former nom de plume the “drinkin’ man’s thinkin’ man” Mikey Chuck Rivers. After years playing shows from Nashville to Nova Scotia, contemplating existence over warm six-packs and ever expanding universes, Celebrated Folk Icon Ivan Rivers endures now as a sober man still obsessed with life’s purpose, albeit with a clearer vision; luckily his obsessions result in some truly celebrated folk songs.
Download Mystic Keg & Confidante for free from Eternal Bummer Records.
1. Buzz Eternal
2. I Offer Proof
3. Boy in the Void
4. Grappling with a Feeling
5. I Am In Yr Darkness
1. Certain Soul
2. Ancient Grains
3. Human Touch
5. Was It You I Left Behind?