The Honeymoon Suite by River Westin | Album Review
River Westin’s sophomore project brings a LGBTQ+ spin on the 50s/60s sound.
I found out about River’s work through an Apple playlist highlighting up and coming LGBTQ+ artists. I was quite taken by his wistful throwback sound that was married with an indie/hip-hop flavor that made Lana Del Rey’s first two projects so evocative. Since then, Westin has dived deeper into the realms of Jazz crooners of the 50s and 60s. He blends this dreamy standards sound with the relaxing backing of lo-fi hip-hop that has taken many a studying playlist by storm. The culmination of the two makes for a perfect natural progression in his sound. Westin has been teasing this project since the beginning of the year. Instead of the country western sound he explored on his debut, The Honeymoon Suite explores jazz, chill hop, classic waltzes, and dream pop.
We open the album with the tranquil jazz standard sound of “Daydreaming”. The mix of milky strings and soft guitars gives the song a soft halo of sound. This opener is our introduction to beginnings of a relationship. Here, Westin is daydreaming over a man that he has seen. We get imagery of his blue eyes and the thoughts of what River hopes will come to life from chance encounter. It’s one of the more calm more classically (50s/60s pop) inspired tracks on the album. Although not my favorite, it does provide the foundation for how this relationship will unfold as the album goes on.
One of the earliest releases teased for this project is “Red Hot Blues”. Released in late 2021, the song is a tale of longing and ache backed by a creamy blend of beachy guitars, dreamy synths, and lo-fi hip hop beats. In some ways the sound is reminiscent of Tennis’ early work (i.e. Cape Dory). Westin’s yearning for the man whose smile has sent his heart a flutter, and it’s palpable, “It’s been red hot or blue/ Since I met you/ It’s been indigo mood/ Every day.” The cool vocal cadence works well along side the soundscape he has constructed. I like how this song seems to build upon the story being told on the album. We’re getting closer to these two becoming a couple.
“St. Tropez” continues with subtle beach doo-wop sound with a modern flair. I appreciate the inclusion of the lo-fi beats which keeps the song driving forward. We continue on the themes of love and passion as Westin sings about his desire for this man, “Let’s tighten our embrace/ I think you know I want the taste/ Ooh it’s just like chocolate on my tongue/ Melt me til I feel true love.” Vocally, this brings to mind the vintage sensuality that Lana Del Rey continually flirts with. The luxurious imagery of St. Tropez, France calls back to classics like Ricky Nelson, and the milky vibe of the music will definitely be a hit if you were a fan of Lana’s earlier work.
We take a turn to a more Bossa Nova sound on “Calendar Boy”. The production sounds like the crash of ocean waves. I quite like the sound here. River remarks on the ‘perfect man’ often seen posing on the calendars of his youth, hand how he promises to live up to this ideal, “I promise I can be your / Sunbeam, daydream, make believe / I’m the calendar boy on your wall when you were 17/ I’ll be everything you dreamed.” Clearly, there is some sonic inspiration from the jazzier side of the lo-fi hip-hop movement here. It’s very nice on the ears. The lyric video, inspired from classic 90s Sojo anime (including some lovely backing taken from Sailor Moon transformation scenes) is also a very nice touch.
“Sweetheart” takes a much jazzier approach. The autumnal sound of the upright bass and electric guitar bring to mind some of my favorite jazz standards such as Doris Day’s “I Remember You”. I really like the tenderness he provides to the lines, “I believe/ The words are on your tongue/ Push them out through your lips, / How I long for you to call me sweetheart/ Please make me your love.” It brings to mind the flutters in your stomach as you hear your partner say “I love you” for the first time. I find this style to work very well for River’s higher register. We are dropped back into classic rock ballad/modern indie pop mix with “Pink Velvet”. In a way the song is a sort of sister to Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet”. You can hear this call back to this in the lines, “… Saw your bodies tight with my tear filled eyes/ Remember that night when you were mine/ Pink Velvet.”We are taken to the shattering realization that your partner is seeing someone else. The doo-wop motion of the organ sample against the waltz stylings of drums, strings, piano, and guitar call to mind punching the jukebox in the swell of emotions.
“Cinema” has the most in common with a song like “Born to Die”. I say this in a positive manner as it’s not a copy, but more a homage to style Lana created on Born to Die. Westin adds much less pomp and circumstance to the track. The song really comes to life in the chorus as the strings swell into light, the synths add an edge, and the beat kicks into overdrive. This budding relationship has River imagining the perfect Hollywood moments on screen, “You write the speech/ I’ll sing the song/ Credits are rolling/ We can’t stay too long/ So say you’ll come/ And we can drive into the sun/ Like they do it at the cinema.” The samples of camera flashes only add to the ambiance. You get a full feel for the enraptured feeling of falling for a man at the club and hoping this all weaves into something beautiful. I really enjoy this song.
We return to the dreamy standards sound on “Old Love”. The guitar and piano work bring to mind a smoky bar jazzy ballad. The promise that Westin brings here is to be true, unlike the his partner’s last lover, “Your old love always charmed you out your blues/ And your old love wore the cologne I still do/ But darling I’ll never let you down/ No I won’t mess around like your old love.” You can hear River’s appreciation for this soft 50s/60s sound well here. I really like the lyrics to the song. My one draw back is the length to the song coming in at just under 2 minutes and 30 seconds. As you fall into the lull of it, it is already about to end. I wish it lasted just a bit longer.
“Make in the Shade” takes the most inspiration from the chill hop/lo-fi hip-hop genre. The production and samples bring to mind nocturnal city lights and make your body gently sway to the beat. The swells of strings against the silky synths and soft beats work beautifully in Westin’s dream pop/indie pop sound. We continue to the realms of heartbreak here as River laments over a relationship he sees is destined to fail, “If you’d be honest and true/ No darling that could never ever be you/ Just cigarette burns I can keep/ Cause you can have any boy you could ever dream/ Cause baby you’re made in the shade/ You’re too cool for me.” I really like this style for Westin. His breathy delivery works quite well against chillhop sounds. This is a favorite for me off the album. I also love the 90s anime/Sailor Moon inspired music video.
We close out the album on more soft classically influenced ballad of “Flowers”. The orchestral elements bring to mind a cinematic vibe. We end on the memories of once fruitful relationship. The song opens on all the joy the his partner’s flowers would bring to him. Now, these surprises only come as an act apology for an argument that had ensued. By the end of the track, these flowers have lost all meaning. Again, Westin’s writing is full and evocative. This song closes out the ‘honeymoon period’ of the relationship the album was focusing on.
I really liked how the album flowed together from start to finish lyrically. I had not really listened to any of the tracks he had released prior to the album’s release and I am glad I held off. They work very well as a whole to bounce off one another, to weave a story of falling in love, going through the ‘honeymoon’ period of a relationship, and eventually coming to reality that the relationship is not what you thought it was. Westin’s work in the chillhop genre works especially well with his affinity for jazz and 50s/60s pop music. It comes off much more authentic and lush. His songwriting feels right out of the era, but with a LGBTQ+ twist. Check it out when it drops November 18th, 2022. My favorite tracks:
- “Red Hot Blues”
- “Calendar Boy”
- “Made in the Shade”
- My overall rating: 8.0 out of 10.