“The Endless River,” Pink Floyd’s first studio album in 20 years, harkens back to the band’s classic sound of the ’60s and ’70s but mellowed out by time and age. The album is intended to be a belated homage to keyboardist Richard Wright, who died of cancer in 2008. It is a resurrection of tracks from their recording sessions for their 1994 album, “The Division Bell,” the last time David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason would record together. “The Endless River” continues the synthesizer-laden, slowed-down aesthetic of “The Division Bell,” but while “The Division Bell” was uninspired in its melodies, the sole focus of “The Endless River” is instrumental exploration: it contains 17 purely instrumental tracks and only one with vocals, which lends it much less of a classic rock feel and more of an ambient musicality. Though it lacks the energy of Pink Floyd’s earlier music, this languidness is perfectly suited to the band’s instrumental endeavor.
“The Endless River” is a continuous ebb of fluid, dream-like music. Most of the tracks are lightly strung-together notes with barely a melody, and the 18 short tracks, some barely a minute long, seamlessly flow into each other. The album’s ethereal quality is a product of a drawn-out synthesizer and reverberating electric guitar. “Things Left Unsaid…” begins with a vibrating, celestial swoosh of a synthesizer over muffled speaking voices, which builds up into a wavering, slow melody on the electric guitar. The next track, “It’s What We Do,” begins on the dying notes of the first melody, creating an effective transition between the two tracks, yet builds intensity with a steady beat of a drum in the background and the soaring notes of an electric guitar that add power to the song. The only track with vocals comes as a climax at the end of the album. “Louder Than Words” is one of the only songs on the album with an easy-to-follow tune. A choir of voices joins David Gilmour in an uplifting chorus against the background of a piano played with more energy at this culmination of the album than previously heard before. An electric guitar gains momentum and takes over at the end of the track, finishing the album on a reverberating last note.
Richard Wright’s influence as a keyboardist is certainly present on the album. Piano and organ are prominent instruments on several tracks, lending themselves to unique instrumental combinations. On “The Lost Art of Conversation,” the piano makes up a classical melody superimposed on the space-age background of a synthesizer. In “Autumn ’68,” the organ is the most prominent instrument of the track, giving it the feel of a soundtrack from an epic movie. Its range spans over high and low notes, with the unusual addition of an electric guitar adding flourishes towards the end. The wave-like crashing of the synthesizer adds intensity to certain points throughout the song. In “Calling,” however, Wright’s work on the piano is barely there, but provides a foreboding drumming of repeated low notes in the background, as a shimmering synthesizer plays a slow minor melody that forms the body of the song.
Though “The Endless River” is much more subdued than Pink Floyd’s previous albums and lacks a vocal dimension, the instrumentation speaks for itself and contains the same power as their music has traditionally held. Pink Floyd has found a way to be interesting even without vocals and lyrics, and this has allowed them more freedom to experiment through instrumentalization. “The Endless River” contains no memorable tracks or easily remembered melodies, but the album is really more about the serene mood it has managed to create. Its easily flowing, hard-to-distinguish transition between tracks is conducive to the album’s cohesion as a whole, mimicking the fluid motion of its namesake.