For the last couple of months Dry The River have been the band that I have needed a fix of on a daily basis such is the impact their music has had on my musical psyche. In my opinion they are the most exciting new band in the UK at the moment and with the release of their debut album Shallow Bed they have delivered a striking, compelling and emotional record that should be one of the most widely acclaimed albums of 2012.
For the last 5 years or so the Indie-Folk movement has been riding on a crest of a wave with no signs of slowing up. But one does get the nagging feeling that it has started to reach saturation point and the genre is in need of a jolt in the arm to maintain its renaissance. Dry The River are quite possibly the band that will spearhead this movement by adding a much needed slice of musical muscle to their beautiful songs. This is hardly surprising given the band members wide array of musical backgrounds, including a shared love for Punk and U.S. Hardcore. What the band achieves with this album is a sound that combines the type of melodious folk songs and pastoral harmonies that made Fleet Foxes so endearing, and build them up with the orchestral, melodramatic crescendos of Arcade Fire to make a huge sound that at times verges on the majestic. While some may say that it is overblown, the songs allow you into their heart well before the band start to throw their undoubted power behind them.
The songs are mostly filled with sorrowful sentiments of lovers lost, heartbroken soul-searching, along with biblical reference points that conjure up intriguing imagery, with Peter Liddle’s pure and fragile voice able to convey emotion better than most singers out there. He is able to switch from a whispery hush to impassioned cry with ease and these qualities, coupled with the stunning harmonies of bassist Scott Miller and guitarist Matt Taylor, makes for some of the loveliest vocals heard this side of Fleet Foxes.
The track ‘Weights And Measures’ is a prime example of the bands ability to build their songs up from understated beginnings to huge cavernous walls of noise that knock you off your feet. Liddle’s voice is accompanied by only a faint organ and gentle acoustic guitar as he mourns the end of a relationship “You’ve made your decision, so get up and leave”. As two other voices join him the pain is all too evident as they sing “I fall in the forest to elbows and knees and it won’t make a sound since there’s no one around here to see”. The tear-jerking arrival of the songs key lines appear with stunning 3 part-harmonies “I was prepared to love you, and never expect anything of you”. It’s almost uncomfortably emotional if the melody wasn’t so sweet. From this point the song waltz’ around it’s simple melodic shuffle and intensifies as the chorus reappears this time with added orchestration, a rumbling bass line, and once the middle-eight has worked its magic, the final chorus is a heavenly assault on the ears that is impossible not to be swept away by.
Following the same path is the equally impressive ‘No Rest’. From the reflective opening verses with delicate vocals and chiming guitars that skip along enchantingly, the intensity gradually builds before the song explodes with Liddle pleading passionately “Did you see the light in my heart?, did you see the sweat on my brow?, did you see the fear in my eyes?”. As the band start to flex their musical muscle the impassioned cries of “I loved you in the best way possible” over and over are backed by Violinist William Harvey’s sweeping orchestration, giving the song a hefty dose of emotional weight as the song reaches its rousing climax.
Its not all bombast and epic bluster though. These are all, in essence, folk songs. Folk songs with deeply woven melodies and intricate musical arrangements that have been given extra gravitas by the bands influences from other genres, resulting in this “heavy-folk” sound. This is in no small part down to ex-punk band drummer Jon Warren whose powerhouse drumming thrusts these songs away from their folk roots and gives them the same powerful quality that makes the likes of Arcade Fire and The National so distinctive in their rhythmic drive.
The opening half of the record, bar the disjointed album opener ‘Animal Skins’, is a bright, up-tempo record, full of sun-kissed acoustic melodies and addictive choruses such as forthcoming single ‘New Ceremony’ and the glorious ‘Chambers And The Valves’. Even better is the magnificent ‘Shield You Eyes’ with its shimmering strings, sprightly guitar lines, and beautiful harmonies that captivate and enthral. All three of these songs will be swimming around your head long after you have first heard them. For all their enchanting qualities Scott Miller’s commanding bass lines and Warren’s unforgiving drumming style underpin each of them ensuring they possess a musical edge over their contemporaries from the genre. Despite the upbeat nature of these songs musically, the melancholic lyrics ensure the listener is in no doubt that these songs have been born out of a lot of heartache.
They also have moments of restrained beauty on the likes of ‘History Book’ and ‘Shaker Hymns’ that are happy to be the gentle folk songs they are, allowing the bands superb vocals to shine. The former swings by infectiously with subtle glockenspiel and swooning strings before a horn section arrives to bring the song home, while the latters bucolic innocence is breezily captivating.
It is from the albums mid-point that it makes the transition from a great indie-folk record to something far more transcending as it reaches its emotional epicentre with the stunning ‘Demons’, one of the most affecting tracks on the album. With a hymnal quality it delivers tale of battling depression and the struggles for those who are affected by it. With its stark, uncompromising lines “Under the weight of belief you shiver and shake like a leaf, death is a force not a man on a horse” before the comforting words “I’ll keep you safe while you sleep and fight those demons day in and day out, day in and day out”. As the final line repeats itself over and over, it is all wrapped up with rolling, atmospheric drumbeat, sweeping strings and spine-tingling vocal harmonies, before it builds to its swirling climax. This effortlessly segues into the magnificent ‘Bible Belt’ that has a more regal air to it compared to the equally impressive live field recording that featured on the Weights And Measures EP. The field recording showed the bands vocal capabilities beautifully and this studio version manages to do the same whilst bringing a completely different atmosphere to the song .
‘Family’ follows in a similar vein to the arrangement found with ‘No Rest’ and ‘Weights And Measures’ with its delicate beginnings, Liddle’s choirboy vocals, and its grandiose finale, but possesses one of the biggest hooks on the record with its chorus and harmonies to die for. It is the albums final song ‘Lions Den’ that is the bands piece-de-resistance, gathering all of the bands best qualities that have been displayed on the album so far, resulting in what could be a song that comes to define what the band are about. Wonderfully melodic verses that build into an epic, rapturous wall of noise finale that surpasses everything that has come before it.
With this album Dry The River have delivered on the promise that they have shown ever since forming back in 2009. After nearly 3 years of constant touring they have honed and sculpted these wonderful songs into something that is very special indeed. Brimming with emotion, powerful musicality, with a keen ear for melodies that resonate in the same, far reaching way that all great bands have done in the past, it is one of the finest British debut albums released in the last 5 years and we should be proud to call them our own.