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Shallow Bed by Dry the River

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Reviewed on 1st March 2012.


Shallow Bed

By Dry the River

Stir fry for dinner tonight which no matter how many times I make it, never tastes the same twice. Maybe the ginger will rule tonight, or the garlic will conquer all. Hmmm, then again I fancy something sweet and hot so the chilli powder and dollop of chutney I throw in will probably take over. I don't care though really - it's good to mix things up and get something different every time. All of which not only makes me hungry but leads me on nicely to an album I've been preciously guarding and secretly savouring for the last few weeks. On the back of a successful trip to SXSW and acclaimed live London shows in 2011, a "BBC Sound of 2012" shortlist nomination and a headline UK tour set to sell out this spring, you'll be hearing a lot more from Dry the River in 2012 once "Shallow Bed" is released next week.

Dry the River have produced the perfect debut album; one that will instantly gain plaudits from press, airplay from radio stations and grow a diverse base of fans. Achieving freshness coupled with subtle familiarity, balancing boldness with an enticingly vulnerable and evocative side, carefully crafting pieces from the understated to the opulently lavish, and all without once losing sight of their own underpinning DIY ethic; this album will be very, very big. There's a musical heart of cathedral proportions with cannon-fire spirit accompanied by mildly Celtic strains and heartfelt canzonets.

But this is far from another "folk band make it big" album. Although there are undeniably elements that will appeal to the folk mind-set, the wave of appeal will also sweep leftfield indie fans along too. Nature, spirituality, love and justice are among the themes examined and musically the palette is rich and colourful. Without ever lacking cohesion or direction though, there are just too many well explored and well lit avenues of sound here to even start putting the band into any one genre. Well, you could start and end with simply "really good music" actually. There you go - a gift from me to you - a new genre for you to say you like. Really good music.

"Animal Skins" has a wonderfully moody bass that kicks the album into life with the energy of a stirring beast, roused from deep slumber and stumbling to life in his hovel. These darker touches contrast brilliantly with the delicate vocals that affect a sprinkling of light to create a warmer atmosphere overall. As it goes the intro put me in mind of shoegazers Blind Mr Jones and the opening track "Hey" from their '94 album, "Tattooine". I digress.

There are some big numbers throughout the album and lots of softer moments too. For mood lifting anthems beyond "Animal Skins" try "New Ceremony", "Shield your Eyes" or current single "The Chamber and the Valves"; the latter of which will certainly be echoing around festival fields this summer. There's something so utterly life affirming about the chorus you'll need a hard heart not to melt into this one. Similarly, if after listening to "No Rest" you don't find yourself gazing into the eyes of your significant other singing "I loved you in the best way possible" then you should check there's actually something beating under your rib cage.

Cleansing and spiritual, "Demons" has a mature blend of organs, strings and Celtic vocals and strings and offers some reassurance and calm as a contrast to the highs of the bigger sounds. The song moves perfectly into "Bible Belt" with a beautifully simple nature. The two songs almost form a bridge between different stages in the album and through these you'll hear a different intellect to the album. "Weight and Measures", the first taster most people will have had of Dry the River, again has some spirituality themes and vocal harmonies and gentle guitar that help it glide along, effortless and dreamlike.

"History Book", on first listen, intrigued me more intrigued than any other song. There's a sense of meandering - through wilderness or life itself - as we hear of life lessons passed on, advice not heeded, history repeating and the foibles of youth. I love the line "the church where nobody congregates" which for me conjured up images of lots of beautiful things going either unnoticed or unappreciated, or both. I like the idea of life as a repeating cycle though so that's probably what I tuned into on "History Book" and having recently re-read "Knulp" by Herman Hesse, this sort of thing is regularly going around in my head these days! "Shaker Hymns" almost talks to "History Book" and has a similar rhythms and overall feel to it. Guess what? I liked that too.

What's so effective about these songs is they are honest and self-deprecating, yet wonderfully confident. Songs like "No Rest" grow in potency beyond their beginnings but without working too hard to build in any trite fashion. There are three distinctly different styles of song on the album; the gentle, the ambling and the grand. If the songs themselves were too similar or difficult to distinguish from each other, then this could be an issue but each song is so distinct that it's just not. I keep thinking of lava lamps; the colour and shape adjusting and my mood moving around as I listen. The lyrics on the album overall are perfect too by the way, as is the enunciation aided by excellent production. You can hear every word which is great. If somebody's gone to the trouble of telling me a story, I think it's only right that I can tell what they're saying. I'm an old fart like that I guess.

A big year lies ahead for Dry the River - no doubt about that. I'd put money on a Mercury nomination - if not more. For me, "Shallow Bed" will be this year's Villagers album and like "Becoming a Jackal" will still be on the MP3 player and in the car a year or so from now. After reading about the band's live reputation in the music press over the last year or so, I can't wait to catch them at the Brudenell in April and see how the music sounds on stage. The benefit of keeping the production as simple as possible whilst still managing to create an album so rich, is that I already know the band will be a treat live. Oddly enough it was about this time last year I caught Villagers at Brudenell. So it's probably a good omen for the future success of Dry the River that I'll be there again. So that's that settled the; their fate in my hands.

Right, it's time to go stir fry crazy...



All replies to this article. Log in to post a reply.

On 27th April 2012 at 11:59 Jimmy Horrigan wrote...

Looking forward to the Brudenell gig tonight with support from Dancing Years... I'll post a review on the night once I've finished enjoying myself


On 28th April 2012 at 09:41 Jimmy Horrigan wrote...

What a gig! Review in progress



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