Dry the River is quite honestly a breath of fresh air – the sweetest and freshest air known to man.
I’m beginning to wonder if 2012 is purposefully becoming the year of European debut folk masterpieces. First, Of Monsters and Men basically catapulted themselves from out of nowhere to a “Top Album of the Year” contender with My Head is an Animal. And now we have Dry the River, the English folk-rock group debuting the masterful Shallow Bed. Between the two, not much negative has come. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find any amount of discontent.
Upon first listening to the record, it is clear that something enchanting is taking place. The haunting flow of the instrumentation is brilliant. In the song “Shield Your Eyes” the tempo is immense and powerful and is also where vocalist Peter Liddle simply takes over. The resemblance to Temper Trap’s Dougy Mandagi is almost ludicrous at times, but there are also hints of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) mixed in. The subtlety of his insane power is hidden beneath the soft timbres of his voice, creating the striking similarity to Vernon. The fact that Liddle does this so nonchalantly is both an annoyance and a delight. Obviously the annoyance is derived from jealousy over his superb talent.
In “Demons” there is a definitive chill that captures you immediately. The focus relies heavily on Liddle (as usual), but the tribal drum and background vocals really draw you in. While the song’s warmth can overtake you at times, the message is of calmness and safety. This is seen with Liddle’s final line “But death is a force, not a man on a horse: I’ll keep you safe while you sleep.” From there, they drop into “Bible Belt” which is a track about dealing with alcoholic parents and overcoming the fear and uncertainty that comes from it. The two tracks mold together like a modern classical piece gently filled with acoustic guitars, fitting beautifully in the middle of the record.
In the midst of all the sounds and harmonies that take place, the structure of the album is
magnificent. The beginning, middle and end all have this balance that makes perfect sense. No song follows another without having some larger, deeper meaning behind it. While the album begins with an upbeat feeling (“Animal Skins” and “New Ceremony”), it takes a heavy step backward in the middle for a very long stretch. Liddle, I think, realized where his wheelhouse rests as he even ends “New Ceremony” on a softer scale, which then gives way to the aforementioned “Shield Your Eyes.” The stretch from that third track to the tenth track “Weights & Measures” is second to nothing I have ever heard. In fact, if Shallow Bed were to conclude with “Weights and Measures” I would spread the Gospel of Liddle right now.
“Weights & Measures” resonates and sparks such emotion that is truly unmatched in the music industry today. It seems to pry at every sense, repeatedly. The musicianship and lyrical command of the track seizes listeners. Not the least bit surprising is the track’s meaning: heartbreak and devastation. While Liddle exclaims in the chorus “I was prepared to love you, and never expect anything of you,” it is the final verse that sits most heavily with me: “You were the coldest star in the sky / only I couldn’t see it: I was blind / In comes the black night, / calling you’re name since you were born / only I couldn’t hear it: I was empty as a drum.” On repeat, I feel like a kid again. This one will undoubtedly be a frontrunner for “Track of the Year” consideration.
Liddle and crew deliver an astounding debut performance with Shallow Bed. The tracks fall short of perfection by the slightest of margins and while they say there is always room to grow, it is less evident with each listen. From beginning to end, these 12 songs do not loosen their hold on you. It is an intense grip that Dry the River will need to maintain over the course of their careers; tough task.
For Those Who Like: Temper Trap’s Conditions – Ben Howard’s The Wolves – James Vincent McMorrow’s Early in the Morning