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Shallow Bed

  Dry the River  


Release Date:
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Back at SxSW 2011, PostLibyan and I made a random decision to catch a set by a then unknown (to us at least) London band called Dry the River. The description of the group's music seemed as if they were very Spiritualized, especially during J Spaceman's more American gospel-oriented years. I liked the description, so we wandered into the set and heard…something absolutely brilliant that sounded nothing like Spiritualized. Rather, we heard this beautiful voice (courtesy of Peter Liddle) delicately backed by a band that referenced old folk-ish melodies with some orchestral touches (violin). Either way, I was more taken by this than by any "new" act I'd heard in a long time, and I really really wanted to hear what Dry the River could do in a recorded medium.

And so I waited for an album. And then I waited some more. Finally, in spring 2012, the band released its debut record, Shallow Bed. While most of the tunes on the record are ones heard previously on several EPs and singles, the different recording and enhanced instrumentation found on Shallow Bed demonstrate an organic mixture of sonic ebb and flow designed to showcase that phenomenal voice.

Shallow Bed begins with two newish tunes, Animal Skins and Shield Your Eyes. Animal Skins begins with a heavy, syncopated drum beat backed with strummed guitar and a thudding bassline. Quickly, Liddle's voice comes in, echoed by a light glockenspiel. Eventually, the entire band begins to harmonize on the chorus as the instrumentation becomes deliberately obtuse and almost muddy. The tune continues on in that alternating manner and builds towards a loud conclusion. In contrast, Shield Your Eyes begins with a tremolo-laden violin courtesy of William Harvey over a quick beat. On this tune, the guitarwork is quick yet subdued, with a strong acoustical bent. But it is Liddle's voice that shines with its pure, high lilt emphasized by the lower harmonies of the rest of the band. This music isn't as overlaid as on the previous song but instead contains lots of open space even as the song speeds up and fills in, which makes it easy to appreciate the tonal layers as come to end.

The next song up is History Book, which was the standout track of one of Dry the River's earlier EPs. On that version, the song was mostly acoustic with an occasional electric accent. In this version, while the song begins in the same acoustic manner with duplicated guitar arpeggios under Liddle's voice, the glockenspiel and malleted-drums come in quickly. The rest of the band chimes in during the chorus with a slight bouncy and old-fashioned melody giving the impression of a lush landscape. Just like in the previous tunes, the band harmonizes prettily while letting Liddle's voice remain out front. It's a charming, lovely little tune that's enhanced by the music accents, especially the organ and horns which come in during the bridge and its alternate vocal lines. History Book flows into the quick-paced, more electric The Chambers & The Valves. Unlike History Book which was essentially a dressed up acoustic song, this one begins with the full band playing, leaving little empty space for any extraneous touches. Nevertheless, this one has an orchestral feel that quite dramatic and luxuriant.

Things slow back down for the beginning of Demons, which starts with Liddle's singing before gradually being backed by the tom-heavy drums and shimmering violin. As the drumming increases, so do the harmonies, with the lower voices highlighting Liddle's higher notes. Gradually, the sound becomes louder (although the pace remains slow) as the song almost becomes a lullaby before ending in a minute or so of instrumental builds which conclude with a slow fade into the next track, Bible Belt. Bible Belt is another older song and like History Book, it begins acoustically and features some truly lovely almost acapella harmonies before the rest of the band chimes in with the louder electric instruments. Gradually, the music and vocals becomes more intense and insistent throughout the chorus, which culminates in a foreboding lyric of "The trick of it is don't be afraid any more."

No Rest comes next and it fairly encapsulates everything that characterizes Dry the River's sound. It starts with Liddle lilting through lyrics with Biblical references (when was the last time you heard someone cite Rehoboam in a pop song?) as the music comes in gently. As one would expect, harmonies abound as the song become more intense and louder as Liddle's voice insists repeatedly, "I loved you in the best way possible." In many ways, this track is the centerpiece of Shallow Bed as it bridges the acoustic and electric inclinations of the group. From there, it's back to a more acoustic focus with two older tracks. Shaker Hymns is a downer of a tune, although it includes more Biblical references. In contrast, Weights & Measures showcases the band's harmonies before building in an almost post-punk, precise sort of way, despite the 6/8 time signature.

The penultimate track, Lion's Den begins with the same acoustically lush feel as many of Dry the River's tune. It meanders prettily through a folk soundscape. But then, at roughly the three minute mark, the song takes an abrupt turn into a full-fledged rock tune with half-screamed vocals, feedback guitars, strong drumming. The only thing that connects it to the earlier part of the song is a trilling violin and the bass melody. This loud part grows and grows as more instruments join in and meld into something that's almost space-rock in its echoes and overlays. In many ways, this would have been the best conclusion for the album. However, instead, Dry the River ends with Family, a vaguely re-written version of an earlier tune called Family Tree (Unfortunately the rewrite excises one of my favorite Dry the Rover lyrics: "How did I fall so far from the Family Tree?"). Yet, this song allows one last focus on Liddle's higher voice range as well as the glorious harmonies which just echo throughout the music. And despite the fact that this is a gentler song than Lion's Den, this waltzy tune swells somewhat epically as the band builds to its concluding bridge of Liddle's voice. More pretty work that is a still a nice conclusion to the record.

Although roughly half of the songs on Shallow Bed are older tunes, each has been redesigned to emphasize the fact that Dry the River is a true band at this point and not just Peter Liddle's backing group. It's a very compelling sound that manages to sound orchestral without being overly dramatic and allows Liddle's truly lovely voice to shine in the context of the melodies. Although it took over a year from the time I first heard them to the time they released the record, it was well worth the wait. Now if we can just convince Dry the River to tour the U.S…..

Related Links:

Also on EvilSponge:
   Festival: SxSW 2011 - Wed.16.Mar.11
   Festival: SxSW 2011 - Sat.19.Mar.11
   EP: Bible Belt
   Festival: SxSW 2011 - Wed.14.Mar.12


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