It is always unfair to immediately compare a band to other more established groups after the release of only their first album, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Any band with the same instrument list as Dry the River, the usual drums, guitars, bass along with violin and a touch of xylophone and a hint of brass, playing in the style that this band do, will draw comparisons to Mumford and Sons. On some levels they do fill some of the same mould, being a group of tweedish beardy lads based in East London. They have also been described by some as playing in the same Alt Folk style and there are similarities in some of the more stripped back songs on this album, however that’s where I’d draw the comparisons to a close.
Dry the River have probably known since their No Rest single and weights EP were released last year to high praise by Sony Music last year that they were on to a good thing. During the past three years they have spent time sharing a house while working on writing material for the album and developing their live presence with shows and festivals in London, the UK and key areas through Europe.
As expected the album does contain some of the tracks from last year’s EPs and single releases, these being No Rest, Shaker Hymns and The Chambers & the Valves among others. What made No rest a stand out track on the single, and probably what gained the band the recognition they now have is the songs structure. It doesn’t follow a familiar chorus, verse pattern and instead has a steady intro, then builds through two choruses and increasing levels of delay covered guitars to a peak then fades. Its short length, the shortest apart from intro track Animal Skins gives it an impact here among the other songs.
The sound pallet of Dry the River alternates between a stripped back raw sound of acoustic guitar with a somewhat folky feel to the wash of guitars mentioned earlier with violin and xylophone to accent melodies and counter melodies but even in those folkier moments the content of their songs never strays into the faux Edwardian language of Laura Marling or the likes. The lyrical writing is honest without being too overpoweringly so, apart from perhaps in the soaring chorus of Weights and Measures. “I was prepared to Love you, and not expect anything of you” is a very much take it or leave it kind of sentiment and is just not for me.
What is refreshing in the writing is a writer giving of himself in the religious references in most of the songs on the album. Singer Peter Liddle references his catholic upbringing and clearly has no problem in showing this which is impressive to see in a time when most of his audience and a lot of society are turning away from religion, even if he does just reference certain influences this might have had. Audiences want to know the person they are listening to and this is a way of doing this without revealing personal details or getting caught up in self-indulgent break up songs.
It is now a month since the album was released and it has held up to repeated listening in that time. This is definitely one of the better albums of the first quarter of the year.
Shallow Bed is realeased on 05/03/2012 on RCA Victor.
Dry The River play Whelans, Dublin on 25/04/2012