Album Reviews

Dry the River – Shallow Bed

on April 16, 2012, 7:59am
drytheriver C+
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British Americana, huh? That seems to be stretching it a bit. Dry the River are a folk-rock group from the Stratford neighborhood in northeast London, who sing about the Bible Belt, Shaker hymns, and other typically American subjects. When we already have to swallow Appalachian-inspired folk hailing from the Pacific Northwest (Fleet Foxes) and bluegrass-tinted folk from the Iceland (Of Monster’s and Men), must we now import our roots rock from overseas?

The American subject matter is a little tough to chew when it pops up in their lyrics (“Shaker Hymns” is probably the strangest, describing the specifics of a Shaker wedding ceremony from a first-person perspective), but it’s not really all that more disingenuous than similar stuff coming from some of the Yanks on the scene. Musically, it helps that the influences they display on their debut LP, Shallow Bed, touch on more than rustic Americana.

Dry the River’s members come from the U.K.’s DIY emo and hardcore scene, and that shows through on the massive chorus in “New Ceremony”, or the power pop crescendo in “No Rest”. In these they display a songwriting style that’s heavy on radio-friendly hooks, which will no doubt earn them comparisons to fellow countrymen Mumford & Sons. Much of the album, however, is more comparable to a band like Shearwater, packed with rousing, multi-instrumental builds that support bolster Peter Liddle’s tenor voice. The songs benefit from strong production work by Peter Katis, who brings a warmth to the guitars and the songs’ dramatic  swells. (“Lion’s Den” recalls his work with The National, when it explodes into a cacophony of horns near the song’s end.)

Shallow Bed is solid, but it’s not quite on the same level as something like Helplessness Blues or even Sigh No More. The emo/hardcore elements mixed in are interesting, but they’re jarring shoved in amongst the record’s prettier, softer parts—perhaps next time they’ll settle for one approach or the other.

Essential Songs: “New Ceremony”, “Lion’s Den”

1 comment

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Erich
June 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I really don’t understand how this is Americana. I hear this album and the harmonies sound very European, classical even. Lyrically, yes, there is American imagery, but I don’t think this sounds like roots-rock at all.

There is essentially no blues in this music, which makes it very un-American.

I love this album. I see few similarities between this and Mumford and Sons, other than the fact that they’re both British and they both sing harmonies. Mumford is almost entirely acoustic, while Dry the River has a very strong rock element to it. They’re electric, and they aren’t afraid to distort their guitars and crunch.

Dry the River is also much more rock-oriented than Fleet Foxes, another band I love. Honestly, I don’t find Fleet Foxes to be very Americana either, though they are moreso than Dry the River.

You don’t really mention this band’s lyrical effect either. You mentioned that they reference American traditions and themes, but there’s a whole of other stuff going on here too. Very sincere expressions of love, youth, and spirituality.

“Two young hearts will meet in the middle
and a light will flicker on
where there once was none
where does love come from?”

This is great stuff. It makes me think and feel many things, especially about the mysterious nature of love. There is a lot of powerful emotional content on this record. To me, this is gorgeous, intelligent pop music that speaks to my soul