Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dry The River - Shallow Bed [Album Review]

British folk music – the great ambassador of a nation these days courtesy of bands like Mumford & Sons. Ever since Dry The River began making tentative movements within the industry, people were quick to liken them with Mumford – and while it’s true they bear much in common, Dry The River offer a far richer palate of sounds, deftly coupled with a keen knowledge of great pop hooks. Their tracks feel looser, freer, and more spacious. It’s like the gates to England’s green pastures have been opened wide and the band given liberty to sow and reap their sustenance.
And what wonders they have grown. As an album, Shallow Bed is the richest of broths, a hearty concoction of good honest songwriting, guitar lines that shine out like the brightest of stars and string sections that swell and rise like the pulse of a living body. If that body be England’s own spirit, then Dry The River are the coursing sweep of its energies leaping out to all corners of its dimensions, and in the tapestry of material presented on the band’s debut, it welcomes all to its fold.
You don’t get pop more sweetly rounded than the likes of History Book and New Ceremony (two of the best tracks on the album) – all sugared harmonies and arts-n’-crafts jaunty cheer. They’re the kind of songs to lay out full-pelt come the Jubilee, long tables strewn down the road and people gathered round to share in lovely old fashioned companionship. Bible Belt is equally charming, beautiful too – a lover’s ballad of uncomplicated romance and emotion. Dry The River’s music goes beyond twee upkeepings of appearance and quaint gifts, it’s the stuff at the heart of what love really is – that gut feeling that sweeps you up in its arms and tugs you down a path you can’t resist.
Lead single The Chambers & The Valves plays like the band’s calling card – a neatly composed three minute presentation of everything the rest of the album then goes on to explore. The almost tortured cries of ‘I loved you in the best way possible’ on No Rest function to similar effect, a heart-wrenching swipe at our feelings, and we’re thrown head-first into a love story we can all engage with. Big, rough-handed percussion give the songs an earthiness, and those everyman vocals that seem like more than just a singular individual, but instead an amassed collective of spirited yearning.
Yearning for what? For life. The essence of life itself. And a profusely natural, organic depiction of life at that. The lush minimalism of Demons is Dry The River at their most pastoral – a word that seems inescapable when summarising what the band’s sound encompasses, but the only one that really does it full justice. The track, like so many of Dry The River’s best moments, builds from small, village-like beginnings to an impassioned, forceful crescendo that breaks over the soul like a wash of birds’ beating wings. There’s a feathered elegance to Dry The River’s message, a moral capacity for empathy that strikes across all audiences – varied enough to appease the indie crowd, but with the precision and composure to sweeten the tooth of the pop lover.
The piano balladry of Family moves on to emphasise the values of home. Timeless, enduring concepts. There’s moments when every part of the band’s sound comes to bear – guitar, strings, brass, vocals – all slamming home at once. You’re knocked to your knees, not in submission – for Shallow Bed is never overpowering – but in the awe of raw adulation. In its near seven-minute glory, Lion’s Den is the apotheosis of this side to the band – a grandiose epic of truly baroque scales. The soaring guitar solos that underpin its sprawling outro are the stuff heaven is stitched from.
It takes skill to craft a good album, but it takes craftsmanship of artisan-like levels to go beyond that and create a debut record worthy of proper, acknowledging respect. Shallow Bed is one such album.
Shallow Bed is released on the 5th March and can be pre-ordered here.

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