2012’s “It” band has arrived in the form of England’s Dry the River. Drawing immediate comparisons to fellow UK darlings Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons, mainly due to the raving critical acclaim of their debut album Shallow Bed (2012), Dry the River has created an album that in its lyrical sophistication and emotional intensity, effectively separates them from their oversaturated peers.
Dry the River successfully blends together folk, post-punk, and theatric rock in an accessible package akin to El Cielo-era Dredg (2002), albeit dwelling more in the folk than dream-rock realm. At the forefront of Shallow Bed are the lyrical talents and incredible falsetto of frontman, Pete Liddle. Calling to mind the vibrato of Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons), the power of Gavin Hayes (Dredg), and the fragility of Peter Silberman (The Antlers), Liddle sings songs heavily dosed in family history, human interaction, and biblical lore (specifically, Solomon and Sheba and the Song of Songs). His lyrics are introspective, clever, and unforgiving – a perfect match for the sometimes-swirling-sometimes-pounding sound of guitars, drums, trumpets, and violins that accompany them. The mix of Dry the River’s soft-quiet dynamic and Liddle’s eerily soothing vocals make Shallow Bed one of the most emotionally draining album since the Antlers’ Hospice (2009).
The first half of Shallow Bed features Dry the River trying to craft their sound. Horns and pseudo-Western guitars find their way into “History Book” and “The Chambers & the Valves,” while Liddle seems to bide his time vocally. The second half of the album, however, streams together impeccably. Both Liddle’s voice and penmanship take center stage for the duration of the second half, starting with “Demons,” a chill-inducing ballad of protection and perseverance, which gives way to “Bible Belt,” a story of a family torn apart by alcoholism. The song tiptoes to a final plea for the same type of resolve that fuels “Demons.” “We’ve been through worse than this before we could talk,” assures Liddle, “the trick of it is, don’t be afraid anymore.”
The wrap-up of “Bible Belt” perfectly summarizes the feel of Shallow Bed as a whole – this isn’t a band looking for answers. Hell, this band isn’t in the mood to ask any questions. This is a band determined to hold on. The characters in these songs strive to be remembered, to survive, and to endure. Like a last dying wish or long farewell, Dry the River executes with urgency and desperation, be it the declarations of “I loved you in the best way possible” in the painfully short “No Rest” or in the realization of “it’s a question of needs, not rosary beads in the end” found in the epic “Weights & Measures.”
In the coming days, weeks and months, Dry the River will inevitably find their way to other music publications, blogospheres, radio waves, and concert halls. It’s not a matter of if they will break into the United States, but a matter of when. Critics will continue to salivate over them. The Mumford boys will be name dropped at nauseam, I promise you. Please do yourself a favor and ignore these references. This is much more than a buzz band. There’s real promise here that hints at something greater, something important. So grab your headphones, a Bible (for reference), and a tall drink and immerse yourself in Liddle’s world. That is, if your heart can take it.