Dry The River

Alarms In The Heart

Written by: TL on 10/09/2014 19:21:43

In 2012 Dry The River emerged with a debut album in "Shallow Bed", which was highly unique in the scene, mixing elements of chamber pop, folk and post-rock on one of the most outstanding releases of that year. Since then the London-based band has said goodbye to pianist and violinist Will Harvey and continued on as a quartet, recently releasing their sophomore record "Alarms In The Heart", on which the band takes a step away from the semi-acoustic style they opened with, with songs that instead appear primarily as conversations between more noisy, amplified electric guitar and the delicate lead vocals of frontman Peter Liddle, and which seem structured in more conventional verse-chorus forms than the intricate and progressive ventures on "Shallow Bed".

At its best, the change is one you can certainly embrace, as the wisely chosen lead single "Gethsemane" cements, being pretty much a perfect song. The harmonies are as haunting as always between Liddle - who sings comparably to Antony Johnson or Jeff Buckley - and Scott Miller and Matthew Taylor on bass and guitar and tender falsetto. The increases in the presence of the percussion are well-timed and the song blooms progressively from gentle string picking to booming chorus and finally a refrain for the ages in the bridge section. Following single "Everlasting Light" is also noteworthy, demonstrating just how well the band can do with a more straight-forward and up-tempo indie-rock approach than we're used to from them. Liddle's lyricism, while perhaps not as transcendent and near-allegorical in feeling as on "Shallow Bed", delivers great hooks as well in both verses and choruses, testifying allegiance "with more puncture wounds than Jesus" and declaring memorably that "There's a saying in the English South, you have to put your mind in gear before you drive your mouth", so we're hardly much worse off in this department either.

What is noticeably lacking, if you listen to the band's two records one after another, is the older one's persistent ability to command interest in the journey up to the highlights. Like a siren song from a gentler realm, "Shallow Bed" was a record of otherworldly patience that catered constantly to discerning listeners that had ear for the cat's paw movements in the compositions. Outside of the stately "Vessels", Liddle and his colleagues seem to have decided to take their heads out of the clouds on "Alarms In The Heart", opting to play from somewhere more reminiscent of the real world, and while we still get some superb arrangements with both strings and horns - notice the excellent fanfares towards the end of the opening title track for instance - these often clash a bit with the presence of the guitar, while the bass, although not without presence, feels like it lacks a bit of the warmth and volume that would perfectly ground the gushing melodies.

That Dry The River have been short of perfection when it comes to the step towards the electric world, can thus be heard in the album's early mid-section. "Alarms In The Heart" and "Hidden Hand" start out nicely at tracks one and two, but "Roman Candle" is too sleepy and predictable in its development for even a guest appearance from singer Emma Pollock to redeem it fully, and "Med School" and "It Was Love That Laid Us Low" - although solid songs in their own right - feel like safe and underdeveloped pieces when compared to the band's best work. With that said however, comparisons to most other records this year still make Dry The River appear like a unicorn - A band whose music is so tender and delicate, yet at the same time so fully melodious and richly narrated that most common rock music lends itself poorly to a favourable comparison. So if you want a record that sounds like little else and has songs that are both elegant and totally immediate, then "Alarms In The Heart" is still an excellent choice, albeit perhaps not quite as enchanting as "Shallow Bed".


Download: Gethsemane, Everlasting Light, Alarms In The Heart, Vessels
For The Fans Of: Anthony And The Johnsons, Jeff Buckley, Blaue Blume, Elbow, Hymns From Nineveh
Listen: facebook.com/drytheriver

Release date 25.08.2014
Sony / Transgressive

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