Who wants to be in a guitar band with the pressure of rescuing an apparently fading genre? Well Dry the River do, and their intention is clear. Bearing tattoos and professing to a love of US hardcore, the London-based five-piece have been up for the scrap since 2011’s well-received Weights and Measures EP, and tore up last year’s SXSW festival. Now, having made the BBC Sound of 2012 list, they’ll be looking to emulate the success of the Sound of 2011’s breakthrough guitar sorts, The Vaccines.
Dry the River developed from singer Peter Liddle’s acoustic solo tour in 2009, after which accrued members, and now flatmates, convinced him to take his folk tunes in a heavier direction. It was a good idea, and successful enough to attract the interest of The National/Interpol producer Peter Katis to oversee this debut.
And it works – at least once the listener is clear of dull opener Animal Skins. If it was to be bracketed as a calling card effort, it’d be one that barely makes the wallet, its makers sounding twice their ages and uncomfortable with the burden of youth. But true form is found on the single New Ceremony: a belter of a tune, it comes complete with a heart-warming chorus.
Much of this band’s recent promotion has focused on acoustic performances, and the full-blooded versions of their songs here may wrong-foot those expecting such gentleness. Channelling the energy of bands such as At the Drive-In and Grinderman, both History Book and the string-laden The Chambers & The Valves demonstrate the success of mining folk roots while the guitars are turned up to 10. Bible Belt earnestly devours classic Americana literature and hardship: "Lo and behold your mother is drinking again / This might be the coldest winter since records began." Importantly, Liddle’s last-to-leave-the-school-choir vocals provide an otherworldliness which offsets these songs’ gritty realism to great effect.
Although the band will be encouraged by the recent success of The Horrors and The Maccabees, both of whom have embraced electronics with devastating success, this is a direction Dry the River won't be taking any time soon. Their eagerness to record using analogue equipment can be heard throughout this set – it’s a wonder they weren’t mixed using steam-powered desks while mobile phones were banned from the premises.
Shallow Bed is a brave start for this long-hyped but still young band. Although at times the tunes and excitement commonly associated with a debut album can become lost in painful pursuit of authenticity, this is a surefooted and uncompromising collection.
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Dry the River release their debut album Shallow Bed
through RCA Victor. The band is one of 15 artists on the prestigious BBC Sound of 2012 shortlist, making the record one of the most anticipated of the year. The 11-track album, produced by Peter Katis (The National / Interpol), was recorded at his Connecticut home-studio during the summer of 2011. “We were looking for someone who could strike a balance between lo-fi and hi-fi,” says Peter Liddle, Dry the River’s lead singer. “We wanted to record the bulk of it to tape, to use analogue stuff in favour of computer wizardry where possible, but without it sounding like an old folk record. I think we tried to preserve the fragility and honesty of the more stripped down tracks, but still get the intensity of the live show across too - to marry those two aspects of our music without it sounding incongruous.”
With an esoteric list of influences ranging across Leonard Cohen, At The Drive-In, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, this is a record not to be missed.