It’s all fine and well to cite an esoteric range of influences when setting out to make a name for yourself: who could resist investigating a band purporting to splice Boney M and Slayer, or the latest artist to bring together the respective magic of Leadbelly and One Direction?
But there are occasions when an act’s roll call of inspiration strikes a chord; when the range of references, diverse though it is, reads cohesively. Stratford’s Dry The River – already deemed among 2012’s most exciting new bands following a slew of solemn singles – are just such an act, setting out influences from Leonard Cohen to At The Drive-In, from Arlo Guthrie to Neutral Milk Hotel; a list that promises much.
So the bar is set high: all the right muses, a gorgeous album forerunner in the form of No Rest – a track that crossbreeds alt-folk with British-tinged hardcore, showcasing singer Peter Liddle’s distinctive timbre – and, just for good measure, the production efforts of a certain Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) from the comfort of his very own home studio. What could go wrong?
A couple of minor mis-steps aside, the answer is: nothing much. Calling card opener Animal Skins sets out the band’s stall: jumbo percussion, tremulous licks atop earthy bass lines, yearning vocals augmented to choral levels. It’s unmistakably folk – folk with teeth – and, though analogous, plugged in.
Set stalwart New Ceremony imbues further momentum – its careful crescendo plateauing with a soaring, spine-tingling chorus – and with stabbing strings evokes the emo elements of the band’s hardcore role models. Shield Your Eyes, on the other hand, thuds metronomically, its country heartbeat calling to mind My Jerusalem or Sleepy Sun‘s more traditional passages.
There are, of course, efforts that resonate more timidly – initially, at least. History Books is very much Villagers or Mumford-flavoured delicacy – its comparative coyness inviting further investigation next to racier trackmates, while Demons’ baroque prayer, beautiful though it is, disowns the album’s otherwise burgeoning drive.
But it would be unfair to dismiss Shallow Bed’s more contemplative moments. They constitute Dry The River’s main personality trait and provide the contrast from which true highlights rise: the aforementioned No Rest; lead single The Chambers & The Valves – the LP’s rousing, reverential and reverberating standout – and Lion’s Den, which patiently escalates to a densely-layered cacophony a young Neil Young would be proud to call his own.
Next to such adroit noisesmithery the likes of Bible Belt and Shaker Hymns take on further profundity: the former a lovelorn hymnal on which Liddle excels as a careworn chorister-come-pioneer, the latter a guitar picking, harmony laden slowburner seeking to give Fleet Foxes a run for their money.
So the post-hardcore promises go only partially fulfilled, and the LP is not entirely of the incendiary nature its singles suggested. It is to Dry The River’s credit, however, that they have in Shallow Bed created an album that both plays to their strengths and showcases a diversity of modes, each sculpted authentically. An outstanding effort.