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Dry The River - Shallow Bed

by Maddie Christy 5 years ago in album reviews / bands

Album Review

In 2009, Dry the River made their name through numerous festival performances and charity gigs. Although they were members of post-punk hard-core bands, their folky gospel sound is refreshing to the ear. Shallow Bed, their debut album released in 2012 is far from disappointing with a distinct depth across the album acquired by the effective layering of instruments.

"Animal Skins," however, is an interesting choice for an opening track, with its lack of direction, and anti climatic and repetitive chorus. Despite this, the gritty introduction layered with prominent toms and loud bass accentuated by the amp provide a favourable amount of mid-range, with the movement of strings clearly audible. As the track continues the timbre of each instrument produce many contradictions, none more so than the underlining raw sound of a distorted guitar alongside a smooth, legato melody line sang chorally in a major key; reflecting the band’s predominant folk influence.

The melody line is again contrasted in the chorus through faint staccato piano chords, deepening the texture alongside the ‘airy’ electric guitar. Disappointingly, the chorus sounds too clean. The only distortion is presented by the crescendo of the electric guitar being panned to the right. The vocals seem to be placed too far away, preventing the listener from appreciating the rawness of Peter’s voice. Unlike every other track on the album, there is an impression that the singer does not feel fully engaged. The most interesting factor in this song is the unconventional 6/8 time signature which gives a distinctive and unpredictable rhythm.

The album improves with "New Ceremony" with each orchestral instrument contributing purposefully to the sound. Prior to this an overuse could be suggested, illustrating the band’s possible desire to show their individuality and originality. "New Ceremony" begins with an electric acoustic guitar before being layered with slightly distorted electric picking which creates the melody. This, along with use of a glockenspiel gives the song more interest and depth to the texture. The band’s ability to write intricate melodies is highlighted through the gradual layering of such instruments. The song isn’t basic and dull; it comes alive and tells a story through smooth poetic articulation.

When the drums are added everything sounds very silky and angelic which suits the beautiful lyrics, particularly in the chorus. Here in the pinnacle of the track, the emotion intensifies with the prominent use of cymbals. Although recorded quite loudly the strings are effective and not too overpowering, giving the song a mellow, folk vibe. When the violin takes over the melody, it sounds beautifully legato and the texture thins out slightly again before the chorus kicks in.

"Shield Your Eyes" is another beautiful song because of the echoic, gothic beginning. The odd reverb on the clean toned guitar creates a kind of tremolo while the strings sound smooth and fresh above it. The contrast in the prominent kick and swell of guitar and violin drones works well because it adds to the texture of the song - it gives the listener more to consider.

Although this track is in 4/4, there is effective use of percussion with an offbeat wooden ‘click’ sound during the fast paced verse and instrumental, which could be overlooked by the listener. Also as the song builds up, the drums pan across the speakers to emulate the drummer playing the whole kit. This is effective because it adds depth to the song especially because at the middle 8, the tempo slows slightly and the texture thins out to be just the guitar and the vocalist’s pure, rich tones. The rhythm then changes again on the last chorus to sound more dramatic and powerful. To finish the song, it returns back to the original upbeat rhythm made prominent by the use of the high hat. It could be argued that this detracts from the drama and emotion that had just been made.

Midway through the album, the pace is picked up slightly with the song "The Chambers and The Valves." With its solid 4/4 rhythm and major key, it first sounds like it is being played an inexperienced band, but then reaches its depth and the instrumentation and vocal harmonies prove their professionalism. A theme throughout the album is the clever use of a variety of instruments rather than just the standard band setup.

In this song, a wooden percussive sound is sporadically placed within the beat given by the kick drum and syncopated high hat. Although this thickens the texture, softens the sounds and gives the song a fuller sound, the muted kick is overpowered by the tinny high hat, taking attention away from the vocals. There is a contrast, however, with the legato counter melody performed on the tenor horn over the top of the upbeat rhythm. A further countermelody comes from the clean tones of the electric guitar which acts as a great harmony with the vocal melody. The amalgamation of all the instruments in the last chorus allows for a ceremonial conclusion to the track.

Then the album transcends with the emotive "Demons." After the upbeat "Chambers and the Valves," this song fades in with just strings acting as a drone before it is met with angelic vocals. This enables the listener to imagine a lonely and vulnerable protagonist; supporting the chosen lyrics. Before the vocals enter there is no solid time signature but when the drums come in, it is in ¾ time giving the song an extremely soothing, smooth vibe. Here, the drums sound almost like they have been recorded underwater; giving a haunting and atmospheric tone to the track. To show the emotion of the song, the drums vary in dynamics throughout but then crescendo into the chorus with beaters hitting the cymbals. This marries nicely with the drone that plays throughout the song because it thickens the texture of the song but does not over power the vocals. At the end, the song slows with a ritardando of the vocal phrase and the cymbals become heavier to overwhelm the other instruments. This creates a heavenly atmosphere before the song changes into the next track, "Bible Belt."

Bible Belt is a very moving story played in the same minor key as "Demons" but it is in 4/4. Here, strings are still prominent and are recorded quite loudly but it works because it brings more interest to the song rather than just having basic guitar and vocals. The song is played very smoothly which reflects the mood and the vocal harmonies cleverly sympathise with each other, which supports the lyrics. The bridge is the most dramatic part of the song because there’s a point where you can only hear the vocals “darling when” before the instruments enter loudly again. This helps the story flow because the pause is effective – it leaves time for emotion. The tone of the guitar goes together nicely with the glockenspiel because it doesn’t sound angry, instead, it sounds atmospheric and slightly phased.

The album uplifts again slightly with the track "Weights and Measures" due to the long note values and ¾ rhythm; it is almost anthemic because you can imagine a crowd singing along to the spectacular vocal melody in the chorus. Although the lyrics aren’t particularly uplifting, this is one of the most beautiful songs on the album as it really focuses on the vocals. For example, it starts with an acapella line and then a very quiet acoustic guitar strum plays with an echoic organ drone in the background. Three part harmonies are also added early into the song, which sounds soft creating feeling and passion. On the second verse, the drums, bass and electric guitar come in which works very well because it allows a build up into the chorus. The chorus has cleverly been written with pauses after the longer notes, which makes it a lot more dramatic. Also, on the last chorus, there is a small detail from the guitar where the strings have been scraped giving the piece a dirtier vibe.

Contrary to this, the brass becomes more outstanding in the last part of the song playing a legato counter melody, which is very calming in comparison with the vocals. When the vocals get louder, it makes Peter’s voice sound more raw and emotional rather having a fresh, pop-like sound enabling the band to remain original and non-conforming.

A song similar to "Weights and Measures" is "Family." It is also in ¾ and the chorus has long note values so a crowd could easily sing along and connect with the band in a live situation. The song begins quietly and simply with beautiful harmonies. It gives the impression of being recorded with little production, with the slides of fingers on strings clearly audible, giving the track an intimate vibe.

Simple piano chords are also played which is effective because it gives the song a deeper texture ready for the build up to come. The band is clever in ‘preparing’ for this build up especially with the little cymbal hit before the second verse. It seems like it is there to end the quiet mellow beginning because the second chorus is more rugged. For example the ‘h’ that is sung on the word “here” is quite ‘punchy’ and raw portraying the emotion in the voice. Following this, the snare and kick enter to give the song more rhythm and interest. The snare actually sounds louder than the rest of the drums, which is effective because it makes the ¾ time more prominent. After the first chorus, the song reaches its highest point.

The melody line of the vocals repeats an ascending and descending pattern that sounds almost frantic contradicting the legato pace and is joined with distorted guitar which works incredibly well giving the song a gritty sound revisited from "Animal Skins." This emulates the worried emotions in the last chorus, giving the impression that the song is at its finale. The volume is greater and the texture thicker, accentuated by repeated crash cymbal and counter melodies provided by strings and a distorted guitar riff at the end of phrases. Finally, the song fittingly ends with the original instruments calmly playing in a peaceful major key.

"Lion’s Den" is the most extravagant song on the record because there are two contrasting parts. The beginning is very peaceful and smooth with the drums being played with brush sticks. This ensures the sound refrains from being harsh, complementing the other instrumentation. For example, the vocals are soft especially during the ‘ooh’s’ because the violin plays the same melody as the vocals. The tremolo on the violins and brass makes the song more mellow and attractive as it thickens the texture and gives the listener something else to focus on. The brass gives the song a rich almost proud, English sound and the violin ties in well with their folk influences. The texture then thins out again to haunting ‘ooh’s’ with a lot of reverb.

This then runs into a crescendo using an electric guitar with a slight rough tone to it and the drums are played with normal sticks at a faster pace as it crescendos until it goes back to the original smooth rhythm. However, in this part of the song, all the instruments are louder and the bass and strings take over the melody, which is very distinctive. What is also effective is the odd ‘grimy/airy’ tone on the guitar while it plays a drone in the background. This gives the track a fuller sound and when it breaks into the solo it is fantastic because it brings forward the rock sound in the band they have got from previous influences. The fact this is followed by brass and electric guitar playing together gives the song a thick texture and individuality. Everyone then begins to ‘let loose’ in what they’re playing while still containing the melody. Further into it, everything becomes atonal and wild which is very effective because it creates drama and emotion. However, the song ends on rather a haunting note. Instead of having a sudden ending with a crash cymbal that could be expected, the ‘ooh’s fade back in and the vocal tone is so delicate and choral like that it sounds almost gothic and evocative.

Overall this album is a great success. The use of instruments, rhythms and textures work very well but the songs would also be successful without all of the production behind it. The thought provoking lyrics and wholesome vocals work in harmony with one another and the serene, mellow melodies make it easy to listen to.

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Maddie Christy

Music student with my head in the clouds

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