words by Eric Engelbart
Every so often, an indie buzz band comes along with that intangible quality that makes them destined for financial success. I’m reminded of this every time I hear Phoenix’s “Listzomania” in a movie trailer, Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body” in a TJ Maxx, or Modest Mouse’s “Float On” on a Kidz Bop commercial.
Listening to Dry the River’s debut album, Shallow Bed [RCA Records], I can’t help but feel that they are on a similar path. The band’s front man Peter Liddle has the charisma and songwriting ability that will draw comparisons to Colin Meloy, and the album is full of moments that will surely underscore cinematic moments come this fall.
The obvious standout track on the album is “Weights and Measures,” a melancholy, heartbreaking track that could be the unofficial sequel to Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter”. The song’s chorus “I was prepared to love you/ and never expect anything of you” is one of those lines that successful singles are made of, though it will inevitably be rendered increasingly tedious as it becomes saturated on soundtracks and commercials.
Elsewhere on the album, “Animal Skins” opens the album on an auspicious note, meeting a perfect balance between elegant orchestration and fiery rock. When Liddle belts, “With animal skins around us/ we go home” while backed by artfully distorted guitars and visceral violins, listeners can’t help but come along to see what else the album has in store.
Shallow Bed has its high points. The gorgeous “Demons” and “Bible Belt” flow into each other, and mark the most poignant moment on the album. “Bible Belt” captures the band at their very best, with Liddle shining lyrically, telling a harrowing coming of age story about young siblings. He sings “darling when the ice caps melt/ and the devil’s in the Bible Belt/ don’t cower in your bed/ because we’ve been through worse than this before we could talk/ the trick of it is don’t be afraid anymore.”
Shallow Bed is good, but not great. The album was produced by Peter Katis, who has in the past produced Interpol and The National, and his influence sometimes gives Liddle’s heart on his sleeve delivery a spurious and derivative quality. Katis gives Dry the River a more radio-friendly sound, at the expense of the intimate and resonant qualities of their earlier live shows.
The album is definitely worth checking out, especially for indie rock aficionados who want to trace the roots of indie rock’s next big band.