Dry The River Shallow Bed

Melodramatic pop probably doesn’t get much more illustrious than ‘Dry The River’. They are the 5-piece Stratford based folk-rockers formed in 2009. The band has now released their new album ‘Shallow Bed‘  in two formats (acoustic & deluxe versions.) The acoustic has 11 tracks and the deluxe recording offers 17.

Starting with the disconcerting rhythm of  ‘Animal Skins’ – this song soon glides up to that glossy golden chorus that you have come to admire with this band. It almost swims at you – like a shoal of goldfish on the crest. The song is crafted like a multi tiered cake.  It is ripe and rampant. But stages itself pompous and proud.  It is full of iconic style and gushing Kinks-like guitar chords – the effect is an incredibly hot and passionate hymn to the common man.

Dry The River shortThe tremulous voice of Peter Liddle  on ‘New Ceremony’ begins to chill you to the bone –  right from the start. The highly nuanced violin from Will also modestly harvests a crop of clear spikes in the tide.  And the intelligent lyrics –  although clever-clever  – never become tedious.

The voice eventually becomes a rival to the majestic and opulent obsession that surrounds the instrumental sounds. Then, at last,  it operates at it’s full – almost operatic –  circumference and width. This is a superb song. Filled with ambition and cunning imagination.

Shield Your Eyes’ has a lolloping beat. Much like a donkey ride on a sandy beach. But the celestial voices  – when you envision them –  will have you raising your eyes  in awe  towards the glory of heaven. That voice is clear and taught. As tense as an angel wing caught in a glue trap. The strings entwine the rattling percussion – and these salivate and greasily explode like hot-fat from a frothing cooking pot.

History Book’ then chortles in.  A simply strummed acoustic guitar illuminates the silvery-moon clear voice – and this skillfully articulates itself between the anchors of chords and the bony rhythms – as it artfully begins a gentle wallpapering.

The Chambers & The Valves’ is the most Morrisey-sounding piece from the band. But never so sulky or so drowsy. This song –  on coronary catheterization –  may well be inspired by the pain felt on the insides of our vessels – but I prefer to think that  it refers to the heaving chambers found within those powerful Crystal Cathedral organs. After all…  the pump and sigh is about the same. In both.

A succulent voice

We are alerted to ‘Demons’ by a whine and a cautious note. The choirboy leads us – unharmed –  up the nave  and into the chancel-house – for a touch of credence and tenderness. This song has so many African colours and textures that it may well remind you of  the ‘Rhythm of the Pride Lands’ in hue and in breadth.

Bible Belt’ has in insistent guitar hook  and a succulent voice that rises like a sky lantern in the evening air. It wafts and jolts rather than actually moves. The rice paper gets caught by a gust, and then it is sent away. Soaring and quivering.  Floating into the horizon. This is an extraordinarily emotive song.

The key to ‘No Rest’ possibly lurks within the lyric:  “Then you came,  a single cell…”  This is a song about the tiring work of taking care of something (or someone) newborn. Full of life, full of hope, full of expectation. But not for the care-giver. For them the reward is just more unforgiving toil.  There is no rest for the wicked.  For a life-giver this is a mystifying period of endurance – so full of marvel – yet as the creator/carer – you are  unable to generate enough energy to properly fathom all of the wonder.

The ‘Shakers’ alluded to in the ‘Shaker Hymns’ song were members of an eighteenth century religious sect – famous for their habit of adopting orphan children to swell their ranks. This is the most rose cottage heart-and-hearth country song on the disc. It artfully describes the emotional atmosphere of the ‘Shaker Movement’ whose songs often consisted of umpteen ululated syllables and nonsensical words – often creatively ‘formed’ from unknown tongues. Angelic and pure.

‘Lion’s Den’ has rat-a-tatty beat and a bright accompaniment. The diaphanous voice shakes like a little bean-leaf in a frenzy. This song is one of bewilderment and utter loneliness “ I miss you like a limb / like a hole in the head.” But  the song soon becomes ever more rampant and extravagant. The band creates a storming flurry of glittering, bright clouds and golden flowers. Until the piece reaches it’s full, high and luxurious climax.

It really does create a sensational piece of spiritual momentum. Unstoppable.

And Impossible to ignore.

– © Neil_Mach June 2013 –



Bastille Bad Blood

Bastille are an alternative rock band from London. First formed in 2010, Bastille began as a solo project by singer-songwriter Dan Smith, who later decided to form a four-piece band. The name of the band derives from Bastille Day – the day that Dan Smith was born.

Their first studio album, titled Bad Blood, was released in March 2013, and has already reached the top the UK Albums Chart. We had a listen:

Bastille BAd Blood smallThe album starts with the urban chanter ‘Pompeii’ [the single has already reached No 2 in the UK charts] which deftly compares the cataclysmic loss of the ancient city with the absence of meaning and purpose in our own city-lives here in UK 2013.

It is immediately clear that Dan Smith’s voice is a captivating amalgam of all the vocal  styles and constructs you have loved over the years.  The song begins with Smith singing at a Mercurial altitude. With  Morrissey’s range –   a woody baritone –  edging towards  falsetto.

Then the voice rasps, falls lower, and assumes a crooning attitude .  And, with the “How am I gonna be an optimist about this” lyric you even start to get a whiff of breathy ‘Roy Stride’  in there too.  Incredibly, the full effect is not a million miles away from ‘Florence + the Machine.’

Bad Blood’ is the first sense you get that the sounds have been built up -layer-by-layer – with synth. This feels like a dance-pop track that  is trying to escape from  indie-rock traps. The presumptuous  reggae beat will remind you of Police’s “Can’t Stand Losing You” and Smith’s voice – together with the sheer  quality of production –  is reminiscent of ‘Tears for Fears’.  This is a perfect pop delight.

The emotionally soaring ballad ‘Overjoyed’ is next door to ‘Bad Blood’. One can imagine this year’s festival crowds swaying in unison to this.

Icarus’ is a drama. About living life on the edge of danger. You may feel that you are flying too high. And closer and closer to oblivion. But you can do  nothing about it … you are drawn like a moth to the flame.  Strings twine around the heartfelt vocals, and percussion builds up the tension. The chorus is infectious. This is a bold and beautiful piece.

The next big hitter of the album is ‘Flaws’ with its itching squeaks and beating burps. This is the first song that sounds like an acoustic number that has been ‘completed.’ and  ‘filled out.’  This sounds like a domestic argument. You know, that old “Ten things I hate about you…” spat  that requires us to compare each other’s flaws.  The sub-text suggests a cathartic release:  “All of your flaws and all of my flaws, are laid out one by one / Look at the wonderful mess that we made /We pick ourselves undone.”

Daniel in the Den’ is an intriguing idea. The biblical figure ‘Daniel’ was saved from the fate of the Lion’s Den by his prayer, his faith and some magically divine intervention. But scholars have long argued that the ‘Lions’ in the ‘Den’ were actually Kings and the story is a metaphor about being surrounded by the wickedness of power and corruption – when all you have to protect yourself is virtue and purity

As every king dies … “They would crown another ….”  So, the question is, how long can a person stay pure?  How long can a person hold on?

Dan is in connection with this story of the Bible. He shares the same name as the prophet – and he sometimes feels surrounded by lions. Perhaps this is also the story about being knocked down by those around you – the ones that you hold most dear and most precious – but who hold the power. It is a song about maintaining strength in the “Den”.

Bastille 2Those who sat through “Twin Peaks” will know that the wonderful character  ‘Laura Palmer’ was the murdered prom queen . The discovery of her body is the catalyst for all the events that take place in the 1990 drama series, created by Mark Frost and David Lynch.

In the story, it emerged that Laura Palmer had lived a ‘double life’. She was the very picture of probity and chastity in one lifetime, but a prostitute and a drug addict in the other. “Cutting out a different path / Lead by your beating heart…”

This song – like many others on the album – has some dizzying highs and incredibly prayerful lows. It describes – in superbly drafted elegance – the confusion and mix found in two conflicting worlds.

The album is completed by the African-sounding ‘Weight of Living’ Part 1  (Part 2 curiously comes first … and adds the pulse and living beat to the earlier part of the album.) In Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ the protagonist   dooms a whole ship – through an act made with good intentions. He shoots down an albatross that follows the ship  – not knowing that the albatross is a harbinger of good times ahead –  and thus he  has to live with the consequences. He has to wear the albatross around his neck to remind him of what he has done.  He “Just can’t shake the heavy weight of living…”   This is a song that talks about living with the consequences of bad actions and poor decisions – even if they were made with good intention.

In the song, the backing vocals chime – like a ticking clock – time seems to be ebbing away. The main voice shines like a white feather in the chill wind. The drums accumulate in agitation. And the words crystallize into a vision of movement – as the song makes its way through the ridges of ice and into the stormy sun.

This is an erudite and magnificent album. If you liked ‘The Dream Academy’ back in the mid-Eighties,  or Deptford’s ‘Athlete’ during their ‘Beach Boy’ days,  then the harmonies and the textures on this album will suit you fine.

It is light enough to put on in the ‘background’  while you work, and upbeat enough to dance along to on a torrid summer’s evening.

But, if you give it a concentrated listen, it will surprise you by revealing many layers of wonder and intrigue.

– © Neil_Mach June 2013 –



Dog is Dead All Our Favourite Stories

Do you remember the jazz-rock group “Ten Years After”? We used to listen over-and-over to their album  “Live at the Fillmore East 1970” in the old school block.  That record introduced us to so much 1950s blues. But we loved the funky jazz vibes.

That was way-back in the Seventies, but now  ‘Dog Is Dead’ has come along – from the same city as ‘Ten Years After’ – to brighten our days.  They create indie-pop fantasies with some jazzy tints.

The band consists of Robert Milton (vocals, guitar, bass guitar), Rob ‘Paul Roberts’ White (vocals, guitar), Joss Van Wilder (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Lawrence ‘Trev’ Cole (vocals, saxophone, bass guitar) and Daniel Harvey (replacing Lawrence Libor on drums in 2011.)  They started securing gigs in Nottingham during 2007.

The band released their debut album  ‘All Our Favourite Stories’ via Atlantic Records in October 2012.

We had a listen:

Dog is Dead smallThe album starts with the downcast-pumper ‘Get Low’ and the cynical yet sympathetic vocals from Robert Milton that are reminiscent of Lou Reed.  Time limps like a dripping tap. Misery is repeated. “I’ve got misery on my mind / And I get low /  I get low”. We’ve all been there. Bitten by misery. Knocked off our feet. Still ready for more.

Do The Right Thing’ has a glittering carousel of sparkling sounds. The bottom burps of sound   are like giggling farts –  joyfully tick tocking around.  The voice is all glimmer and gloss –  like the lucent hubs of a Studebaker sedan.

Teenage Daughter’ yaws, dips and rolls.  This song is about a magnificently precious innocence that has been lost. It’s about a future assumed taken – in a “fickle hearted” fling.  And how to live with the consequences. Then ‘Talk Through the Night’ bursts upon us. Full of quivering trills and a truly delightful melody. The main themes are richly trimmed by those impressive backing harmonies. This is a whipped cream deal. Soft, delicious and full of calamities.

Two Devils’ reminded us of some of those slower T.Rex folk rock numbers like “Life’s a Gas”  or “Lofty Skies”.  It has that innocent richness of sunny-day simplicity.  Guitars are pure – yet  steely-sharp –  and the backing vocals are gloriously angelic. “We’d write to the Devil, tell him he’s a bad influence…” the lyrics suggest. But who are the two devils here? You and I?

Glockenspiel Song’ is the first properly jazzy effort.  It has a lot of delicious sounds   – of horns and rhythm guitar foam. The beat wavers – wonderfully – at times, and this gives the piece a touch of sophistication and recklessness. The vocals are beautifully  annunciated and full of harmonious vigour.  And you will love the clap-along finish.

Heal It’ has a lonesome vibe. An itchy beat and a feathering set of textures. It bobs along and – though quite cheerful – harbours a secret regret.

River Jordan’ is ravishing and poetic. It starts with a sparkling watery sound and some undulating guitar.  The vocals are painted lightly on the delicate fabric of intertwined sounds. The piece then builds bigger – gradually dressed in robes – like a Bonfire night Guy.  “You crossed a line.” He says – but “Fear is only one thing I remember…”  When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at Qasr el Yahud things changed forever. They could never look back. This song seems to be about crossing the invisible line.

All Our Favourite Stories’ is a fun romp – but it is not as innocuous or facile as some commentators may have made out.  Deep in the heart of every song is a dark puzzle. Just look at the album cover to get an idea on how you should approach it.

You can put this record on and let it wash over you. You can enjoy the pastel colours – the sweetmeats and the ornaments.  Or you can really check in.

Get to the bottom of this.  Go ahead, we dare you.

– © Neil_Mach June 2013 –