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Album Review: Dry the River – Alarms in the Heart

2 min read

British folk-rock band Dry The River follow their extraordinary debut with spine-tingling sophomore album Alarms in the Heart, an effort which transforms the pastoral soundscapes of Shallow Bed into cinematic expanses. There is no doubt that Peter Liddle’s “moral upbringing” in a catholic primary school pours into his music making. Using imagery and stories from the King James Bible, the frontman explains, gives a solemnity and magnitude to very human issues like love, relationships, sex, and melancholy. The biblical language that engulfs the album is both poetic and beautiful, somehow expressing big themes and emotions without being in any way profoundly religious.

Dry The River - Alarms In The HeartHow these words are expressed is also immersed in the Catholic liturgical and musical tradition. The band’s hushed and floating harmonies take queues from church hymns and madrigals, and many of their stunning melodies are reminiscent of modal Gregorian chant. The album opens with the hums of an organ, leading into the uplifting and catchy chorus of Alarms in the Heart that would sooner be sung by an engrossed audience rather than a pious congregation. There’s something intensely authentic about the way in which spirituality and sexuality are interlaced as Liddle sings “This spiritual fabric is sex and it’s magic”, later evoking imagery of the Garden of Eden to explore sensuality and, crucially, guiltless temptation in Hidden Land.

Emma Pollock’s sensual mezzo-soprano unexpectedly complements Liddle’s churchboy tenor in the darker, atmospheric Roman Candle, as they voice the timeless and reckless nature of love. Lead single Gethsemane makes use of stunning vocal harmonies and a striking string arrangement to express the painful memories of lost love. Using the garden in which Jesus and his disciples are said to have regularly prayed, and where Judas eventually betrayed him, Liddle paints pictures of betrayal and resentment, as well as grief and nostalgia.

The beautifully stripped-back Vessel also uses overt biblical symbols to communicate events and experiences that are universal regardless of creed. Liddle’s expressive voice conjures images of crowned princes and priests struggling with their responsibilities, singing “Now the burning branch never speaks to me / it whispers: I don’t wanna be a vessel anymore”. For me, Vessels is the most affecting track on the album, sensitively and passionately imploring the listener to construct their own meaning and future.

Liddle, Matthew Taylor, Scott Miller and Jon Warren vividly delve into very human experiences, transforming them into stories with an air of myth and legend through tender vocal harmonies, string arrangements, atmospheric guitars, expert tempo changes, and really tight ensemble work. Laden with biblical narratives and symbols that maintain a sense of spirituality without being exclusively and flagrantly pious, Alarms in the Heart is the theatrical orchestral mass to Shallow Bed’s evensong.