Dry The River describe their sound as “folky gospel music played by a post-punk band”. Tongue in cheek or not, this must be the only time a band has labelled their genre and hit the nail on the head. Spiritual and mythical imagery abound: Liddle has a vision in the chapel in ‘Hidden Hand’; a lover likes drinking dragon’s blood in ‘Roman Candle’; and a song references to the garden of Gethsemane in the eponymous single.
‘Gethsemane’ perfectly encapsulates what Dry The River’s sound is. It’s a song that starts off slow with Liddle singing a verse over simple guitar double notes, delightful intricate guitar fills from Matthew Taylor who also contributes on harmony with bassist Scott Miller. There’s a tempo change, driven by Jon Warren’s crashing cymbals and tom-tom runs. The song then speeds up with heavier guitars, Liddle almost shouting the bridge with tortured imagery (“Testify allegiance with more punctured wounds than Jesus”), between the space created by the brass. Then, just when you think it can go louder and faster, it trickles out with those neat guitar fills again.
Then there’s ‘Med School’, a song that paints a picture in which a med school student is watching a lover go under the knife in a class post-mortem. For obvious reasons, Liddle feels like “I should not be watching today.” Still under his love’s spell, left speechless by her death as though cast by a spell, Liddle alludes to that space and time between a person’s death and when we firmly push them out of our minds. All grieving processes always carry that faint hope like a candle’s flame, that the departed would just show up, knocking on our door, walk past you on your morning jog, or send you a letter. It’s the period when our brain momentarily forgets of one’s absence. For Liddle, maybe she’ll come “from the back of the classroom” and take him away “from all of the geeks”. ‘Med School’ is also a song that—through the use of tempo changes—sees a future in which this grieving is over. The bridge blasts open with bright trumpets and more colourful piano chords, as Liddle promises he’ll leave this ethereal. As though echoing the tumultuous, back and forth thoughts that a mourner goes through however, Liddle closes with the chorus, still hoping that she will come back. Perhaps he’s just not ready yet.
Despite the album’s drive and anthemic choruses, it has a very soothing element. I personally put this down to Liddle’s voice that doesn’t contain a single grain of gruffness, no sign of breaking even when hitting the higher notes. Watching Dry The River live, one is almost bemused to find out that Liddle’s speaking voice is a few octaves lower than his singing one. Artistic choice dictates the style he sings in. In some ways, Liddle’s voice acts as a unique instrument, akin to the falsetto of Sigur Ros’ Jonsí. It’s a perfect accompaniment to Dry The River’s hallowed cloak. All in all, Alarms In The Heart is an exhilarating ride, one in which you’re pulled by hand, running through the corridors of medieval sandstone buildings.