Dry the River – The Chambers & The Valves EP

[Self-released; 2009]

It’s not just abusive and unqualified parents that can have terrible lasting effects on their children. Consider the slightly less harrowing case of the child oppressed by values and expectations. Sure, there’s no deliberate physical or psychological harm but conservative parents who have lived by conventions as they were taught by their own parents can drive their children to a form of madness. It’s like living in a Chekov play where all the money needed to actually survive is put into paying servants and gardeners and organizing spontaneous gatherings so as to retain the exterior image of wealth to those around. The tale has lasted in parts to the modern idea of the suburban family where front lawns must be neatly kept and housewives take curious glances into neighbour’s windows when they can.

This kind of hollow living doesn’t make for the same kind of harrowing story of an alcoholic father or a slutty mother but without it I doubt the content on The Chambers & The Valves EP would be the same. Throughout the EP there are numerous references to finding release from parents grip and imprisonment (for lack of a less severe word). Perhaps I am misinterpreting the tales sang here but Dry the River sound just a little too nice to have had too traumatic or dark an upbringing.

But nice can be enjoyable. Dry the River do come close to sounding like Noah And the Whale, especially when the glockenspiel starts twinkling over acoustic guitar but they never get carried away in sounding so elementary nor do they pack their songs with as many instruments as they can find in a music shop. Instead comparisons to other London band such as Mumford & Sons and Larrikin Love would be more apt though not with quite the same respective earnestness or dark bluegrass/Irish-folk angle. But the way the warming vocal melodies charm any easy ear, the way the choruses root their way into your mind, you can’t swerve around comparisons when you’re listening.

Comparisons aside though, the four tracks here are perfectly likeable. The structures are simple, the ideas always run to the right length without ever dragging to any sort of tedium. When I’m listening to the building harmonies of “History Book” or the snappy twang of “Sugar To Molasses,” I find little to complain about. But once I’m done and have reached the end of the EP I felt like I’ve missed something, like some grand statement was meant to be made during the eighteen minute runtime but it just completely flew over me. Dry the River don’t make a huge impression but like good friends who we don’t see often, it’s nice to pay a passing visit when they come to mind.

I suppose it’s like parents really. Once we grow up and move out we want our independence but it’s hard to escape the desire for a home-cooked meal or the reassurance that there’s unconditional love there. It’s sort of ironic then that despite all the talk of escape from family ties in the lyrics here (even the EP title The Chambers & The Valves could be a metaphor for the family home and how each member is but a cog in its workings) the final song and title track of the EP has a chorus with the rather patriarchal lyric “I could turn this car around.” I guess as much as we try to stop it from happening, we all turn into parents somewhere along the line.