Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring

Noah and the Whale
The First Days of Spring
I LOVE it when a band tries to confound expectations; most fail miserably and end up repeating the same hogwash that scored them a top five hit in the UK charts - either unwilling or unable to change tack from a musical style that brought them limited attention and radio airplay. However, intentional or not, that is not the case here with Noah and the Whale’s second album, the follow-up to the reasonably successful debut Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down.
While that album was, well generally not really that great, the radio exposure afforded to happy clappy, whistle laden, folksy track Five Years Time saw the quirky, Twickenham based band receive some attention.
Thus, in this cynical world, the expectation might have been for the band to try and replicate the success of that single with their second album, released only a year after their debut offering. But where that song saw the band score with airplay, it was wholly unrepresentative of the rest of a fairly dour and underwhelming debut that tried hard to be quirky and preppy, yet dissolved into pretension.
Not so with the follow-up.
While many could, and probably will, level accusations at Noah and the Whale for producing what seems, at first glance, a quite depressing album, this is simply incorrect.
Film is a fascination for this band, and particularly singer and songwriter Charlie Fink, and this album is intended to accompany a film of the same name.
As such, there is a cinematic approach to this moody and claustrophobic album; split into three parts, or acts - act one and three consisting of four songs - while the middle coda contains two instrumental songs and a third, Sufjan Stevens-inspired orchestral piece called ‘Love of an Orchestra’, a stirring, emotion-fuelled song that sees Fink declare, ‘I know I’ll be lonely / I got songs in my blood / I’m carrying all the love of an orchestra’.
The Sigur Ros-esque sweep of the eponymous opening track sets the tone for the album, which is ostensibly a ‘break-up’ album, semi-autobiographically documenting Fink’s split from former singer Laura Marling. But there is greater depth and feeling here than some jilted lover’s grumblings.
The sublime, deliciously countrified My Broken Heart and the gorgeously slow and fulfilling pastoral folky sounds of Slow Glass are two absolute standouts, but both even are eclipsed by Blue Skies, as Fink says, “a song for anyone with a broken heart”.
However, he promises that ‘blue skies are coming’, and you can’t help but feel that the same is coming for this band, who have produced a visual masterpiece that hardly needs the film that is set to accompany it.

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