Thursday, 10 September 2009

Thoughts on "Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring"

I was amazed, while watching deal or no deal the other day, to see an advert for Noah and the Whale. The band, who to me had always been a one hit wonder (with "5 Years Time"), appeared to have taken the critics by storm with their second album.

I decided to take a risk and buy it, largely because my girlfriend offered to pay. To my joy and surprise "The First Days of Spring" turned out not only to be a million miles away from the twee folk-pop of their debut, but actually a breath taking and intimate break up album. It was made even more personal by its featured break up, between singer Charlie Fink and solo singersongwriter Laura Marling.

The album opens with the first glimmer of hope in Charlie's eyes, the idea that spring brings new opportunity. But just as winter surely follows summer, so do hard times as the album flows. The lyrics, while occasionally predictable and cliche are so raw and matter of fact that they evoked in me an image of Laura sat listening to the album for the first time. It feels like the singer is reaching out to touch Laura, and in doing so accidently touching us too.

The story is told expertly, perhaps better than any break up album before, both lyrically and musically. A brief restitative in track two ("Our Window") that comes back as the focus in the albums break through moment ("Blue Skies") and the albums crest and trough nature shows that recovering from trauma is never as simple as an arching crescendo back to happiness.

Altogether the album is wide and expansive, but sometimes chokingly claustrophobic and personal. Indeed, Charlie seems to choke on his words as several points during his subtle and restrained vocal performance. There are no sickly harmonies and sunny refrains in this album. Strings, brass and timpani compete with reverb heavy, lightly disorted guitars that echo of early Sigur Ros without ever leaving very british shores and reaching the sky.

To call it ambitious is to miss the point (here's looking at you Mojo) it is intensely personal, and like all good music is meant as much for the creator as the listener. While the music is complicated, atmospheric and scrupulously put together I feel there was no ambition in its writing, save to get its message across, which it does beautifully.

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