Recommended Albums #43


Stornoway: Tales from Terra Firma (2013)

Impressed by this Oxford, England band’s latest, I wanted to select a representative song to post in another category of this blog. Trouble was, I couldn’t choose between the beautifully haunting song, the smartly philosophical song, or the cheerfully whimsical song. So here we are, under the heading of Recommended Albums.

“Farewell Appalachia” is the haunting melody, and one that shows the band’s penchant for using atypical instrumentation (and even non-instruments). In the past, the sound of a saw or that of carrots being chopped have served as percussion. In this case, and fittingly so, it’s the sound of crunching leaves accompanying the scene-setting first stanza’s lyric “From the cape/To the hook/With a carpet of leaves underfoot”.

The insinuative melody evokes the work of a band like Winterpills or even the Decemberists, whose songs similarly reward repeated listening–even require repeated listening, but then sink deeper into your soul than the ephemeral pop of lesser bands.

A second point of comparison with the Decemberists is a lyric that is both of the caliber and style of Colin Meloy:

And in the house where I last held you
our bed was cast adrift all night
and you were taking me to higher ground
out of my skin above the clouds

“The Bigger Picture” rambles along to an organ/mandolin vibe as vocalist Brian Briggs puts context to mundane concerns by casting them against the larger universe. Briggs’s distinctive dialect isn’t immediately identifiable as English; rather it possesses only a vaguely European quality that lends intrigue to the band’s sound. It’s one more point of similarity to the Decemberists’ Meloy who, despite calling Portland home and being American, possesses a dialect seemingly all his own.

“The Great Procrastinator” takes a cheeky lyric tone with lines like “I’ve been busy as a beaver/And I’ll be damned if I don’t ease the flow” to an arrangement that conjures a ragtime feel, of all things.

Tales of Terra Firma is smartly engaging throughout, and Stornoway are exactly what I’d expect from a band that formed at Oxford University. Not a cup of tea for everyone, mind you. But an aromatic and gently intoxicating blend for people of a certain taste.

Listen to: “Farewell Appalachia”

Listen to: “The Bigger Picture”

Listen to: “The Great Procrastinator”

See also:

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