Review Summary: A whale of a tale.“For Charlie in particular, but for all of us, this project and the band’s growth over the last twelve months have been focused, deliberate and consuming. And the process, the development, has surpassed even our most searching ambitions”
These are the words that begin the liner notes on Noah and the Whale’s sophomore album, The First Days of Spring
. Indeed, it’s been quite a year for these Brits; evolving from being a cool-by-association link to last year’s indie darling, Laura Marling (forgive the rhyme), into one of the top “ones to watch” acts for this year. Now, the wait is finally over, and you can loosen your thin scarf and unbutton your cardigan – it’s good. Actually, scratch that. It’s very, very good. One of the most impressive (and somewhat unexpected) follow-ups of the year, the album stirs up a mixture of wanderlust, anxiety, loneliness, pensive hopefulness and emotional distance. It’s the kind of music that’s unashamedly sorrowful in tone, yet comes across as awe-inspiring and uplifting.
Describing the sound of Noah and the Whale is a difficult task at the best of times. Elements of folk, post-rock, chamber music and your various indie subgenres all emboss their mark on the music. If pressed, perhaps one could analogise most of Noah and the Whale’s sound the music of Sigur Ros at its most uplifting and engaging, fronted by an softly-spoken troubled soul in the spirit of Bill Callahan or Will Oldham. The instrumentation is spacious – atmospheric, even – in nature, leaving every sound to freely reverberate in its own environment. “Our Window” portrays this sentiment with a feeling of slow-motion and winding down, while “Love of an Orchestra” serves as a polar opposite with an upbeat rhythm and a heartening choral arrangement. Everything put together by bassist Urby Whale, keyboardist/fiddler Tom Hobden and drummer Doug Fink is meticulous in its creation and soaring in its bringing to life.
As the title suggest, the album’s recurring theme is that certain time of year where the leaves turn green again and warmth returns amidst light breezes through a light blue sky. The season is also known as a time of new life, where the weather cycle starts over again. Thus, as the music quietly resonates brighter shades and the beginning of a new day, vocalist/lyricist Charlie Fink takes what is left of his tattered and torn heart and bravely pins it to his sleeve. His misery is almost incurable – “I have nothing/I am no-one”, he croons on one track – but if there is anything one can take from The First Days of Spring
, it is that he is ready to change. After all, it’s a new season.
Perhaps no song sums up this kind of bittersweet feeling better than the immense, heartbroken title track that opens the record with less of a bang and more of an internal feeling of overwhelming emotion. Building up from a single, echoing thud into a lovelorn ballad detailing that universal difficulty of moving on in the most intimate and personal way possible. “Like a cut-down tree/I will rise again/And I’ll be bigger and stronger than ever before”, Fink promises…before confessing “But I am still here/Hoping that one day/You will come back”.
The record continues in the same vein, as Fink vows to grow and love again; using the environment around him as his inspiration. Every new seed, every star in the night sky, every fallen leaf…these seemingly normal, natural objects come to mean more than one could possibly imagine to Charlie Fink. It’s a unique perspective, and one that become utterly beautiful when focusing on the lyrics.
The First Days of Spring
flows in a somewhat conceptual manner, as Fink morphs from a disaster-stricken misery to a defiant optimist. He motions to start over once again. Time heals all wounds, and he just needs this season. You’ll be more than happy to give the man and his band all the time in the world once you’ve grown to love The First Days of Spring
. Rarely before has heartbreak sounded so joyful and life-filled.
“I love with my heart, and I hold with my hands, but you know my heart’s not yours…”