Noah & The Whale – Heart of Nowhere (Mercury)
May 7, 2013 by Alex Zinovieff
Noah And The Whale have taken an extraordinary journey through their career. They have now recorded their fourth album ‘Heart of Nowhere’ which represents a completely new experience to any of the previous records. Their first record Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down (2008) was an unapologetically upbeat collection of folk-pop songs holding great promise and optimism. Their next, First Days Of Spring (2009),was a sonic representation of Charlie Fink’s (lead singer) misery at breaking up with previous band mate and girlfriend Laura Marling. The album was the music equivalent of watching the blood slowly pulse out of a severed heart and it is also by far my favourite of their albums. Their third album Last Night On Earth (2011) was the biggest musical departure. It features drum machines, synths and a gloss of production that didn’t feature, and wasn’t needed, in previous albums. Heart Of Nowhere doesn’t break musical barriers but it certainly carries on their tradition of delivering something largely unrelated to the last album.
The thing that first struck me when listening to this album is that at times it feels emotionally more removed than previous releases. If we were being taken through the story of carefree youth, then lost love, then a fantastical regrouping then this record is coming of age. Perhaps a factor in this is that it is that the album is the soundtrack to the latest product of Finks work as a film director. First Days Of Spring felt like a film to music, whereas perhaps Heart of Nowhere feels as times like music written for a film.
The album begins with a solo glockenspiel which given the impression of the opening of a film – perhaps a slow panning across a setting sun. Following the final thump of a bass drum the album moves seamlessly into ‘Heart Of Nowhere’, the title track for the album. This song provides an excellent representation of the sound that they have crafted. Thumping drumbeats laden with bass drum and reverbed snare drive multi-layered violin riffs and strummed electric guitar. On top of this is Fink’s voice, which sounds stronger and more confident than in previous recordings. It is in this song that we are treated to an interjection by Anna Calvi. She delivers a smile-inducing performance of lung-busting strength.
It is in ‘All through the Night’ that I think Fink’s voice is most obviously beefed up. He delivers a chorus full of vibrato and a climax of near shouting, all this over a 90’s style head-nodding drum beat. Next is ‘Lifetime’ – my favourite song on the album. It feels like a real Noah And The Whale classic and contains everything that makes them brilliant. It has lyrics that are so wonderfully constructed you can’t help but feel totally involved and in total nostalgia induced agreement. The words ‘We grew up, drifted apart, now your getting married while I’m waiting for my life to start’ introduce the chorus… and what a chorus! It is a period of intense musical ecstasy that you’ll be sad to finish. If this is not the next single then I will eat my hat.
‘Silver and Gold’ is based on the time Fink went to rent Neil Young’s Harvest from the local library but only found Silver and Gold, one of his later and more introspective works. He found the album inspiring and the conclusion of the song is that sometimes a disappointing situation can turn into a blessing. The sense of the film score returns with ‘Still After All These Years’. With the help of a masterful mid-song key change it gives a dreamy landscape of retrospective pop with harking lyrics.
‘Now Is Exactly The Time’ is a song of heart-wrenching humility and self-deprecation. It is about tolerance of friends, acceptance of ones parents and allowing yourself to strike out and become who you want to be. The words ‘I could spend a lifetime searching for someone to blame’ ring out like a realisation of responsibility and a shedding of a child’s lack of responsibility. It also has some changes of key that will give you butterflies. The album ends with ‘Not Too Late’, the slowest on the album, and a song of weary hope and tired optimism.
I would like to take my hat (that I hope I don’t have to eat) off to Noah And The Whale. They are not a band that has found success from a certain sound and stuck to the winning formula, producing subsequent albums from the same mold. They have stepped out of their comfort zone with each new album and produced something different. True to form this is another stonker.