Stornoway – Tales From Terra Firma (4AD)
April 7, 2013 by Alex Zinovieff
The adage says that the second album is the hardest. In these mercenary times it is almost a given that a band has a strong first album, and so the second has to negotiate the precarious position of the crest of the wave. As a huge fan of Stornoway’s first album, Beachcombers Windowsill I was anxious that the band would not rest on their laurels, nor lose what made their music romantic.
I am extremely skeptical of bands and musicians that think to progress or move up you need to make songs more complicated. To add some obscure chords, an unlikely instrument or a challenging time signature is not a sign of accomplished songwriting – more a scramble to mask bad songs. When I first listened to Knock Me On The Head, the debut single from Tales From Terra Firma, I felt a little blood pulse through that skeptical part of my brain.
The album begins with You Take Me As I Am, less a statement of intent and more a bridge between this rockier feeling album and the first. It is folky and upbeat, at times raucous – and hit heights of cacophony.
Farewell Appalachia follows, and constitutes a triumph of experimentation. You can hear perfectly timed scrunched crisp-packets, ripping paper, hammered-dulcimer and chimes. At no point does it feel overdone or novelty. It has a soaring chorus of lofty vocals and close harmonies – classic Stornoway.
I think that the Oxford band will wait until sunnier days until they release the next single and it could well be The Bigger Picture. It is a song that will make you dance, smile and long for the summer – an instant hit.
Hook, Line, Sinker is one of the weaker songs on the album, but represents how the band is less tamed now. There is an apparent willingness to allow their songs to stray beyond the confines of indie-folk and into the realms of rock music.
There is an innocence about Stornoway. They are a band seemingly untouched by impurity of the “industry”. This is one of the reasons they turned down major labels, preferring that their valuable signature be given to 4AD – somewhere they would be freer to write and record the way they wanted to. The outcome is an album recorded largely in a sitting room. It does feel like something created out of comfort and freedom.
We are then given a nugget of wit, humor and lyrical charm. The Great Procrastinator always makes me think of the end-credits of a film spilling down the screen on top of the golden image of a lumberjack lazily walking into the distance.
This album made me smile a lot. The songs do contain obscure chords, a few challenging rhythms and some extremely unlikely instruments. These are simply adornments on songs of real depth and mastery.