From the wave of new British indie folk comes Stornoway. The six piece from Oxford deliver a DIY first album full of sweet and philosophical narrative based tunes delivered subtly and openly, incorporating a wide instrumental range and flawless choral stylings.
Opening track ‘Zorbing’ immediately showcases the simple yet enchanting vocals of front man Brian Briggs, along with complementary harmonies from the rest of the band, which flow on through the album. Lyrically and melodically contemplative, arrangements of bass, guitar and piano are gradually introduced throughout the piece, gaining momentum and culminating in a chorus of trumpets then closing softly with acoustic guitar. It’s the perfect example of a band who use their multi-instrumentality for good (as opposed to evil), capitalising on their wide range of talents sparingly, but to great effect.
In addition to their strong musicianship, Stornoway can tell a mean tale. ‘I Saw You Blink’ tells the story of irresolute love: that moment of infatuation where you might consider spending the rest of your life with someone who may or may not be contemplating the exact same thing. With a catchy, insistent beat and overlapping vocals by various band members, a sense of psychological urgency is conveyed, the intertwining melodies serving as the protagonist’s conflicting inner monologue.
‘Fuel Up’ is a metaphoric take on life and love as a journey, punctuated by varying pit stops, modes of transportation, directions, ending in an anthemic ode to friendship and the astounding clarity that comes with reflection on a life lived, roads travelled, paths crossed, with the ultimate conclusion being to simply “drive on”. Emotional nostalgia continues with ‘The Coldharbour Road’, where hollow strings and sombre piano cascade into a percussive, jolty ballad about loss and abandonment.
When the opening lines of ‘Boats and Trains’ kick in, I’m beginning to sense a familiar theme. Upon further inspection of the album artwork, a series of maps and nautical imagery, and at the discovery of the origins of the band name (Stornaway is a small maritime town in Scotland’s Isle of Lewis) it makes sense that the dappled pace of the album, sweeping instrumentation and pensive lyrics mirror the nostalgia associated with one’s reflection on journeys, life experiences, first love… Could it be that this is a coming of age record? The whimsical, worry free period of childhood and adolescence is over, leaving only memories; first experiences of living, loving, travelling, discovering… that time in your life when you just start to think a lot more, and question things, people, ways of life, opinions. Every second thought is philosophical. Or hey, maybe that’s just me.
My thoughts at this point in the album are echoed by the generational social commentary of ‘We Are The Battery Human’, which is at the onset a simply crafted folk tune, where melody and narrative are the main elements, being bolstered by the subtlety of plucking strings and distant percussion. “We’re gonna hibernate all year, under a pile of A4 snowflakes… we’ve go the whole world at our fingers… but we need to go online all day…” croons the band, merging the simple, old-folk romanticism that finds its way into the rest of their tunes with the reality of the generational shift since folk was last popular, as if to say, ‘Yeah, we’re young but we can still write kick ass and socially relevant folk tunes!’ Citing Generation Y as ‘battery humans’ and calling for a revolution – “we are born free range” sings the chorus, echoing the recent sentiments of fellow Brit M.I.A (sans violent taboo video).
Folk has long been associated with 60s greats like Bob Dylan, or Woody Guthrie before him. It is something that was perhaps relevant during the time of Woodstock, anti-war protests and flower power acid trips. Since then, it has become the type of music your daggy parents might’ve listened to despite their children’s objecting pleas. This new movement of modern folk (nu-folk is what the hipsters are calling it) is breaking that stuffy mould. Being led by acts such as Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, even Australia’s Angus & Julia Stone, Whitley and Lisa Mitchell, injected with elements of rock and pop, all placed under the ‘indie’ banner, it is… admit it… fucking cool and likely to stick around for a while, kicking electro pop off its pedestal and bringing a sense of authenticity and reality to today’s popular music.
Despite it’s overpowering thematic ideology, Beachcomber’s Windowsill is not necessarily ‘conceptual’, but succeeds in doing what all great albums should; telling a story from start to finish and keeping up a certain sense of consistency in musicality and lyricism. If you agree, check out some other wickedly folky and talented new comers; The Union Line, Warpaint, Local Natives, Crayon Fields, Vorn Doolette, Sherlocks Daughter, Tara Simmons and oh so many more! (comment below to add your hot picks)