Stornoway-Tales from Terra Firma (4AD)
Nyika Suttie takes a listen to the new Stornoway album that came out earlier this month on 4AD records. She likes what the Oxford band has on offer this time around, even though some of the instruments they use require a good internet search to identify.
A little like the month of March, Stornoway’s new album ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This is the second album by the Oxford quartet and offers melodic storytelling that is wise beyond the young band’s years.
The opening track, ‘You Take Me As I Am’, is a lively, jangly piece that uses brass to great effect and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The lyrics guide you gently through the thoughts and feelings that went into the song, something which is seen to best effect in ‘The Bigger Picture’. “You may have seen the thread of silver on the window in the bathroom that was thicker than the thread your heart was hanging from,” sings lead singer Brian Briggs, artfully encouraging the receiver of the lyrics to see the world as he sees it. Indeed much of the album is written in second person, which at times gives the lyrics a personal touch and encourages you to listen.
By far the most beautiful thing about this album is the imagery and the journeys the lyrics take you on. ‘Hook, Line, Sinker’ begins with a summer evening bike ride, ‘November Song; traverses through a winter tableau. ‘Knock Me on the Head’ sounds so familiar that I’m sure it was played when I saw the band at the Eden Sessions last July, speaking of “hourglass eternity” and an albatross around their necks. Unfortunately Stornoway came across as a little shambolic in this set but I feel confident that their strong new material will carry them through in the future.
Second to the imagery is the clever instrumentation, apparently very much the work of bassist and multi-instrumentalist Oli Steadman. Amongst the guitars and drums you may expect from a band, also credited are the dulcimer, the qanun and several other instruments I had to Google alongside “the spoons” and “crunchy Autumn leaves”. Stornoway’s last album involved a buoy taken from Stornoway (the place) itself so it’s definitely nice to see this experimentation continue.
Whilst much of the album has a folk-pop sort of sound in a far less twee way than, say, Noah and The Whale, ‘(A belated) Invite to Eternity’ is almost pure indie rock with vibes of bands such as Peace coming through. It comes as a refreshing surprise about halfway into the album and cements the running theme of the passing of time which gently haunts the album in both a joyful and melancholy way. ‘The Ones We Hurt the Most’ is nearly a tear jerker in this respect, taking the old adage of. “The ones we love we hurt the most,” and running with it with almost reckless abandon.
‘November Song’ leads to the end of the album, quiet and comforting, marking journey’s end, although I may like to go straight back to the start, because in case you can’t tell already I really like this album. It shares similarities to the first album, namely because it’s by the same band, but it sounds fuller, more weathered perhaps. It’s definitely hard to believe it was created between a campervan and a garage in land-locked Oxfordshire!
Whilst these boys may still be a little nervous when playing live, they certainly have a charm which comes through in their recordings. Perhaps this will give them the confidence to be the brilliant band we all know they are.
Words by Nyika Suttie. More writing by Nyika on Louder Than War can be found here.