For the first minute of this second album by British four-piece Noah and the Whale, one can be forgiven for thinking that Sigur Rós have gone oddly alt-country. The intro to the opening title track is, in a word, celestial.
Vocalist Charlie Fink’s entrance reassures the listener that this is, indeed, the same band that enjoyed chart success with the track 5 Years Time roughly 12 months ago. But while his opening lyrics – “It’s the first day of spring, and my life is starting over again” – are wonderfully optimistic, looking towards the future with eyes wide and fingers crossed, the dominant tenor of this long-player is decidedly wistful.
Taking cues from both Will Oldham – the cracked, worn vocal tones – and Bill Callahan – that wonderfully lovelorn weariness – Fink’s on fine form throughout this long-player. And he has to be, as while the music around him swells with affecting elegance, it’s firmly entrenched in its players’ comfort zones. That’s not to say progress isn’t apparent from the band’s debut, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down; but you’d never call these arrangements adventurous.
Consistency is achieved, though, and as such The First Days of Spring makes for an enjoyably full listen – the way the title track slips from its strings-filled crescendo to the following Our Window and its measured, morose piano line is magical, and never are vocals rushed to the fore at the expense of scene-setting instrumentation. That this is a record available with an accompanying film, written and directed by Fink, is pertinent: set these gentle melodies and hushed confessionals to appropriate visuals and the senses slip into a sweet embrace. A trailer, doubling as the video for single Blue Skies, can be found online.
The First Days of Spring even plays out as if scripted, sequenced to suggest coming developments – there’s mention made of proverbial blue skies returning long before the aforementioned track’s subject-matter extrapolation, for example. And, like any movie worth remembering, the album features its share of striking imagery and balances the jovial with the deeply dolorous, reaching its darkest depths with Stranger’s revelation that “Everything I’ve loved has gone away”.
But as My Door is Always Open ends proceedings, resolution is achieved with a triumphant declaration of “now I’m free”. Yet our protagonist’s back is not turned, as the title suggests – lines drawn, matters settled, the album closes with satisfying finality. --Mike Diver
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