Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: 4AD
No curse of the second album for Stornoway, who've stretched out without losing sight of the intimacy of their charming debut. In fact, the album opens like a defiantly English folky take on the E Street Band, with piano and organ intertwining on Take Me As I Am, joined by horns that swell the sound into a gorgeous soft blanket. Farewell Appalachia's heartmelting melody is paired with a clever rhythm track that sounds like feet tramping through the "carpet of leaves of underfoot".
It begins jubilantly with a marriage and ends with a calm reflection on death. In between, this rollercoaster of a second album from folk four-piece Stornoway shunts us from amorous ecstasy to heartbreak, dipping along the way to celebrate the virtues of procrastination. The album has an appealingly unkempt feel but the arrangements (by Jon Ouin) are nicely controlled and Brian Briggs's graceful, open-hearted lyrics keep sentimentality in check.
The cover of Stornoway’s Tales From Terra Firma depicts a young child sitting atop a ragged bed, riding the crest of a wave on a wild sea. It’s night time and a plump moon hangs in a sky full of stars, illuminating the darkness below. It’s an evocative image, recalling childhood wonder and imagination while conjuring a sense of escape and adventure.
Oxford-based indie pop outfit Stornoway's 2010 debut Beachcomber's Windowsill presented a group that was unafraid to treat the twin goal posts of love and heartache with affable, English refinement. In less skillful hands, such good sportsmanship could have dissolved into a treacly mess, but luckily, the band's penchant for wallowing in nostalgia and sentimentality was tempered by their gift for crafting great hooks. Recorded over the span of two Oxford winters, the nine-track Tales from Terra Firma, the group's sweet, soulful, and surprisingly epic-sounding sophomore outing feels like a logical progression from its predecessor, staying true to the quartet's folk-pop roots while exploring new arrangement-heavy, psych-tinged avenues that owe as much to the Incredible String Band as they do a less cynical Belle and Sebastian.
You know where you stand with Stornoway. The first song on the Oxfordshire quartet’s second album is a five-minute tableau of frontman Brian Briggs’ wedding day, at which everything goes sickeningly well and absolutely no-one takes ketamine and picks a fight with the bride’s brother. ‘You Take Me As I Am’ more or less sets the tone for ‘Tales From Terra Firma’, an album whose inexhaustible stores of optimism oscillate between admirable and outright quixotic.
This really should be Stornoway’s moment to shine. When the band's delicate and introspective melodies emerged on the live scene in 2009, few could have imagined the emergence of folk-rock and its modern tributaries as a Grammy and Brits winning genre. But the world of music has a continually peculiar slant to its vagaries and as such, a band who started out with nothing but instruments, big hearts and a swish of gorgeous melancholy to their name now have the unexpected opportunity to make themselves a household name.
The fresh-faced folk pop band Stornoway seem promising: They play with guileless vigor, have a light-stepping chemistry as a unit, harmonize well. Their lead singer Brian Briggs has a lovely, pure high tenor, the kind of voice that effortlessly conveys simple longing. And yet, on their second album, Tales from Terra Firma, they continue to be almost crushingly dull, making well-appointed and cheerfully empty music that successfully communicates next to nothing.
Stornoway have an uncanny ability to capture devastating romance in the most mundane of scenarios. The opener on ‘Tales From Terra Firma’, ‘You Take Me As I Am’ packs a luvvy-duvvy punch that could knock wedding bells into the eyes of the most cynical of grumps. When Brian Briggs sings of his wife’s tears falling in his eyes on their wedding night, lumps in throats is the order of the day.