Oxford's Stornoway return to the fold this spring with their self-produced, semi-concept sophomore album, 'Tales From Terra Firma.'
Composed in a campervan and recorded in their parents' garage, 'Tales' is a record full of wistful charm and maritime melancholy that beautifully captures Stornoway's unique blend of Cotswold Americana.
Opting to self-produce can be a risky business, but in 'Tales' we discover a collection of songs that are lyrically more thoughtful and instrumentally more sophisticated than its 2010 predecessor 'Beachcomber's Windowsill'. Gone are the carefree musings of a love-struck Oxford undergraduate and in their place we find vocalist and lyricist Brian Briggs all grown-up and dealing with bigger issues such as death, marriage and metaphorical albatrosses.
Stornoway's idiosyncratic brand of oceanic folk is perhaps best captured on lead single 'Knock Me On The Head.' After opening with an epic Wild West instrumental, the song breaks into a low-fi indie anthem and boasts a chorus catchier than the common cold. Other standout tracks are the Simon & Garfunkel inspired 'The Bigger Picture', and the wonderfully theatrical 'The Great Procrastinator', which brings a certain Eastern European flavour to proceedings.
According to the band's press release, the cardinal theme of the record is the romantic notion of a great adventurer discovering new, unchartered territory, and the experimental structures and atmospheric tendencies of the songs certainly adhere to this concept. However, where a producer might have got his compass out and guided the way, the band allow themselves at times to get lost within the compositions, and the result is an average song length of almost five minutes, which may or may not lead to accusations of prog.
In the modern world of folk rock, where it seems all you need to have a hit single is a song where all the band shout 'HEY!' in unison at the beginning of every bar, 'Tales From Terra Firma' offers a refreshing and welcome change to the scene. There's no "difficult second album" syndrome here; 'Tales' marks a natural and admirable progression for a band that have come of age and, in doing so, have discovered an identity all of their own.
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