Under Review: Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill

I think this week should end on a high note, considering how jaded I’ve been with past few releases I’ve written about here.  Perhaps the problem is that I’ve been focusing on too many returning and veteran acts, and what I really needed was a jolt of new blood.  Then along came Stornoway.  Named for a town in Scotland, the Oxonian group easily fits in alongside a number of other prominent newcomers, namely Mumford & Sons and Fanfarlo.  Their inventive take on traditional British folk is less about warping the structure than the content.  While Marcus Mumford and Simon Balthazar mostly keep their songs on the topics of love and loneliness, Stornoway leader Brian Briggs injects some modern and otherwise unexpected imagery into their pastoral, harmony-laden odes.  Stornoway’s debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, leads with such an anachronistic tune: “Zorbing.”  What sounds like a call to go prancing through a meadow is, in fact, about a more specific desire to roll through a town in a giant inflatable sphere.  Another tune that juxtaposes the organic with the synthetic is “We Are The Battery Human,” which references the world wide web, natural selection and endlessly staring at screens.  Briggs and the gang present these songs with such string-swept and horn-brightened gusto that their dystopian imagery might not even get picked up the first time around.

The odder lyrics might set them apart, but it’s Stornoway’s overall quality that makes them more than just another revival band.  The bouncy, organ-brightened “I Saw You Blink” and the tender (though densely-scribed) “Fuel Up” give Beachcomber’s Windowsill some dynamic variety.  The album maintains its strength all the way through, with “Watching Birds” and the closing “Long Distance Lullaby” being late-set standouts in particular.  Stornoway, like many of their fellow 4AD artists, have turned in a fully realized vision in their debut album.  Beachcomber’s Windowsill, though strongly influenced by countless predecessors, remains a fresh and distinctive listen from start to finish.  What’s perhaps most impressive is how effortlessly all this delightful material is delivered.  One of the most common problems with the 2010 albums from established artists is that those artists try far too hard to maintain their names and reputations.  As we’ve seen countless times, that goal usually makes for bloated, uninteresting and ultimately forgettable albums.  By contrast, this year’s debut albums have been impeccably strong, with Beachcomber’s Windowsill a contender for one of the best.

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~ by E. on August 20, 2010.

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