Stornoway - Tales from Terra Firma
There's a quick point to make before launching into a review of Stornoway's second album, Tales For Terra Firma: Stornoway, for all their folkish charm and boyish nature, are not Mumford and Sons.
Now that's out of the way, isn't Tales For Terra Firma good? Listen to that opener. 'You Take Me As I Am' is an uplifting, beauteous affair, perfected with trumpets and organs and the kind of sounds Mumford and Sons wish they could make. As far as set-ups go, it's ambitious and largely successful.
Things then quieten down with 'Farewell Appalachia', but it nails the theme of the album. Travelling, exploring the unknown – whether it geographic or emotional – that's all here, laid out in hushed tones and understated melodies.
Like a cheerier version of the Decemberists, or occasionally dabbling in Belle and Sebastian sounds, the Oxford band wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it shows; in their lyrical content, in Brian Briggs' vocals, in the band's overall sound. But there's a lack of development between this album and their debut, Beachcomer's Windowsill, and with that comes an unavoidable disappointment that there isn't more.
The catchy 'Hook, Line, Sinker' doesn't really feel like it goes anywhere, for all its twinkling sounds and strong guitar riffs. If anything, it feels too big; its fast pace feels at odds with stronger parts of the album, and placed between the gorgeously meandering '(A Belated) Invite to Eternity' and lead single 'Knock Me On The Head', it just doesn't work.
'The Great Procrastinator' is experimentally theatrical, going from gentle acoustics that highlight Briggs' great vocals, building up with jazzy piano notes and eventually turning into a bit of a bawdy affair. It's a shame that the song's conclusion doesn't really live up to the set-up before it, but it fits well going into the more melancholic and deep 'The Ones We Hurt The Most'.
Tales From Terra Firma delivers tales, plural; it's a compilation rather than a cohesive story, but it feels like it wants to be the latter, and that disparity is what leaves you wanting. It's like having a platter instead of a complete meal, when all you want is a full belly and a nap by a warm fire but instead you're picking at pieces and left not-quite satisfied. There's every chance Stornoway will finally get it right with album number three, but in the meantime, we're still wondering why they didn’t manage it here.
Purchase and listen
You Don't Know Anything, a mini LP comprised of songs that "didn’t quite fit in with the mood" of latest album Tales from Terra Firma, is miles away from simplicity. For every slice of straightforward candour on their first offering, here poses a convoluted riposte. [read more]
Photographer Sapphire Mason Brown headed down to Somerset House to shoot the marvelous Stornoway and Cloud Control. [read more]