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Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring Album Review

26 March
Author: Sam

According to my calendar, the official first days of spring are upon us.  Though down here in the mid-Atlantic, it has recently felt much more like summer, as if springtime had been passed by altogether.  Thankfully, the dreadful  summer’s heat has been held at bay, at least temporarily, as a temperate cool front passes through.  What better time then to review an album called The First Days of Spring?

First off, this album, the sophomore effort from the English band Noah and the Whale is not new, and it’s not even the newest album in their catalog.  But it’s new to me, I’d reckon it’s new to many of you, and as they say (though perhaps not during this particular equinox), “’tis the season.”

Spring is the thematic and literary stage for all manner of rebirth and renewal, and that is no different here.  Though as must always be the case, the first signs of life which sprout up in the warming embrace of the springtime sun originate from the death and decay of past lives.  This cyclical process reveals itself as plainly in nature as it does in the nature of our relationships.  It can be a beautiful and contemplative series of events, and that is the musical essence that Noah and the Whale have managed to capture on this record.

Hardcore fans of this band and/or people who know more about the personalities involved would be able to explain the dynamics in greater detail, but the long and short of this album’s inspiration is that singer-songwriter Laura Marling, formerly a member of Noah and the Whale and girlfriend to frontman Charlie Fink, left the band (and Charlie) to pursue a solo career.  The resulting painful breakup fueled the creation and direction of this album, which essentially is a confessional concept record describing the process of coming to terms with the end of a relationship.  It’s certainly not an easy process, as Fink sings on “Our Windows,” “Spring can be the cruelest of months.”

The album starts off with a figurative bang, far more emotional than musical.  The deep, reverberating strums of the title track are reminiscent of the introspective, measured guitar work of Explosions in the Sky.  It is the musical equivalent of a flower bud opening up in the first rays of sun.  Or, perhaps more appropriately given the subject matter, like the opening of one’s tired eyes after a long hard night of mourning and regret, as you reminiscence and try to fathom a way to move forward.  Fink’s voice is one of melancholic perfection, and his pleading baritone bears similarities (in style, if not always in tone) to Matt Berninger, Alexi Murdoch, and James Mercer.

The record is split into two distinct four song suites, separated in the middle by two instrumentals sandwiching “Love of an Orchestra” – a somewhat jarring, cheeky, wildly divergent track of uplifting orchestral arrangements which belie a much different message of loneliness and hopelessness in love.  By the end of “Stranger,” the first track of the album’s true second half, things can begin to be seen in a slightly more positive light.  There is a sense that Fink has found a way to relinquish the burdens of the breakup, sleeping with someone new, the subsequent regret, and the desire to hold some measure of hope in his mind.  And even though he sings, “Oh, ’cause everything I love has gone away / You know in a year, it’s gonna be better / You know in a year, I’m gonna be happy,” by the time the album has struck its final somber note, it’s hard to believe in his forced optimism.  Despite his proclamations otherwise, it’s clear that the turmoil of the relationship had simply been deferred rather than conquered, with each party continuing to harbor pain.

This sweeping album is full of lush swells and folksy strumming, and its cinematic qualities are perfectly recognized and captured in the accompanying film produced by the band (and included below).  The First Days of Spring functions as a brilliant statement that any rebirth cannot be complete until the past, no matter how dirty or broken, is dealt with.  It’s not an easy process, but this album is a pretty sweet soundtrack to guide the way.

Rating: ★★★½☆

-Sam

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