[3 December 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
From their Wes Anderson-mimicking videos and Noah Baumbach-quoting band name, Noah and the Whale seem too precious by half, maybe even more a gimmick than a band. The album itself is different, though, more a youthful singer-songwriter musing on the big topics of youth, love and death, while the other band members sing along, campfire style, and offer quirky little instrumentation. Both often seem like affectations of today’s trends in indie-pop/rock. Are these musings serious or goofy? It’s often hard to tell. The Neutral Milk Hotel leanings (on “Jocasta”, for example) suggest the former, while poor imitations of Jens Lekman suggest a goofiness hiding sincerity, or maybe the other way around.
The first song, a sad love song called “2 Atoms in a Molecule”, has lyrics like “maybe I just need a change / maybe I just need a new cologne”, which doesn’t help clear that issue up. The song’s general attitude to lost love is that he’s lost so much but at the same time it doesn’t really matter, not much more than cologne. There’s the same have-it-whichever way attitude to death/life/love elsewhere. “Shape of My Heart” is a nihilistic, anti-love song (“if there’s any love in me don’t let it show”) where you know he’s lying. The unreliable narrator thing works on some songs, but elsewhere the lyrics still seem just dumb, like this: “you don’t know how it feels to be alive / until you know how it feels to die.” Sometimes the faux-wise apathy and clichés work, though, or at least they seem irrelevant when the melodies sound nice, or when the band comes through with a pleasant horn burst or something. The single “5 Years Time” is like that, appealing even though its sweet nothings really do feel like nothing. All in all, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, even with its mortality obsession, is mostly a statement of nothing, but at least it sounds good most of the time.