[25 May 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
“Lost my heart between sheets of lightening / Been singing you this song inside a bubble / Lying in your attic / I can feel your static” are just a few of the perceptual lyrics to the opening number off of Stornoway’s debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. Named after the Hebirdean town on the Scottish isle of Lewis, the band’s name, one assumes, relates to their preoccupation with the mythical folklore associated with such an isolated place. Anchored by cello, keyboards, trumpets, and violins, these Oxford musicians sit comfortably in the popularized pop-folk genre, which has recently simmered to the surface thanks to the success of bands like Dirty Projectors, Guillemots, and of course, Fleet Foxes.
Lead singer, Brian Briggs, Stornoway’s mastermind looks and sounds like an early Hank Williams, with the lyrical adventure of Huckleberry Finn. Making his way through numbers about fish species, and ornithological matters (“Watching Birds”), Stornoway are unique because of their unabashed ability to meld these niche topics, with accessible matters of the heart. If such lyrical, and sonic amalgamations sound peculiar, then one need look no further than Briggs’ biography, where it is noted that he attained his PhD in the habits of Shoveler ducks.
There is an exciting novelty in hearing these idiosyncrasies anchored by the gentle swell of the violin, the ebb and flow of a cello, and skittering rhythm sections. Their perfectly crafted harmonies, so direct and precise that it is impossible to fault the band’s immaculate considerations. After repeated listens, it becomes apparent that perhaps their obsessions have less to do with kitsch oddities, and rather with the more primal concerns associated with nature. Unraveling a sense of human dislocation, their melodic pop offers us an insight of what it might be like to grow up in a small twee town, while going through the same complicated emotions of love, yearning, and apathy synonymous with more urban youth.
Their wild laments grow more visceral three-quarters of the way through the record and on a number they sound rough, raw, and epic. But by the end, the band return to their nomadic roots, gently strumming their way through “Long Distance Lullaby”. The highlight of this discerning feat is “The End of the Movie”, a hushed, but heartbreaking piece about the end of a romance. Doe-eyed and whimsical, this toe-tapping outfit’s painterly view of the world is both thoughtful, and inspiring, and should help secure them a fanbase that extends far beyond the boundaries of their hometown of Cowley, Oxford.