Stornoway: Beachcomber's Windowsill

More than just a Heberdian burgh in Scotland, Stornoway now happen to be one of the hottest independent outfits to come out of the UK.


Beachcomber's Windowsill

Label: 4AD
UK Release Date: 2010-05-24
US Release Date: 2010-05-25

"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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.