06 November 2009

Album Review: Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring

This album is not so much a pistol as a shotgun, its ideas roughly discernible as a concept album. Here we have Noah and the Whale, trading bright, poppy folk for gloom. Here the listener is treated to not one but nearly a dozen songs of longing and distress. Not as much cerebral as melodramatic, it's difficult to admit that this record has any staying power.

This is a breakup album--every song on the album makes clear you know that. And while repetition gets the point across, redundant repetition drowns out of the point, and we are left to focus only on the minutiae, where every song is the same by its unity of theme. While we the audience are told from the beginning that spring is starting, no chronological progression is made, even as we are told that this is a concept album, that the narrator is progressing.

Progression is slow, reversible, sidestepped, even redefined. Virtually the same palette of sounds plays throughout the record. I do not slight The First Days of Spring for reusing instruments (as that is never a crime for a band, except in electronica), but the intended impression upon the reader's mind is only slightly changed from tune to tune. I can break down the mood into archetypes: slow, deep, drums, with a slow riff played in the alto range of an electric guitar; light airs played on a piano like wind chimes--the beauty of life; janglyacoustic guitar--raw heart; a violin with a legato like an elephant is tall--the undying romanticism of the hopeless narrator; that ol ' "get all the indie kids together" ensemble, completely with jangly acoustic guitar (the band probably owes Architecture in Helsinki royalties). Now, some diversity stands, but the presence is unmistakably novel.

For the most part, the above mentioned ensemble of ideas is repeated and mixed. Any attempts to sketch the plot will result in just that: a sketch. There's really only a few points of note: spring starts and the narrator has no girlfriend ("The First Days of Spring"). Regret, denial. A weird perpendicular shoot into happy denial ("Love of an Orchestra")? Back down to Earth ("Instrumental II"). Sleeps with a stranger to prove he's not attached anymore ("Stranger"). Even stronger denial that he's still in love with her--claiming he is no longer concerned with his ex-girlfriend ("Slow Glass"), even though she's mentioned for every single song until the album ends. The narrator claims that he failed her and she failed him ("My Door Is Always Open"). End.

Huh? Even as the motifs play out and this slow-moving eleven-song ballad depart, I can only say that the album fails its parts. Too many ideas play out. The orchestral bump in Love of an Orchestra never attempts to unite its differences with the more baroque outlook of the rest of the album. In the end, this is no more a tale of recovering from loss than the ennui of modern infatuation, captured in amber for the world to hear for as long as MP3s will be spread around--for Noah and the Whale and possibly the indie movement, love is not just an emotion or state of mind but a separation from society. Being cut off becomes isolation from not just love but society itself. The problem is that this view is only melodrama. Unfortunately, that is the only view The First Days of Spring is capable of expressing.

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