It’s hard for critics not to roll their eyes at Noah and The Whale’s stereotypically hip persona — its name pays homage to the cult indie flick “The Squid and the Whale” and the band is composed of eccentric musicians who look like they just walked off the set of the latest Wes Anderson film.
Noah and the Whale
The First Days of Spring
Anticipation for the band’s new album The First Days of Spring has left quintessential indie music junkies foaming at the mouth. But for everyone else, the band’s appearance gives off a cutesy, quirky image that’s pretty much a turn-off from the start.
But once listeners get past its pretentious exterior, they will really appreciate what Noah and The Whale has to offer: an epic album complete with some of the most original folk ballads the music industry has seen in a long time. A band with such an endearingly delicate quality and retro charm has not come on the scene since cult favorite Belle and Sebastian.
For lead vocalist Charlie Fink, The First Days of Spring signifies new beginnings. Fink recently broke up with his long-time girlfriend and frequent collaborator, and he uses the record to voice every emotion he has ever had regarding the relationship.
Track by track, Fink looks back to find out where it all went wrong and map out his road to recovery. The album leaves listeners feeling like they are eavesdropping on a private therapy session as Fink pours his heart out in every song. Behind the meticulously orchestrated sound lies Fink’s sincere vocals — nothing is sugar-coated and his pain is palpable. The juxtaposition of raw emotion and beautiful melodies is what makes this album’s theme of unrequited love so damn heartbreaking.
The record begins with the title track, “The First Days of Spring.” Fink’s healing process unravels itself as the methodical drum beats, somber guitar riffs and soft violins creep their way into harmony before surging into a climax of orchestral percussion. Tom Hobden, the band’s talented violinist and its resident virtuoso, arranged the strings on the album. His exquisite work brings the track to a culmination that captures Fink’s fragility as he mournfully whispers his lyrics over painful violin screeches.
“Our Window” is the album’s most achingly sorrowful ballad. It marks the end of a long, drawn-out break up in which the two lovers have been up all night. The song captures the moment where each person said what he or she had to say, but no one is ready for the relationship to be over quite yet. The brisk taps of the keyboard bring life into the track as Fink croons, “The stars are shining through our window / and it’s been awhile since I stared at the stars.” The lines bring a glimpse of hope to an otherwise tragic track.
In order to balance the album’s somber demeanor, the band strategically places uplifting melodies throughout the tracks. In “Love of An Orchestra,” a church choir sings an encouraging melody, carrying Fink out of his remorseful gloom with joyous lyrics like “There’s no need for despair / I’m carrying all the love of an orchestra.”
With its new album, Noah and The Whale reinvents itself — the British band, formerly known for composing standard indie-pop, proves itself capable of producing complex and wistful ballads. The First Days of Spring’s encouraging tone is defined in the lyric: “You know in a year it’s gonna be better, you know in a year I’m gonna be happy.” While each track may be infused with sorrow, there is always an overriding sense of hope.