Funny I should find this when spring is coming to the north and the cold and dark is beginning to bite its way south. Still, African winters aren't so bad and my birthday being in 2 weeks time, I've come to love (or rather - become accustomed to) the season change and the colours slowly fading to oranges and burnt out browns and yellows.
“I do see the film and the album as being together, as a unified thing,” says Noah and the Whale’s chief songwriter and singer Charlie Fink about the band’s new record and accompanying film, The First Days of Spring. “But the album very much came first – it has its own internal narrative.”
As with their debut, last year’s Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, the Londoners’ second release follows a structure. There are songs here – Blue Skies, Our Window, I Have Nothing, Slow Glass – that cry out for special attention, for love. But the journey the album takes you on, from the ominous drum tattoo and string swell on the opening title track right through to the strummed acoustic guitar, pedal-steel keening and massed voices that bring My Door is Always Open to its devastating close, is an experience quite unlike that offered by most music being made today.
Charlie began thinking of making an album that was also a film (and, as he sees it, vice versa) last year. The film, shot on a miniscule budget in a tight time-frame – a process one of the producers describes “as making a near feature-length film, for the budget of a short, in eight days” – and directed by Charlie himself, can be seen as a companion piece to the album, as a visual version of it, or as a piece of work in its own right. That decision is very much up to us, as the listener and viewer, says Charlie.
Formed in 2006, Noah and the Whale quickly gained a foothold on a London music scene variously described as anti-folk, nu-folk and folk-pop (a confusing multitude of pigeonholes) alongside like-minded souls such as Laura Marling and Emmy the Great. Both were part-time members of the band at various points, while Charlie Fink also produced Marling’s Mercury-nominated debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim. It was apparent immediately that something unorthodox and disturbing was going on in Noah and the Whale’s songs: that, beneath the surface appeal (bells, whistles, handclaps, ukuleles and singalong choruses), they were working with much darker materials. This tension, between instantly undislodgeable melodies and instrumental textures that encouraged a sunny disposition, and lyrics that looked unblinkingly at the ambiguities contained in love, in words, in life and in death, made the band’s debut album a critical and commercial success, charting in the Top 5 and being certified Gold within just four months. The band toured extensively, in the UK, in Europe and in the US, their superb live shows drawing much acclaim as the album, and earning the band a rabidly loyal fanbase in the process.