I have to concede that I was slightly nervous upon receiving the Oxfordshire four-piece’s second offering; nervous because I really liked 2010’s Beachcomber’s Windowsill and I desperately didn’t want to be disappointed by Tales From Terra Firma. I hit play with the mix of anxiety and excitement you might feel letting go of your child’s bike for the first time without stabilisers. But I needn’t have worried. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction having seen Reservoir Dogs and it felt like Tarantino had been practising with Reservoir Dogs (great as it was in its own right) to make Pulp Fiction. It is a relief and a delight that the feeling is the same here.
This is a big, lavish sounding record from a band who have heard the ‘less is more’ argument, but ignored it in favour of a more logically sound ‘more is more’ attitude. As with their critically acclaimed debut, the band have elected to self-produce TFTF and it’s evident that they’ve spent some time in the period between releases honing their skills in the studio.
The album opens with You Take Me As I Am, the tale of a wedding, bursting with love and optimism and told with just about every instrument they could lay their hands on; guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, horns and even theremin all artfully flailing and unrestrained. Farewell Appalachia builds more slowly, at first reminiscent of a slightly chirpier Midlake, until Brian Briggs’ voice and irrepressible optimism takes it somewhere else. The Bigger Picture is four minutes of unashamed pop and (A Belated) Invite to Eternity – presumably inspired by the John Clare poem – is a real highlight here; a beautifully arranged epic with Arcade Fire-esque electric guitars and gorgeous strings.
The Great Procrastinator, the tale of… well… a great procrastinator, is like a slightly more ambitious Last of the Melting Snow by the Leisure Society. The Ones We Hurt The Most and the conspicuously sparse November Song are further highlights on a real gem of an album throughout which Briggs’ lyrical wit and fine, but believable voice, shine.
Stornoway are doing something that pretty much nobody else is doing – making upbeat folk/indie music and doing it well. Though there is diversity in feel and instrumentation here, in essence this is the sound of optimism. And that makes this an interesting, impressive and intelligent album by a pretty special band.