Album Review: Stornoway – Unplucked EP

By on Wednesday, 16th September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Stornoway Unplucked EP coverIt’s pretty cool when one of your favourite bands seems to have anticipated your musical wish.

Stornoway will be releasing a new EP this month called ‘Unplucked’, and the press release reads, “Continuing the bird theme of ‘Bonxie’, the songs are stripped of their plumage and their unadorned, skeletal simplicity is revealed”. If you were like me and feeling quite sceptical about Stornoway turning to an outside producer for the first time for their third studio album ‘Bonxie’, then after hearing it you’d fantasised what the LP would sound like if the band had gone back to basics, to the sound that made their 2010 4AD debut ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ so great, this is totally your bag, baby.

The EP comprises six tracks, five of which are stripped back versions of their counterparts on ‘Bonxie’, released on Cooking Vinyl back in April. Owing to their simplified nature, you can’t help but imagine how they must have been written and developed from their bare bones as composed on acoustic guitar. The confident opening number of ‘Bonxie’, ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’, shines in its stripped back state, the harmonies and lovely string arrangement allowed the latitude to “breathe” and are let “exposed”, just as the lead vocals from Stornoway frontman Brian Briggs emotes in the lyrics. Similar results are achieved on the reworked ‘Man on Wire’ and ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’, the latter of which feels more natural in this mode.

‘Get Low’, now famous for its accompanying promo video in which the band in a convertible chase after a gaggle of geese, comes across far more relaxed with nothing but voices and acoustic guitars: the overall effect is beautiful. Hearing ‘Lost Youth’, the other upbeat ‘Bonxie’ number chosen for this treatment, you envision seeing the band performing the song at a barn dance somewhere in the country as soon as they break out the harmonica. Trust me, it’s a wonderful vision.

The EP concludes with the group’s cover of Yazz’s 1988 hit ‘The Only Way is Up’, which I witnessed in my great surprise in its full glory live when Stornoway performed it at the Academy during Live at Leeds 2015. The band clearly had its work cut out for them to turn it into something palatable for their folk pop / rock loving fans: I didn’t even recognise it when it popped up in their set in Leeds, which says a lot for their ability to morph the speedy dance pop original into something entirely their own. (The story behind the cover was revealed last week in an interview I did with bassist Oli Steadman; read the interview feature here.)

Ultimately, this release will tick off all the boxes for Stornoway fans who prefer the band doing a ‘less is more’ approach, and as a perfect introduction to the band for folk pop purists. Although this EP runs only six tracks long, it makes a fantastic, lasting impression and serves as an excellent reminder that even if ‘Bonxie’ had more pomp and heft due to superstar producer Gil Norton’s involvement, ultimately it is the group’s songwriting and harmonising talents that set them apart from their indie contemporaries. Worth every penny.

9/10

Stornoway’s ‘Unplucked’ EP will be released this Friday, the 18th of September, on Cooking Vinyl. ‘Bonxie’, the group’s third album, is available now, having seen its American release on Slimstyle Records at the end of July. For more on Stornoway – and there is quite an archive here at TGTF on them, as they’ve been friends of our site for a while – head this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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