Album Review: Noah and the Whale – Heart of Nowhere

By on Monday, 6th May 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Noah and the Whale Heart of Nowhere coverNoah and the Whale broke through their own folk pop barriers with last album ‘Last Night on Earth’, which editor Mary named her #1 album of 2011. The songs on that album were pensive and often philosophical yet musically upbeat, especially lead single ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’. The band continue that trend with their new release ‘Heart of Nowhere’, out today on Mercury. A cursory glance through the tracklist hints at a particular concern with passage of time, which is fully realised upon hearing the album.

Thematically and lyrically, ‘Heart of Nowhere’ bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘80s era-Bruce Springsteen. In ‘Lifetime’, frontman Charlie Fink sings, “we got high a thousand times / in your brother’s room / talked about how we’d break free / guess it came too soon”), which drew an immediate comparison in my mind to Springsteen’s ‘Bobby Jean’. In another nod to the band’s folk roots, ‘Silver and Gold’ opens with a reference to Neil Young (“well, I was looking for ‘Harvest’ but only found ‘Silver and Gold’”). Fink’s voice often reminds me of Tom Petty with its nasal drag and languid delivery, but Fink is deeper and less strident, much easier on the ears. His voice was well-suited to the band’s earlier folk sound, but it works equally well in this more recent pop sound, allowing for contrast and depth that could easily have been lost in the shift.

‘Heart of Nowhere’ begins with a decidedly pop-sounding instrumental piece titled simply titled ‘Introduction’. Its light percussion and floating strings flow almost seamlessly into the first full track, which shares its title with the album and includes a smouldering vocal contribution by Anna Calvi. ‘Heart of Nowhere’ the song features a distinctive string melody, and a heavy, pulsing rhythm section, both of which are characteristic of the album as a whole. Its narrative reference to a presumably fictional female character, in this case called Sarah, is another repeating motif on the album.

‘One More Night’ once again evokes the ‘80s with a softly seductive, deliberately synthetic sound, cool and crisp, but with a deep, moving bass. The wistful lyrics, about a love that might have been, are sung suggestively to ‘Jennifer’, beginning with the intensely provocative lines, “are you lying in your bed alone tonight / while he watches TV? / can you hear it coming through the floorboards / while you’re thinking of me?”

‘Still After All These Years’ is also addressed to a specific woman, this time named Lisa, who is described in the lyric as “dark and brooding, fickle and demure”. Musically, though, it is jaunty and upbeat, with a mellow rhythmic groove and some nice guitar work in the solos.

Final track ‘Not Too Late’ leans ever-so-slightly back toward folk in sound, with predominant acoustic guitar and softer percussion, especially in the introduction. That earthy feeling extends through the lyrics, about “find(ing) my own way to be a man”, and into the legato strings behind the closing melody.

At 10 tracks, including the brief ‘Introduction’, ‘Heart of Nowhere’ feels short in length, but the individual songs are earnest and strong. Unusual instrumental arrangements give the album a mild twist, saving the vibe from being overly derivative. The lyrics are emotionally evocative and often witty, easily rhythmic without becoming trite. While there isn’t a wide variety among the songs, there is a certain consistency. If you love the first track you hear, you’ll probably love them all.

8/10

Noah and the Whale’s fourth studio album, ‘Heart of Nowhere’, is out in the UK today via Mercury Records. The first video released from the album, for ‘There Will Come a Time’, was featured in this previous Video of the Moment post. There are two Sundays left in the band’s London residency; all details here.

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