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Since their debut release of Peaceful The World Lays Me Down (2008), Noah And The Whale have been on a dramatic, sentimental, and unpredictable trajectory of change and adjustment. The band’s growth has not only come sonically and stylistically to affect their music, but also thematically as this group of contemplative young people, led by Charlie Fink, has documented their twenties biannually, celebrating each passing two years with a new ten song collection.
The extreme of emotions range from album to album, from the slightly stifled happiness of Peaceful The World Lays Me Down, to a wretched slow recovery on The First Days of Spring (2009), which leads through the more stable and tame reminiscence of Last Night on Earth (2011). Noah And The Whale’s music offers such a range of emotion and life experience because the band is honest about what they have been through over the last seven years. With all that said about the relationship between experience and art, their newest release, Heart of Nowhere, is refreshingly genuine in its reflection on the adventure of living.
As much as the other Noah And The Whale records seem tightly cohesive in presenting a theme linking each ten or eleven songs, Heart of Nowhere weaves around more than any one main thread. Nostalgia, regret, and disappointment are all clearly focal on the first listen of the record, but with increased exposure to Charlie’s discreetly suggestive lyrics, some excitement and bliss peek through the sentimentality on songs like “Still After All These Years” and the title track “Heart of Nowhere” (which actually offers most of its enthusiasm thanks to the gorgeous vocal accompaniment of Anna Calvi).
“Still After All These Years” tells of a potential rekindling between old flames, complete with a heavily distorted electric guitar solo. This musical shift is just one example of the change from the originally violin driven early days of the band.
Speaking of violins, considering how focal the violin was on the first two Noah And The Whale records, the only time the warm strings are really used on Heart of Nowhere is during the “Interlude,” on one track called “Lifetime,” and as an 80’s pop throwback on “Heart of Nowhere.” The violins are so well composed on this title track that they really set up the opportunity for Charlie and Calvi to belt out their inspirational pleas to “Take a chance / and leave tonight.” This encouragement is much like another lyric of Charlie’s that “If you gotta run / run from home” from “Love of an Orchestra” (The First Days of Spring).
As mentioned before, the more common theme of the album is nearer to nostalgia than inspiration. The most representative song of this downcast sentiment is “One More Night,” which tells of the pain of watching a friend marry away her life to a man, and the resulting loneliness that accompanies her young marriage. The drowsy tempo and loosely melodic guitar riff sets the scene for a late-night full of wondering and regret of what could have been between Charlie and Jennifer. Charlie never sounds more sincere on the entire record than he does when he confesses to a married woman that “You know I need someone to talk to / You just want my arms around you / For one more night.”
If there is any band that deserves to have their music listened to in a context of all their releases, it is Noah And The Whale. The story behind the band is so essential to each individual song and to the progression of the four LPs. This latest effort might not have the same overt cohesiveness of some of the earlier releases, but the complexity of Heart of Nowhere might take years to develop fully. As Noah And The Whale continue their still very young career, we can only hope for more continued effort to partner their music so closely with their adventure of life.