Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review: Noah And The Whale - Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down (* * * 1/2)

It's unfortunate that America has to wait until mid September for the arrival of an album so seemingly made for summer as "Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down." You might have heard the single "5 Years Time," during the past few months, a smile-inducing tune with a catchy chorus and beautiful harmonies. If you haven't already, you should check out their quaint music video for the song on their Myspace page. You should also check out uber-talented Noah and the Whale band member Laura Marling's recent solo debut, Alas I Cannot Swim. 18 years old and already an amazing folk songwriter.

Marling might be Noah And The Whale's biggest claim to fame at the moment, but the band is led by another talented singer/songwriter, Charlie Fink. Fink is obsessed with love (finding it, losing it, enjoying it, etc), not exactly a novel subject, but lyrics like "If you don't believe in God, how can you believe in love, when we're all just matter, that will one day scatter," followed by musings of evolution and the meaning of life prove him to be a decent wordsmith when he cares to be. His droopy voice can take some getting used to, but it has a unique beauty which adds sincerity to the often bittersweet lyrics.

The music on Peaceful is mostly delicate and sparse, using hand claps, violin, ukulele, and piano with restraint and moderation to avoid complicating songs unnecessarily or filling them with too much noise. It's a welcome change of pace from so many overactive indie bands out there, even if the music sometimes seems too simple. The album works best when it moves along at a quicker pace, as on "Rocks And Daggers," and "2 Atoms In A Molecule," the former of which has Marling stealing the show with some beautiful backing vocals. When things slow down, I find the songs to be less compelling, with the exception of "Mary," which has an oddly charming quality.

Unfortunately, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down suffers from too many good-but-not-great songs that weigh the album down a little, keeping it from being a thoroughly exciting experience. Tracks like "Do What I Do," and "Second Lover" both feel like they would benefit from a more upbeat approach; they create too much down time and make the more potent slow tracks like "Mary" and the closer "Hold My Hand As I'm Lowered" more taxing than they should be. My second or third time through the album, I had a hard time staying interested through the end of the record despite the overall strong material.

All-in-all, Noah And The Whale have created a folk album that is fresh and fun, with enough talent and ideas to make them a band worth watching. I'm hoping they have a successful U.S. debut, and that they make it out to Utah sometime soon; I bet they put on a fine show.

Favorite Tracks: "2 Atoms In A Molecule," "Rocks And Daggers," "Mary"