2010 release from the Scottish Folk Rock outfit. Originally planned on being released by the band, 4AD were keen that the majority of the songs should be left as they were, recorded on their 8-track recorder in college bedrooms, garages and community centers, at a time when they "felt quite free and had lots of time." "If you listen closely," leader Brian Briggs says, "you can hear stuff like various band members muttering, lots of hiss and funny little details that you would normally clean up if you were in a studio. There's something about the recordings as they are which has maybe more character and more soul to them. And we're proud that actually these are things that we made ourselves without any outside help." 11 tracks. 4AD.
You imagine them wandering along the musical seafront with their nets, looking for treasures. Eagerly, they gather inspiration and scores of instruments–and anything that could be used as an instrument–from the folk, pop and indie jetsam, before wending their way through quirky villages and scenic rural landscapes.
The Oxford four/six-piece's much-tipped, mostly home-recorded debut is steeped in dreamy whimsy and joyful beauty. It's the sound of a summer spent frolicking around the sun-dappled hedgerows of an idyllic English countryside where time is slow and animals can probably speak.
Their lyrics suggest an almost child-like, wide-eyed yet exuberant view of the world–falling in love is "zorbing through the streets" (first single, the buoyant Zorbing), and sheaves of paper are piles of "A4 snowflakes" (We Are the Battery Human). It's in the music too, and not only in the swelling strings, triumphant trumpetings and the harmonies that could make a choir weep, but also in an enthusiastic commitment to unusual, though subtle, instrumentation. "Hmm, that track needs a bit more carrot-chopping in it," isn't something that crosses most bands' minds, or indeed, those of their listeners; but to singer and guitarist Brian Briggs and his chums, it's clearly important.
It all adds to Stornoway's charm, and charm they have in mountains. It's hard not to be felled by the utter gorgeousness of this record. The Belle and Sebastian-like Boats and Trains, all running keys and soaring vocals, makes frustrated love sound truly captivating, while the plaintive The Coldharbour Road (think Guillemots sung by Tim Booth) drags you to the shoreline by your heart as former ornithologist Briggs intones, "I am a seabird / You are the Arctic ocean". In contrast, the bluegrass-scented banjo ditty We are the Battery Human, a kind of reined-in Gorky's which wittily exposes how bound we are to office life, makes you long for a hoedown.
They don't, unlike some of their folkie compadres, do over-earnest or twee, although they get chummier with the chintz on closer, Long Distance Lullaby, which is reminiscent of James at their blandest. But by then it doesn't matter–you've already been seduced by an album, which, when the current nu-folk mongers have faded or bought a boarding ticket for another bandwagon, you'll still want to hear. --Alix Buscovic, BBC