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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
Top Customer Reviews
Stornoway's debut full-length album "Beachcomber's Windowsill" is a varied collection of songs composed over the last few years by lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Biggs (a natural born & gifted story-teller) and includes the UK released singles 'Zorbing', 'Unfaithful' and 'I Saw You Blink'. It's an excellent introduction to Stornoway's music...even if the pleasantly soothing, almost pastoral folk-pop ballads on this CD, only hint at the exciting edginess and dynamic presence of their live performances - which first earned them the wide-spread acclaim and well-deserved reputation they already have in the UK.
It's time for North America to discover Stornoway too...not just on this CD...but also on stage. With a bright future in store, they're certain to be back on this side of the big pond before too long!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The answer is definitely yes since following repeated listens you discover in "Beachcomber's Windowsill" an album of enormous charm. Influences are worn openly on sleeves thus you could name check Belle and Sebastian. Frightened Rabbit, The Thrills and most centrally Welsh wizards Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Stornoway are named after famous Scottish town and from their entry in Wiki they comprise singer and guitarist Brian Briggs; singer, guitarist, cellist and keyboardist Jon Ouin; singer, guitarist and bassist Oliver Steadman; and drummer Robert Steadman. The band is usually joined by trumpeter Adam Briggs and violinist Rahul Satija.
The highlights are spread evenly across the album and sung with a heartfelt passion which is hard to resist. Take the opener "Zorbing" which the Times describes as "blast of sea air that hits you as you alight an overnight train" it moves along at real pace and is the type of song that the throng at Glastonbury will lap up. "Long distance lullaby" starts with bells, is punctuated throughout by horns and is a glorious sing-along summer pop ballad. The yearning "The Cold harbour road lane" is truly lovely and possibly a sound that the band could explore more fully, ditto "Fuel up" while single "We are battery human" is all banjo's and chanting vocals and while the shadow of Marcus Mumford is cast they just about pull it off. "Watching birds" rocks it up and actually reminds of the Libertines. While the true highlight comes with "I saw you blink". It is one of those special type of songs that cemented Belle and Sebastian's fanatically loyal fanbase and in terms of soundtracking the next three months you will play it all summer, fall in love to it, break up to it, make up and fall back in love again. Cited in evidence of this point is the case of BBC Oxford Radio presenter Tim Bearder who was an early fanatical champion of the band and was suspended from work after playing an hour of Stornoway songs on his breakfast show; probably a tad excessive!
All pop music has a ephemeral quality and something which is wildly hip and fashionable fades quickly. The Thrills "So much for the city" was completely ubiquitous in 2003 but they never quite matched it again and thus it will be interesting to see what Stornoway do next and where they take their musical direction. There are admittedly a couple of missteps on the album but its mostly irresistible stuff and enough pointers to suggest greater longevity. Thus for now treat "Beachcombers Windowsill" for what it is, an album packed with great songs, gorgeous melodies and hooks-a-plenty.
The band continues the upbeat mood with second track "I Saw You Blink", another bit of ear candy that, when paired with "Zorbing", make for a powerful one-two punch to lead off the album. Most songs have a decent thump to them, save for track 9, "On the Rocks", which also seems oddly softer in sound than the other tracks. I don't know if there was a production issue but I had to program my iTunes to have that song's volume increased. As with most albums, the first half outdoes the second half but there is not a dud on the album. The vocals are excellent and the songs are composed to reach soaring heights vocally. I don't know if I can discern 100 different instruments on the album (carrots being chopped -- c'mon).
Each song really paints an interesting picture and, while some will take longer to grow on you than others, each is a treasure worth waiting for. Sixth track "We are the Battery Human" is the most unique both musically and lyrically, and a keen observation on the modern human's need to connect online and disconnect from the outside world (and nature). Beachcomber's Windowsill is a creative outburst that often sags with most band's sophomore effort, but I can't wait to hear what they do next.