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Album review: Noah And The Whale - 'The First Days Of Spring'

London folkies grow up and cut back their chirpiness to turn in a corker of an album

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9 / 10 As concept albums go, a trudge through the aftermath of a break-up hardly makes for a tale as fantastical as ‘Tommy’ or ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, but even so, ‘The First Days Of Spring’ is a story we could listen to again and again.

Noah And The Whale might have hijacked last summer with ‘Five Years Time’ – which was lovely the first few times you heard it, but the hundredth listen kinda made you want to build a wicker whale, fill it with all the recorders in Britain and take a blowtorch to it – but now is the time for forgiveness. The band have changed their tune to that of a sunny swoon, filled with regret, pain, poignant optimism and fewer zany instruments. The six-minute-plus title track sets the unhurried pace, with spiralling, blockbusting indie-folk that’s big on the cinematics; handy, seeing as, like Tommy and Ziggy, there is also a film to accompany the whole record. Mournful but shot through with hope, the song’s echoes of ’80s troubadour Lloyd Cole crescendo into a chamber-pop odyssey that could stop Arcade Fire in their tracks.

On ‘My Broken Heart’ Charlie Fink’s worldly wise yet still tremblingly naive baritone pitches him as both man and boy. It’s the same on ‘Stranger’, where Fink laments “Last night I slept with a stranger/For the first time since you’ve gone” over sticky morning-after-the-night-before fingerpicking before seeing light at the end of the regretful shag tunnel by way of some cheery old-school Noah piano, acoustics and harmonies. ‘Slow Glass’ impresses further, with its pondering, Pavement-esque lo-fi guitars, and if anything quite as exquisite as ‘Blue Skies’ has been released this year, then we haven’t heard it.

Artful experimentation also gets a look in with two instrumentals – featuring an orchestra tuning up, pealing church bells and melancholic electric guitar plucking – book-ending ‘Love Of An Orchestra’. Sitting snugly in the middle of the record, it opens with an unaccompanied choir and is the most obvious link to the band’s more upbeat and decidedly twee-er tracks of yore, a high-gloss intelli-pop number that comes on like Belle & Sebastian when they started skipping arm-in-arm with Trevor Horn. It’s yet more proof that the quirky band with that perky tune haven’t disappeared, but they have done a hell of a lot of growing up. An immense album.

Leonie Cooper

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