Album review: Stornoway - 'Beachcomber's Windowsill' (4AD)

Technology takes a battering as dreams of the simple life are given a beautiful, rural makeover

Album review: Stornoway - 'Beachcomber's Windowsill' (4AD)

8 / 10 If The La’s sounded like Liverpool, Joy Division recreated Manchester’s cellar scene in song and Blur were an aural Dagenham, Stornoway are by contrast a postcard-perfect rendition of the remote Outer Hebridean town they’re named after. You can almost hear the wicker man crackling.

That Stornoway are actually from Cowley in Oxford makes them more a technophobic, back-to-nature social statement than a straight-up yokel folk act. They do photoshoots in potato-famine garb and twangle pastoral folk pop songs called ‘Watching Birds’ and ‘Zorbing’ (about steering one of the titular plastic globes through Oxford town centre). “I am a seabird/You are the Arctic Ocean/I know your seasons and your sanctuaries”, sings Brian Briggs on the Grizzly Bear-ish ‘The Coldharbour Road’, a song that sounds like it was written on a tilting clipper in a Force Six sea-squall rather than 50 miles inland and within earshot of Foals’ House Of Supreme Mathematics.

See, Stornoway are pent-up dreamers yearning for simpler, bygone lives – lives less burdened with career anxiety, Twitternoia and iPad envy. It’s none more stark than on vivacious shanty ‘We Are The Battery Human’: “We need to go online each day/But inside we don’t get no reception/So join the new revolution/To free the battery human/’Cos we were born to be free range”.

It might all sound a bit Green Futures Field, a bit Julian Cope, a bit Norfolk, but Stornoway sure make the idea of lobbing your iPhone into the sea and going feral sound idyllic. ‘Zorbing’ is as exuberant as the best of
Shack, ‘I Saw You Blink’ recalls the superlative folk pop of Stephen Duffy and The Lilac Time, while ‘Fuel Up’ is as tear-jerking a song of chin-up-mate support as you’ve heard since ‘Dry Your Eyes’. Throughout, ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ is beautifully rendered and melodically magnificent; a Constable landscape of a record. If anybody needs me I’ll be listening to it while rolling naked down Scafell Pike.

Mark Beaumont

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