Year of the Album — #039
Stornoway – “Beachcomber’s Windowsill” (2010, 4AD Records)
British alternative band Stornoway is more than just the next Mumford and Sons, as they are often dubbed conveniently in America. They’re more than a simple comparison. Yes, there are the Mumford similarities if you’re not willing to look below the surface, but just even a cursory examination of “Zorbing,” the opening track from Beachcomber’s Windowsill, showcases the band’s incredibly dextrous, multi-layered arrangement, a mindblowing combination of subtle folk and alternative influences that is purely unlike anything else I’ve encountered in pop music in recent years.
The band gained notoriety in the UK when they became the first unsigned act to get the opportunity to perform live on venerable TV program Later … with Jools Holland, and this album’s become a success there without really gaining much traction in the US. And though American tastes frequently diverge from those from across the pond, Beachcomber’s Windowsill is a rare album, as richly deserving of Stateside praise as Adele’s 21, which has become one of the biggest albums of the year pretty much everywhere.
The biggest thing that sets these songs apart, aside from the layered melodies which refuse to cater to conformist tastes, is the band’s production ability; these arrangements frequently feature instumentation which plays in one ear counter to the music we’re hearing in stereo. The round-styled vocals on “I Saw You Blink” are so unique to the current pop landscape, they’re likely to throw a listener completely for a loop before the pure perfection of the concept sinks in and demands repeated close listening.
Stornoway, to put it simply, has stumbled on musical constructs which set their music apart from pretty much everyone else recording pop music in the UK, America or elsewhere. With singles like “Fuel Up” that conjure up the easy comparions to Mumford and Sons, they’re going to have a hard time dodging those close-eared critics who might like to stereotype them. Avoid that with a passion! This is some of the most inventive pop music you’re going to hear all year, if you haven’t been lucky enough to hear it already. There’s nothing quite like this music out there elsewhere, and that’s the best thing I’ve been able to write in a good long while.
Hear it now, hear it often!