Stornoway opens the new year with a single like a “Knock to the Head” — Where’s this been all our lives?


I’m still wrapping my head around this astonishing new single from Stornoway, a band fully capable of dominating the pop music landscape any time they dare pick up an instrument. “Knock Me on the Head” announces the band’s upcoming album Tales from Terra Firma in grand style, with an epic instrumental intro melded to an all-in melodic pop single you’ll be singing all year.

You hung an albatross around my neck
When you needed to knock me on the head
And say “No! No! No! No!”

This is what great music can be when a band’s willing to push pop conventions beyond what we’ve been brought to expect. It’s refreshing to see that a band can pick up where an album as stunning as Beachcomber’s Windowsill left off and find ways to avoid that dreaded sophomore slump. This song is the perfect knock to the head needed at the start of a new year to remain vigilant, in search of pop music which can be more than just mere fluff. Though it’s way too early to start crafting “Best of 2013″ lists, Tales from Terra Firma tops my list of “must hear” albums.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Stornoway – “Beachcomber’s Windowsill”

Stornoway Beachcomber's Windowsill

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!