Review : Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth
PitchforkFull disclosure: I am actually a sucker for the whistling, uke-strumming, hand-jiving, oversaturated super-8 montage, matching-outfits twee of Noah and the Whale's breakout single "5 Years Time". Which I guess makes me part of the reason this crap winds up in car commercials. Sorry. But that song was animated by exactly how close it crept up to the line of preciousness without tumbling into full-on Pomplamoose territory, and even if it was only a trifle, nothing else on their first two albums came close to its sugary stickiness.
In fact, Noah and the Whale's sophomore album, The First Days of Spring, deliberately turned away from that sort of thing, opting instead for a glummer, stripped, and slowed-down acoustic sound. If both these albums relied on a certain hand-crafted feel to derive their small charms, new album Last Night on Earth projects flaws and all onto slicker, seemingly bigger-budget productions. Baumbach and the Squid here are self-proclaimed cinephiles, so let's put it this way: If "5 Years Time" was their "Around the World" clip (cute, catchy, featuring synchronized dancing) and The First Days of Spring was their Science of Sleep (maudlin, sluggish), then the new album is their Green Hornet in 3D-- although that would all assume they had Michel Gondry's appeal in the first place.
The change is immediately apparent on opener "Life Is Life"; the song begins with a lapping synth arpeggio and drum machine sputters before building up to big buzzing synth chords, echoing grand piano, and-- why the hell not?-- a gospel choir. Everything that follows is equally blown up, and the arrangements are frequently lovely, but the songwriting at the center of it all doesn't exactly merit such widescreen treatment. Over obvious changes and neatly resolving chord progressions, bandleader Charlie Fink sings stock rockisms and bland platitudes: "Tonight's the kind of night where everything could change"; "baby, she's a wild thing"; "you got heart, and you're going your own way." Fink's singing is fine, but he's abandoned the folksy British accent audible on the band's early albums to settle into a kind of vast, unremarkable singer-songwriter flyover country....full text
ContactmusicIt feels like Noah and the Whale have been away for ages, well they actually haven't. Debut album Peaceful The World Lays Me Down was a roaring success, singles 5 Years Time and Shape Of My Heart propelled Noah and the Whale into mainstream consciousness overnight. Follow up The First Days Of Spring didn't quite have the same impact commercially but was by no means a disappointment. It did however lower the bands profile and it's on this, the bands third effort, that the sound of a band trying to re-brand can be heard.
Life Is Life gets the album of to a weak start, gospel chanting over an array of brash production gimmicks give the impression of a band desperate for pastures new. However, the Springsteen styling's of Wild Thing find Noah and the Whale in much more comfortable and familiar surroundings. It's a less awkward and more organic sound that you feel the band enjoy playing far more than the overproduced stuff that contaminates Last Night On Earth at times.
Give It All Back is the fluffy pop infused progression that leaves 5 Years Time well and truly in the past, It's somewhere about this halfway point in the album that you start to feel that they've actually pulled off this change in sound, it stops sounding cynically imported and starts to reflect the foundations of the song writing.
Ultimately, what Noah and the Whale have done here, is take the cutesy nu folk sound of their first two albums and shake it up, adding rock roll/blues edges and even country tinges in the Ryan Adams mould to create a much needed updated sound. It works because the band have adjusted their song writing style to fit new modes of production. Sure, it doesn't seem to work on Life is Life, but perhaps that's because they've taken a step too far, a fraction heavy handed at the mixing desk, but it's not a bug that proves contagious to the rest of a surprisingly fresh sounding album....full text
BbcThere’s a certain amount of irony attached to the fact that this album is coming out after the success of both Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling at this year’s Brit Awards. Weird love triangle aside (Marling dated Noah and the Whale mainman Charlie Fink before stepping out with Marcus Mumford), the three bands have been associated with the spurious ‘nu-folk’ scene that also spawned the likes of Johnny Flynn and Emmy the Great. Yet, three years after N&TW released their debut album, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down – one of the defining records of that movement – the Twickenham four-piece release an album dominated by synths and a healthy sense of nostalgia for Lou Reed and Brian Eno, just as the Brits turn the spotlight up on their contemporaries.
Yet it’s not as if this change is totally out of the blue. 2009’s sophomore effort, The First Days Of Spring – a stark, solemn, sombre affair inspired by Fink’s break-up with Marling – moved away from the twee whimsy of the first album, so, really, this is more a continuation of their natural evolution rather than a dramatic change. Still, the difference is dramatic. But it also serves an important purpose, by helping to set the emotional tone of this record far away from its predecessor. Whereas that record was dominated by personal heartache, this one bristles with a sense of hope and possibility....full text
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