Category Archives: Noah and the Whale

WTF? Cover of the Day

This came out four months ago, but I missed it; I think I was on a plane, heading to the motherland. This is a case of ‘better late than never’, though, because Noah and the Whale covering Robyn is too weird to miss. It’s not that it doesn’t work–eventually the band gets into a groove–but it’s just such an odd juxtaposition. It’s weirder than when they and the Vaccines covered Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” (second track below). Enjoy the weirdness.

Noah and the Whale, “Call Your Boyfriend”

Noah and the Whale feat. the Vaccines, “Where Is My Mind?”

And check out my holiday music recs on the Owl Mag too. It features the For Folk’s Sake Christmas album, Emmy the Great, Anya Marina, and more.

Christmas music: seasonal highlight or necessary evil? Whatever your opinion on the overall genre, some songs definitely are better than others. If you’re having a holiday party and want to update your playlist, here are some great new tunes—with as few references to fat, bearded men as possible. You’re welcome. (Read the rest here.)

Supergroup of the Day: The …Waccines?

I’ll be getting my Outside Lands post up before you can say ‘Win Butler and Mavis Staples’ (yep, that happened), but in the mean time I found this little nugget. Justin Young was feeling under the weather, so Charlie Fink and Tom Hobden of Noah and the Whale joined the Vaccines for a Triple J session in Australia (both bands rocked the Splendour in the Grass festival). Watch the Waccines performing a jolly version of “If You Wanna”.

I did catch the Vaccines at Outside Lands, by the way, and their set was a rollicking good time.

International Markets: The Upside for UK Music

Music royalty orgnization PRS for Music published its annual Adding up the UK music industry report today, presenting dismal figures for 2010. Even live music revenues, which had been on an impressive rise over the past several years, fell 11.8% between 2009 and 2010. UK industry revenues overall fell 4.8%. Yikes.

Is there anything good in a landscape that seems as bleak as London fog? Well, yes. Will Page, the chief economist for PRS for Music, advises in his report that the UK industry should ‘get small’ and ‘get abroad’. The first theme involves “reducing the transaction costs of managing metadata”, which I won’t pretend I understand. I’ll leave that topic for the grown-ups.

The second nugget of wisdom, though, I will happily discuss. The report found that royalties societies in the UK (like PRS for Music) did significantly better than those in the US (like ASCAP) over the 2010 year. Page acknowledges the huge potential for growth in exports, including in emerging markets like Brazil, India, and China. Page writes: “According to the BPI, UK artists’ share of global sales is estimated to be 11.8 percent in 2010, with one-in-ten sales in the US being a UK act and up to one-in-five in markets like Germany and Australia.”

While the report doesn’t talk about folk/new-folk/acoustic music specifically, I’d like to think that some of this growth has to do with the very artists I write about so frequently. While Adele may be queen in terms of sales figures (she was “responsible for almost 10% of all artist albums sold in the first four months of the year”), it shouldn’t be ignored that Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More hit number 2 on the Billboard 200. (And performed at the Grammys. And graced the cover of SPIN.) Their rise to the top is the gift that keeps on giving, through both their exposure-building US tours (bringing along artists like King Charles and Matthew and the Atlas) and the efforts of label/club night Communion. Even buzzy indie rock darlings the Vaccines grew out of the same tiny music establishment in southwest London, Bosun’s Locker (back when Justin Young was Jay Jay Pistolet, and shared a flat with Marcus Mumford).

While other UK folk acts have yet to reach the same status as the waistcoat-wearing Sons, they are certainly on the way. Noah and the Whale grabbed attention for their polished new sound and teaming up with director-photographer Autumn de Wilde on “Life is Life”. Alessi’s Ark made the New York Times at SXSW. Matthew and the Atlas and James Vincent McMorrow recorded for Daytrotter. Emmy the Great’s Virtue got a review in Pitchfork. Slow Club made waves (and Mashable) by debuting new material on (with Paste magazine).

These are just the things that came to mind, but the fact remains that these artists are much closer to US recognition than they’ve ever been before. I can casually talk about Laura Marling or Johnny Flynn without getting blank stares, and I can buy the Communion compilation in Mojo magazine at an airport. I no longer have to scour Youtube for new-folk material–I can just click on iTunes (or Spotify). Back when I first found this whole ‘scene’, things like the Black Cab Sessions, Bandstand Busking, and even Jeremy Warmsley’s Welcome to Our TV Show (and the later version, Jeremy Warmsley’s New Thing) were about all I had. From my perspective, the rise in popularity since those early days (three-ish years ago) seems massive.

Furthermore, another BPI survey found that 83% of people are proud of the achievements of British music. While I’m sure they were dealing with Brits proper, I’m pretty proud of those achievements, too. For even though these new-folk artists often acknowledge American musical influences, there is something quintessentially and inescapably English (or Scottish, or Irish, depending) about them. So by all means, UK music industry–follow the advice of Mr. Page and ‘get abroad’. I’ll welcome you with open arms.

Noah and the Whale Release New Video, “Life Is Life”

Noah and the Whale have released the video for their new single, “Life Is Life”. Directed by Autumn de Wilde (Elliott Smith, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, many more), it’s the first video of theirs not directed by Charlie Fink (at least as far as I know). It was filmed near my neck of the woods, in random bits of suburbia after their second San Francisco show.

Noah and the Whale’s New Groove: The Independent 5/26/11

The last time I saw Noah and the Whale, they were promoting sophomore album The First Days of Spring. A far cry from their perky debut (the oh-so-twee Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down), this candid tale of Charlie Fink’s break-up with Laura Marling left even the Pollyannas of the audience a bit teary. Earlier hits like “5 Years Time” and “Jocasta” would have been ill-placed anywhere in the set, but stuck out even more in the midst of Charlie’s exposed heartbreak.

On Thursday, the band closed with that album’s titular song of rebirth. While it might seem odd to talk about the end of a concert before the beginning, this sentiment of renewed spirit characterized the entire evening at San Francisco’s Independent. For the first time since Noah and the Whale lost its female vocalist (Ms. Marling, of course), Charlie seemed genuinely happy.

Their third album, Last Night On Earth, appears to be at the heart of this transformation. I haven’t really been a fan of the work, with its fictional vignettes and Springsteen ambitions, because it seems to lack the authenticity that made First Days so stirring. Yet it has given the gang of spiffy Brits a new sense of bravado, a reason to embrace rock star personas. The set contained a fairly even mix of songs from the three albums (divided into self-proclaimed sections of ‘romantic’ and ‘party’), but there were no longer the emotionally jarring divisions between them. “Waiting for My Chance to Come” transitioned smoothly into Peaceful favorite “Shape of My Heart”, and “Just Me Before We Met” didn’t feel odd next to “Blue Skies”. The selections from First Days were lifted a bit from their depths and the others toned down just a touch. Every member of the band—including their energetic new drummer—was confident and clearly having a ball.

Don’t get me wrong: the three albums are still different as day and night (or, in this case, first days and last nights). But it was a joy to see the band come into their own as performers, and to see Charlie obviously enjoy his new direction. “The First Days of Spring” describes moving forward with a bit of hesitancy, a lingering dependence on the person who’s gone away. Placed in the context of Thursday’s show, the song (and the band itself) lost that backward glance. For the first time, I finally believed that spring had sprung for Noah and the Whale.

p.s. All my photos were taken with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone 4. Who would have thought cell phone pics could look so damn cool? See my flickr on the right for more funky analog-style photos.

New Video: Noah and the Whale’s “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”

Click here for the new video for Noah and the Whale’s “Tonight’s the Kind of Night” (stupid Vevo won’t let me embed it). I’ll refrain from comment (for now), but I’d just like to show a bit of their video evolution. Given Charlie’s fondness for filmmaking, this has been a pretty big part of the band’s identity. This latest video is another Fink-directed piece, but seems to feature the same glossier, bigger-budgeted vibe as the album itself.

I’ve always loved this “Shape of My Heart” video. It typifies their Wes Anderson-influenced early style.

Embedding for their “5 Years Time” video has been disabled by request, but we all know it as the indie cutefest featuring Charlie and Laura. It’s still adorable, but definitely a teeny bit awkward at this point.

Here’s a trailer for their film, The First Days of Spring. This accompaniment to the album is beautiful both emotionally and visually.

This scene from the film makes more sense of “Love of an Orchestra”, and features the coolest old man ever. Even though the character is committing suicide, it is the film’s most uplifting moment.

Noah and the Whale isn’t constricted by categorization–the band genre hops with apparent ease. It seems to me, though, that this third work is devoid of the quirks and sentiments that made the first two albums interesting. I respect Charlie’s desire to look at the world as if through a camera lens, but the series of vignettes do not step out of the realm of cliche by a few added details (however well-written). Especially when juxtaposed with their poignant sophomore album, Last Night On Earth feels especially vacuous.

“Tonight’s the Kind of Night” is filled with that stock American imagery that has lost its emotional force through the countless retellings. Fink’s video may look lovely and polished, but it adds nothing new to the tale of a wide-eyed boy grabbing a Greyhound to The Big City, USA. It almost feels like Charlie and company already followed the boy’s inevitable path: they ventured to LA and lost their sense of self.

Festival Envy

As I sit here writing papers on things like copyright law and public opinion polls, the rest of the music-loving world is journeying to Austin, Texas. The interactive/film/music powerhouse that is SXSW draws everyone from industry insiders to spring breaking hipsters because of its sheer awesomeness. I’m going to be living vicariously through all the music bloggers and tweeters taking over Texas this coming week, and I’ll try to post some of my findings on here. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for SXSW bands and artists to check out.

Admiral Fallow
The Scottish band formerly known as the Brother Louis Collective released their debut, Boots Met My Face, on March 28th in the UK. They have the Scottish vigor of a band like Frightened Rabbit, but have added a bit of softness and a lovely wind section. Their lyrics are clever and evocative, and standout track “Squealing Pigs” is the cheeriest ode to that “sinking feeling of being alone” I’ve ever heard.

Alessi’s Ark
There’s really nothing about Alessi’s Ark that I can add to what I’ve said already. If you haven’t climbed aboard the Ark, you’re missing out–big time.

Bombay Bicycle Club
There’s nothing new or small about Bombay Bicycle Club, but these guys do give a great live show. I saw an acoustic set at London’s Old Queen’s Head pub, and was instantly sold. That they followed up their 2009 debut I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose with an acoustic album (Flaws) made me pretty darn happy. Word on the street (er, in NME) is that they’re returning to electric for album number three, which will be released in June.

Goldheart Assembly
Goldheart Assembly released 2010’s Wolves and Thieves to positive reviews, and by all accounts their live performances are even better. NME called their on-stage sound “an explosion of energy”, and the band’s energetic California-esque harmonies seem built for live audiences.

The Head and the Heart
I love these guys. As I previously wrote, I discovered the Seattle band at a Stornoway concert–and they blew me away. Now they’re signed to Sub Pop, touring with everyone from Dr. Dog to Iron and Wine (later this spring), and are certainly going to keep climbing. Check out their official video for “Lost In My Mind”, which has been circulating MTVU:

High Highs
The lush music of High Highs strikes the perfect balance between ethereal and energized. Their songs are simply beautiful. I was first wooed by this dreamy cover of Wild Nothing’s “Live In Dreams”:

James Vincent McMorrow
See my post at For Folk’s Sake on the husky Irish singer-songwriter. Seems like just the type to create a hauntingly intimate live show.

Matt Corby
Gotta give a Communion shout-out to Australian Matt Corby, who morphed from Australian Idol contender to scruffy folkie. The transformation seems to suit him well, and got him signed to Communion after a placement on one of their Compilations.

Matthew and the Atlas
Matthew and the Atlas truly takes my breath away. Do yourself a favor and check them out, as soon as possible. Like, stop reading this. Go.

Noah and the Whale
Though I’m not crazy about their brand spanking new third album, Last Night On Earth, my love for NATW still knows no bounds. I’ll be officially reviewing the album later, but for some great and heartbreaking tunes, check out The First Days of Spring.

Summer Camp
I think I’m beating a dead horse on this one. They’re great, we already know that.

The Vaccines
Ohhhh, the Vaccines. I’ve yet to fully make up my mind on this straight-up guitar rock project from Justin Hayward Young and co., but it is unquestionably fun pop music. Their EP was released in the US on March 8th, and their debut album will be available May 31st.

Also: Alex Winston, The Antlers, Birds & Batteries (San Francisco bands FTW!), Bobby Long, Caitlin Rose (who I’ll be seeing with Johnny Flynn in May!), Cheyenne Marie Mize (who I saw with Johnny Flynn in November), Hunx & His Punx, John Grant with Midlake, Maps & Atlases, Nathaniel Rateliff, Pepper Rabbit, Rural Alberta Advantage, Sea of Bees, Smith Westerns, Trampled by Turtles, Tune-Yards, Wye Oak. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. Official Video

The official video for Noah and the Whale’s first single off album three (Last Night On Earth, out March 7th) was released on January 7th. I can’t help but compare this video to some of their previous ones, like “5 Years Time” or “Shape of My Heart”. Even the somber but beautiful film accompaniment to The First Days of Spring feels more like their earlier releases than this most recent release. At the risk of judging too early or too harshly, I can’t help but feel that the spirit of Noah and the Whale has been drowned in LA polish.

Noah and the Whale Previews New Single on Zane Lowe: “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N”

Noah and the Whale is one of those bands about which people always seem to disagree. Even I wasn’t a fan at first–it took a while for Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down to charm me (although it definitely won me over in the end). Second album The First Days of Spring, the beautiful result of Charlie Fink’s break-up with Laura Marling, has also garnered very extreme reviews: some regard it as one of the best break-up albums ever recorded, others as decidedly less so (Pitchfork: “the uniform dishwater feel of the music fits the Xanax-ed sentiments of the lyrics”). To complicate matters further, both albums just sound so different–one is upbeat and borderline-twee, the other brooding and sparse. Critics and fans agree, however, on the band’s remarkable growth between the two works, and anticipation is starting to build for the release of album number three.

Third album Last Night on Earth is set to be released March 7 of this coming year. Will it continue in the depressingly cathartic vein of The First Days of Spring, or regain some of the band’s earlier bounce? If single “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” is any indication, I would say the band is moving somewhere else entirely (and its influences seem closer to my side of the pond). Premiering today on Zane Lowe, “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N” leaves me even more curious about what their third album will bring. Although I’m not blown away by this first showing, I’ve learned not to make snap judgments about a band that experiments with so many styles (“Love of an Orchestra”, anyone?). Whatever I or anyone else thinks about this single, it proves that Noah and the Whale has defied categorization once again.