Funny story: British act Noah and the Whale was scheduled for an early Friday afternoon timeslot at this year’s Lollapalooza, and after hearing a couple of their cutesy, acoustic-pop tracks, I decided to give ‘em a shot. The show was a shocker: abrasive, thumping electronica, nothing at all like the songs I had heard. I leaned to my friend and said, in my best douchebag elitist voice, “I believe we are witnessing the reinvention of Noah and the Whale.” About twelve seconds later, we found out Noah and the Whale had canceled and that we were watching Holy Fuck. Needless to say, my indie cred was in shambles.
Anyway, apparently Noah and the Whale hasn’t reinvented itself, but its debut album “Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down” certainly establishes the band into the upper echelons of the indie “cute rock” scene and elicits a multitude of references by critics to the band’s “potential,” as if lead singer Charlie Fink is a late second-round power-forward draft pick. Handclaps, xylophones and whistling solos make “Peaceful…” a toe-tapping good time. Fink’s lyrics, however, weave lovelorn, wistful themes.
“It’s really quite an abstract process really,” Fink says of his songwriting process. “With this album, all the songs were written as much as possible to be together thematically. They’re all essentially about love, death or time in some way.”
Fink says many of the songs were written in a dark bedroom, which makes sense considering the content. “5 Years Time” imagines the minute details of a relationship that will probably never occur, “Second Lover” shows the narrator dying before ever finding true romantic happiness, and the title track posits existential questions about how love and death are entwined—it’s all sad, sappy love songs, frankly. But it works.
“This album is just one album,” Fink says. “It’s not our entire musical statement, it’s not everything we want to be. But it’s definitely something we wanted to write, something we wanted to say.”
Two elements elevate the content above average: Fink’s voice, sort of a less devastating version of Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan’s resonant groan, sounds quite worn and tested for being a lad in his early 20s; and the quirky auxiliary arrangements especially impress, fitting the band with an identity that never feels like a gimmick.
“Writing in my basement, you kind of just experiment with what finishes what,” Fink says. “And then you kind of just pick something random, try an instrument you wouldn’t have earlier imagined, or playing a melody that normally wouldn’t be considered conventional. It makes the whole thing more interesting. But it comes from us just playing together and deconstructing songs together.”
By the way, Fink says missing Lollapalooza was “heartbreaking” for the band, explaining complications from releasing the album forced them to cancel, but finds the idea that anyone could mistake them for Holy Fuck to be quite humorous. (Andy Seifert)
Noah and the Whale plays September 25 at the AV-aerie, 2000 West Fulton, at 8pm, and September 26 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, at 10pm. $10-$12.