Following the success of their 2010 debut, “Beachcomber’s Windowsill”, Oxford’s very own indie folk darlings are back with their second album “Tales from Terra Firma.”
Although they’re hardly rock n roll, Stornoway’s accessible, catchy melodies make their sound pretty much impossible to dislike. So it might be a bit soppy, but who cares? It’s really good! On “Beachcomber’s Windowsill”, Stornoway employed some pretty interesting instrumentation (the kazoo work on “Watching Birds” was a personal highlight), and they have taken it a step further with this record. Multi-instrumentalist John Ouin continues to push boundaries using a whole host of unconventional instruments to make Stornoway’s sound ever more rich and textured, for example the mandolin on “The Bigger Picture” definitely gives it a certain je ne sais quoi. They also stick to the environmental themes of their debut, and as singer Brian Briggs croons about “a lemon swollen in the trees”, it becomes apparent that Stornoway are no less fascinated by the natural world than before.
Despite being recorded entirely without the help of a professional recording studio, in various locations in and around Oxford (including drummer and bassist Rob and Oli Steadman’s garage), the album doesn’t feel homemade or at all rough around the edges, in fact, it’s incredibly polished. Opener “You Take Me As I Am” is upbeat and instantly likeable, building to a euphoric cacophony of piano and climactic trumpets. It serves as a sort of mission statement, demonstrating what heights the band are capable of reaching and that they intend to keep reaching them. Things slow down in “Farewell Appalachia” – the gentle melody and delicate layers of sound over a slow, hypnotic drum beat make for an engaging listen. “(A Belated) Invite to Eternity” showcases some impressive dramatic strings and the band’s penchant for a poignant lyric. “Hook, Line, Sinker” picks up the pace, with sparkling keys and energetic, tight drums in what is essentially an unapologetically straightforward love song, and none the worse for it. “Knock Me On the Head” sounds the most familiar – it’s very “Stornoway,” all nature centred lyrics, vocal harmonies and folky chords, of course complete with the inevitable unconventional instrumentation. The album takes a more mournful turn with “The Ones We Hurt the Most” and “November Song”, where Brian Briggs’ distinctive vocals take centre stage in a simple but beautiful end to the record.
“Tales From Terra Firma” shows Stornoway developing their sound, whilst still retaining the essential DNA that made this band the local heroes that they are now.