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Boomkat Product Review:
Oxford quartet Stornoway deliver their largely self-produced debut album for 4AD, and ostensibly the band would seem to be following in the footsteps of other pop-folk acts to have broken through; all the multi-instrumentalist tinkering that comes with the territory is very much present and correct (with a little extra weirdness thrown in - there's some rhythmic carrot chopping going on in here, apparently), and while if you squint your ears certain passages might be said to share certain cosmetic traits with the likes of Mumford & Sons, such comparisons are quickly dismissed once you get to grips with the substance of Stornoway's music. 'Zorbing' opens the album, though fans will already be very familiar with the track - it was actually the band's debut single, dating back to July of last year. Despite some opening line about conkers, the song soon reveals itself to be rather more than the flimsy pastoral outing you feared it might be, and singer Brian Briggs gets to grips with a worldly romantic nostalgia, dropping lines about first days at university and time spent with loved ones ("Lying in your attic/I can feel the static/The storm has broken, heavens open"). Soon, horns lifted straight out of a Belle & Sebastian song roll in, and all seems well in the world. Maintaining the momentum of this fine first track, 'I Saw You Blink' ramps up the tempo and drops another great chorus that calls upon little more than some lovely harmonies and a chugging acoustic guitar. Later in the album similarly soaring peaks are achieved by songs like the beautiful, string-draped tones of 'The Coldharbour Road' and the quietly majestic 'Boats And Trains', while 'Here Comes The Blackout..!' brings to mind Midlake, calling upon the kind of synthesizer tones that probably made most sense in 1971. The record comes full circle by the time closing piece 'Long Distance Lullaby' comes around, and Briggs returns to those summers spent lying in that attic referenced in 'Zorbing'. Musically, this is a great track, but it's the words that really underline what makes Stornoway's songwriting so admirable; lyrically 'Long Distance Lullaby' is just about as direct and emotionally woozy as it gets, yet it doesn't seem sentimental or cloying - even when he sings: "Goodnight, soulmate/I know I'm in no state/To call you up and keep you up so late" it somehow seems entirely reasonable. Recommended.