Stornoway is a remote part of Scotland. It is also a hipster band from Oxford who released an upbeat, indie, vaguely Vampire Weekend-ish album called Beachcomber’s Windowsill in 2010. I had kind of forgotten about them, but in early March they released a sophomore album, ‘Tales from Terra Firma.’ At first I was disappointed. It had many of the same things I liked about the first album; the lead singer has a quirky voice and the band still has their string-based pop sound, but it seemed to lack the clarity and brightness of the first album, which had melancholy songs that were still uplifting, like ‘We are the Battery Human.’
The sophomore album is a little more driving and a little muddier, although like the first album, its a record that is worth getting to know. Highlights include ‘You Take Me As I Am,’ which is a little shmaltzy but an absolute delight to listen to. ‘The Great Procrastinator’ captures the deceptive simplicity of their first album, and I found myself singing ‘The Bigger Picture’ the other day without knowing what album it came from, which is both a compliment to the second album and an indictment of it. The best stuff is just like the old stuff, and some of it isn’t as good.
On balance, I like ‘Tales from Terra Firma,’ and I remain a pretty devoted Stornoway fan. I’m very disappointed I won’t be able to see them at Wilton’s Music Hall in London this Friday (Wilton’s is on my to-do list) but they are touring some of my favourite venues in the US (Schubas in Chicago, TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, and Horseshoe Tavern (where I think I went once) in Toronto. Plus some other places, of course. You should check them out and report back.