Album Review: Stornoway—”Tales From Terra Firma”

By Maria Sokulsky-Dolnycky

It always breaks my heart to see bands fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. Luckily, Stornoway is not one of those bands. The Oxford-based indie folk quartet’s second effort, Tales From Terra Firma, is humble and triumphant, and is sure to satisfy fans, as well as entice first-time listeners.

This record sees Stornoway moving towards a more electrified folk sound than that of the band’s debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, but retains its signature soaring melodies, basket-weave harmonies and charming lyrics. Stornoway paints a lush soundscape with wispy strings, warm brass, wavering harmonium and whimsical, vaudevillian woodwinds, as well as some more unusual instrumental embellishments such as spoons, a dulcimer, a mandolin, a qanun, a mbira and a woodsaw, just to name a few.

The album reads like a storybook; from the heart-bursting optimism of a young couple starting a new life together (“You Take Me As I Am”), to the feeling of camaraderie found in the likes of a group sing-along in a dimly-lit pub (“The Great Procrastinator”), to the fleeting feeling of a passing season and inevitable change (“November Song”), Tales From Terra Firma really does feel like a collection of short stories recounting life, love, loss and rites of passage.

The band’s frontman and lyricist, Brian Briggs, has fine-tuned his songwriting skills, resulting in a collection of songs showing thematic and sonic maturity. Briggs’ lyrics conjure vivid images; drawing from the band members’ personal experiences, the lyrics are evocative and, sometimes, delightfully unusual. Briggs really has a knack for making the notion of a simple love song feel like an epic narrative, while retaining a sense of grounded realism.

Tales From Terra Firma has momentous propulsion, feeling infinitely more expansive than its predecessor. Like a droplet of dye dropped into a glass of water, the music diffuses with kinetic energy and creates striking visuals for the listener. Refreshingly earnest and unpretentious, this record is a grower, so give it a chance and reap the benefits.

Listen to: “Knock Me On The Head”, “The Great Procrastinator”

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