REVIEW: Noah and the Whale – Heart of Nowhere

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Artist: Noah and the Whale
Album: Heart of Nowhere
Genre: Folk, rock
Label: Mercury Records

I’ve been ruminating on certain movie music recently and how closely it relates to the emotions of the characters onscreen. A great deal of movie music is grandiose, exalted, and arresting. Sumptuous orchestral pieces bring further drama and poignancy to the hyper-reality in which most film characters live. Most contemporary music is similarly heightened – embellished and protracted in style so as to present a grander take on situations we all face. We might all identify with the lyrics of pop songs, but their gaudiness is rarely in keeping with how ordinary the experiences are. If everyday life had a soundtrack, it would be far more humble. Quiet, simple, accepting, probably quite restrained. Real life is rarely all that interesting, after all. There might be occasional nods to the sublime and the serious. The lyrics would touch upon painfully relatable topics, by turns frank and congratulatory. In fact, it would probably sound a lot like Heart of Nowhere.

Noah and the Whale is not the only band dabbling in this kind of wholesome, homely folk rock. Many other bands have distinct tendencies towards patient and uplifting music, rooting themselves in the familiarity of everyday life and composing very impassioned humanistic takes on it. But Noah and the Whale seem to be one of the few who can strike the balance just right. Their music is beautifully arranged but it’s their lyrics that really make them stand out. The subject and mood changes as abruptly and unpredictably as anything in everyday life but they never feel like they’re addressing anyone other than the listener. The songs are familiar, yes, but they’re meditations on themes as rich and familiar as anything you’ve ever had to deal with.

On that note, “Lifetime” is a particular highlight. Reflective, with wishful notes of regret and longing, it’s bathed in nostalgia and deeply affecting. The strings bring added impact to the heartfelt words, wrapping the song in powerful and calamitous sentiments that echo the strife of the lyrics. “There Will Come a Time” is serious but soothing. The instruments are brusquer than on other tracks but add gravitas to emphatic words about friendship and loyalty. “All Through the Night” unfolds from a grimmer, tested perspective. The lead guitar has a gorgeous, weathered flavour that sounds almost vintage, evoking a sense of age and wisdom. “Silver and Gold” captures a moment in time. Its words reference uncertainty and the feeling of being directionless, begging indulgence from the powers that be. The music mixes a sense of displacement with something heartier, mirroring both the panic of not knowing where to go next and the hopefulness that comes with being unencumbered.

Heart of Nowhere rarely sounds exceptional, but it doesn’t need extravagance to stand out. Its strengths stem from its deeply personable take on life and living. It follows then that the few songs that are a little embellished are all the more striking for their added instrumentation. “Introduction” is a short instrumental piece but it has a character all its own. It is wistful and playful, marrying mournful string arrangements to a frolicking, innocent lead. “Heart of Nowhere” is very jubilant. It feels almost ceremonial at times, playing out with a lively, rhythmic beat. “Now Is Exactly the Time” has a cinematic lilt, unfolding in increasingly vigorous notes with thoughtful and encouraging lyrics. It comes from an intimate place but has a far-reaching appeal, its triumphant solo underlining the boldness of the words.

There is a deep and beguiling sophistication to this album that belies the familiarity of its music. It uncovers the richness in the world immediately around us and celebrates it, with lyrics in which you can trace outlines of yourself. It mightn’t sound incredible to you on your first listen, but give it time and Heart of Nowhere will find a place in your affections.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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