Noah and the Whale are about to pull off one of the greatest reversals ever to come out of the London folk scene. Their first record, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, was full of rabid optimism, meditations on love and maybe a hint of darkness, but it was largely covered in the whistles, chimes and ebullience of the much-licensed “5 Years Time.” It was so sweet it stuck to the roof of your mouth. Of course, that was while lead singer Charlie Fink and bandmate Laura Marling were dating and he still believed in the world.
After they broke up last year, Fink sat down to write his Sea Change, a break-up record to live as a breathing, singing, moaning epitaph to the burning of a communal civilization. A musical document to say, “Laura, you ruined my life, you fucking bitch (slash) I still care about you.” Eventually titled First Rites of Spring, the results of Fink’s anguish are as beautiful as they are hard to get through. Strings wail and disinterested guitars meander through rich orchestration as Fink digs into his personal trauma, equal parts composer, coroner and healer. It will make you think of every person who broke your heart. It will make you think of a boat built for two, either sunk or now just big enough for one. Laura, this isn’t your fault, but it begs the classic Nick Hornby question: Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? In this case, it is exactly both. —Geoff Nelson