There are plenty of ways to fight that nagging suspicion that life’s got you in the cross-hairs: Call your lawyer and litigate, draw a full bath of warm milk and soak your derriere, or find the lonely tenant in your building with all the opiate prescriptions? Hosting a march on Washington, D.C. for no apparent reason seems to be a popular option. A more affordable, less psychopathic method would be to seek out some musical medication from local record peddlers, prescription necessary. Stornoway are standing by with pad and pen.
Beachcomber’s Windowsill is an album that isn’t just good to listen to, but one that makes you feel good about yourself. Your Tom Jones collection notwithstanding, how many albums you have that lay claim to such a boast? It’s by turns romantic, sentimental and reflective without ever feeling high fructose. When the trumpets kick in after a few rounds of spaghetti-western harmonies, you know the Oxford lads have kicked things off perfectly with “Zorbing.” The song spits a bit of jazz piano tinkling, some light snare work, and the first of more than a few window references to appear on the album.
The album’s brightest and darkest sentiments are back to back, representing the band’s best. “Fuel Up” runs the crooked smile mile in just over four minutes, and epitomizes the band’s recurring themes of grief, resignation and acceptance. “When your days are darker/ put your foot down harder/ and drive on,” advises lead vocalist Brian Briggs in the finest showcase for his insanely pretty pipes. His tenor is firm and confident throughout, and is the brightest star among Stornoway’s glittering gifts. “The Coldharbour Road” channels the Beach Boys by way of Poco. Over minor chords, and sad, almost eerie vocals, the song captures the strange, unexpected relief that sometimes comes after being dumped.
Much of the music here sounds older than it is. “Long Distance Lullaby” opens with clanging church bells and “I Saw You Blink” sounds derived from Scottish folk music. “We Are the Battery Human” is made for belting out during tipsy walks through the woods, while the usually trite “love thy neighbor” lyrics of “Here Comes the Blackout” are spiffed up with a grim literary reference and a that just manages to sell itself in the nick of time.
Beachcomber’s Windowsill succeeds through its simple, uncluttered arrangements and perfect pacing. “Watching Birds” is the album’s only noticeable twist on their winning formula, rocking harder than the others, and in Briggs’ theatrical yelp a sense the band isn’t taking themselves too seriously. Zorbing, or globe riding, is a sport that involves rolling like giant hamsters down gentle hills in transparent spheres. When you imagine the bracing dizziness from such an experience, Stornoway’s spinning perspective comes into focus.