Promising London-based indie folk purveyors, Noah & The Whale, led by composing guitarist Charlie Fink, deliver fragile romanticism to love-starved minions. Alongside Rain Machine (the solo premier from TV On The Radio’s lead voice, Kyp Malone), Noah’s Whale shows goodly restraint rendering their lovelorn retreats for the terminally pained.
For well-regarded ’08 debut, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, Fink’s Whale offered oblique tenderhearted sentimentality merging twee-pop charm with low key anti-folk sensitivity.
Whimsical hand-clapped whistle-bound ukelele-based affectation “5 Years Time,” briskly strummed Mexicali-horned anodyne “Shape Of My Heart,” casual Sufjan Stevens/ Pedro The Lion knockoff “2 Atoms In A Molecule,” fey music box tranquilizer “Second Lover” (duping Jonathan Richman’s nerdy insecurities), and hastening Neutral Milk Hotel-like sing-along “Jocasta” reached aboveground audiences abruptly. They got to headline Manhattan’s respected Bowery Ballroom and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg to great fanfare.
Dropping any cognizant twee tendencies for more pastoral settings, ‘09s serenely pristine The First Days Of Spring intimately narrates a wondrously melancholic seasonal love cycle. Besides its poignant titular opener, there’s gingerly neo-orchestral serenade “Our Window,” despair-clad urge “I Have Nothing,” and lonesome halcyon gusher “My Broken Heart.” Romantic relief finally comes midway through with “Love Of An Orchestra,” where Classically-trained choir, the Exmoor Singers, alleviate the pain and increase optimism by uploading church-worthy harmonies into a rousing devotional anthem.
Though highly accomplished and truly ambitious, it takes a few listens to fully appreciate The First Days Of Spring’s ethereal subtleties, but the experience ultimately proves rewarding.Though Fink has no permanent residence (“doing the nomadic thing at the moment”), he dreams of life in the rural countryside, bluntly stating “My songs are not set in the city. Maybe that’s part of why they sound like they do.”
CHARLIE FINK: It’s difficult to say. It’s different in many ways. For me, it’s just a gradual process. The changes that happen, happen slowly, bit by bit. People who’ve heard the records back to back say it sounds like a different band – almost. But I think the seeds from the new record were sown on the first record.
What initially inspired you to pursue music as a vocation?
The first stuff I listened to was my mother’s Buddy Holly, Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan records – a mixture of Classic pop with folk. My initial passion for music probably came through her. It has always meant something to me. So I started playing and writing – it was a natural thing.
You’ve brought up Dylan, who may be a great literary source. Did you learn compositional structure in school?
No. Not at all. When I first started writing music, I was 14. More than anything, I was interested in melody. I used to go to a CD store where I used to live and they’d sell packs of 10 CD’s for 5 pounds. There were bands you never heard of that the store was trying to get rid of. I’d buy them, look over the lyric book and write their lyrics to music without hearing the songs. Later, I got interested in the lyrical work. But it was never taught to me. I just naturally got interested in that. I guess Dylan is the lyricist I appreciate most. Also, poets and films.Noah & the Whale make reference to the film, The Squid & The Whale, and its director, Noah Baumbach.
How does your bands’ moniker tie into your muse?
(laughter) I think it was just a film I liked and as a band the name was cool to put together – a nice collection of words. It kind of suited what we did – more in the past – that mood and the ring of it.
Spring concerns breaing up and perhaps, peaceful resolve. Will your next full-length endeavor be thematic?
Definitely. I’m always trying to capture something about my life at the time of writing. So I guess the next album will probably be reflective of the next period of time. The one thing I don’t want to write about is being on tour. I’ve got a few songs done for the next album – different material.
I see your music as being neo-Classical folk in the guise of indie rock.
The band did start as a folk trio with me playing acoustic and my brother on stripped down drums with Tom Hobden on violin. We made fairly simple folk songs. As we progressed and wanted to do other things, we kept the violin and some of the instrumentation, which gives it something unique. Because it had those foundations, whichever way it went, it was always gonna have something different about it.
You use the four seasons to narrate a relationship that spirals down then swerves to upwardly uplifting. Where’d that come from?
The one thing I reference during it is English poet, T.S. Eliot. He has a poem called The Wasteland. ‘April is the cruelest month breeding lilacs out of the dead land/ mixing memory and desire.’ Spring is the season of new hope, but also, if you come into it with a melancholy mind, it could be painful instead.
Are you familiar with Tindersticks work? They revel in comparable soft-focus acoustic settings.
I never really listened to Tindersticks, but you’re not the first person to make that comparison. Their stuff I’ve heard I really liked. But it wasn’t an influence. I’m investigating them more now.
You’ve also done production work for part-time Whale singer Laura Marling’s Alas I Cannot Swim. Have you produced anyone else?
I’ve done a few English artists and I also produced our new record. I’m looking to hook up a few projects for next year. There’s one guy – I’m not sure what he’s calling himself. A bunch of things. So far I’ve only done solo artists. I want to do bands as well.
Tell me about the film that coincides with Spring. Did you do the camera work and editing?
I wrote and directed. I had a small team of people working with me. It’s a companion piece for the record. It’s a complementary, different narrative from the one on the album. It’s not the same. It’s not like R. Kelly’s music. There’ll be a Q & A film screening the day before as well in New York at a piano bar.
What contemporary artists inspire you the most?
I don’t know how much these influences come across on the record, but I’ve been listening to Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden, Nick Cave’s Boatman’s Call, and Wilco. Classical artists like Franz Liszt and Dmitri Shostakovitz are inspirational.
Will future arrangements instrumentally expand outward or be given less ornate settings?
I always like the idea that songs could evolve and change. The recording isn’t the full stop. We always try to interpret songs differently live. I don’t necessarily stick to the arrangements we’ve got. At the moment, they’re transforming into heavier guitars playing string lines. I like doing them stripped down as well – like “Blue Skies.” There’s no one set way. We’ve never done two consecutive tours where we sounded like the same band. With this project, the entire focus was on thematic songs. I was basically trying to write a 45-minute setting rather than 10 songs 5 minutes each. I tried to do an album that proved the whole is greater than the parts. A lot of albums now are more about the individual songs – which isn’t a bad thing. But I wanted to unify these songs.