Second albums can be somewhat crucial, especially to a band that has already garnered some attention. Critics can speak of the “sophomore slump,” where a band with a decent debut leaves fans disappointed, be it because of too much evolution too quickly, or just a mailed in, re-hash of the original formula. Of course, sometimes bands get it right, and Noah and the Whale leaves little room for argument that they have done just that on The First Days of Spring. Most reviews have praised the album as being more mature, a step up and countless combinations of adjectives that translate to “grown up.”
Personally, if I’m in a particularly melodramatic mood, I call it, “The saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” In the case of this band, growing up means losing the pop/rock energy on their debut and replacing it with a slow, winding melancholy. Stripping down the catchiness in favor of a somber emotional piece can be risky, but for the most part, Noah and the Whale plays it perfectly. Front man Charle Fink’s dark vocals make the album moving rather than whiny or boring; and while The First Days of Spring by no means moves quickly, each turn is carefully constructed. This shift between albums was not an amateur move.
“Blue Skies,” the first single from The First Days of Spring, comes during the latter half of the album, and the song announces what we’ve already figured out to be true about the record as a whole: “This is a song for anyone with a broken heart.” The tracks on this album chart the slow process of moving past a former lover with every song emoting the unaware stages of loss: waking up in the morning hoping for her return, the first night in the arms of a stranger, etc. The band attempts to compensate for the drag in pace by expertly placing a bright, joyful orchestral number in the center of the album. The choir-driven “Love of an Orchestra” is book-ended by two instrumental briefs that soothe the transitions between this track’s energy and the rest of the album. The song draws attention to itself not just for its tempo and brightness, but also as a point of growth: Just because this is the one upbeat track doesn’t mean that Fink and friends are reverting to the poppy numbers on Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down. Like the rest of the tracks on the album, “Love of an Orchestra” is placed as part of a complicated whole.
For as dreary as the album sounds, the final tone is an odd brand of sadly uplifting. Much like the reality of moving on, the final tracks on The First Days of Spring speak of loss and the sad indifference that comes with it. “Slow Glass” finds Fink looking at his ex-lover as a stranger, and the final track, “My Door is Always Open” closes with “I love with my heart and I hold it in my hands/ but you know, my heart’s not yours.” The end is bittersweet, but you enjoyed the ride.
The album is accompanied by a short film of the same name. If the trailer on the Noah and the Whale’s blog is any indication, the film is every bit as influenced by Wes Anderson (the band’s self-admitted favorite filmmaker) as you’d expect. The album, like this brand of film, is perhaps most likely to speak to the indie culture of bleeding-heart twenty-somethings. Nonetheless, it speaks clearly and beautifully.