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Stornoway – Tales from Terra Firma (4AD)

When I first heard Stornoway a few years ago I felt uneasy. They were popping up on shows like Jools Holland, yet couldn’t get arrested by a label. You know that feeling when you sense someone is trying their hardest to make you like something? –Yep – you’re there.  Nonetheless, there was something about them – something good. They eventually secured that previously elusive deal and three years on from their largely, well received debut, ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’, Stornoway deliver their second album, ‘Tales from Terra Firma.’ Their inclusion in the BBC Sound of 2010 list never really translated into anything of note in the wider public conscience and it’s safe to say their nu-folk leanings were resolutely trumped by Mumford in the sales department.

There is no doubt that the songwriting duo of Ouin and Briggs can pen a tune but lyrically they are too often found wanting as they concentrate on slavishly producing a sound that clings to their influences. On ‘The Bigger Picture’ Briggs’ lazy vocal manages to just stay awake long enough to impart words of wisdom like, “If you haven’t seen the places you have come from, then you haven’t seen how far you have come.” Visionary stuff eh? Hope is in sight as ‘A Belated Invite To Eternity’ teases with a louder, more urgent intro only to reach lyrics declaring Briggs is “listening to the generators hum.” Zzzzzz.

Three years on from their debut has produced an album of nine songs. Now, I’m all for ‘no fillers’ but three songs a year worthy of inclusion on an album? Men around the country with longer beards than I could grow may be accompanying the look with a raised eyebrow. You may find that by the time Stornoway have shuffled their feet along to track seven, ‘The Great Procrastinator’, you’re ready to scream “oh just F*** Off” but don’t be hard on yourself for your outburst – you’re not alone. As if to validate your despair, Stornoway dispense lyrics like, “There’s a junction up ahead and I’m trying to read the signs but this traffic’s made me blind.”

Sonically it’s good and if I was in a pub on the Isle of Lewis, in the snow, sat by a log fire, drinking whisky whilst they played live in the background I’d probably enjoy it – alas I’m not. A frustrating release then. Talented with undelivered potential. Overly pretentious in places and lackluster in others.

‘Oxford gave us Supergrass and Radiohead and Stornoway did show great promise’
– I start reminding myself. Yes they can play, yes they can write but it’s not enough and that’s probably the most annoying thing about this album.  Their diet of Scott McKenzie, Mamas and Papas, Shack, Neil Young, the odd melody phrase that could just as easily have been penned by Tim Booth, are all worn on their sleeve yet never quite manage to send this album over the top. The influencing tunes of their fore-bearers threaten to make more than their cameo appearance and result in a single but time and again Stornoway quash any opportunity for this being realised.

If you like to read books about the formation of bow lakes but still can’t be arsed to raise your head as you lie on your back on terra firma staring at the sky, then you may love this album. If however, you don’t believe that horizontal is the ultimate dimension, then you’re probably as frustrated as I am that this album fails to deliver what the band are surely capable of. This could have been brilliant but despite being three years in the making, ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ falls short . Perhaps I was right all along to have that uneasy feeling – shame.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.