London-based indie-pop band Noah and the Whale released its fourth studio album, Heart of Nowhere, this May via Mercury Records. With its followup to 2011’s Last Night on Earth, Noah and the Whale exhibits a mature, developed sound but rarely takes risks.
Charlie Fink leads the band on guitar and vocals once again, delivering deeply self-reflective lyrics in a hollow drone. He’s backed by Matt Owens on bass, Tom Hobden on violin and keys, Fred Abbott on guitar and keys, and Michael Petulla on drums. And while their playing has moments of great energy, it most often fades into the background.
The introduction is a gentle pulse of xylophone, clarinet, bassoon, and violin. The ambiance swells, grows full and pensive, then settles into the pop drumming of the title track, “Heart of Nowhere.” Charlie Fink’s vocals are a rich monotone, comparable to The National’s Tom Berninger. He sings, “Do you wanna live? You want to try? You hear the whisper of the world outside.“ Guest-vocalist Anna Calvi leads the bridge, and her colorful voice is a welcomed contrast to Fink’s melancholy. The title track is a strong opener overall, confident in voice and formula.
The tracks on the first half of the album tend to blend with one another. Each is written in verse-chorus-verse, Fink’s vocals are always at the forefront, and the drum beats are nearly identical.
The strongest of this cluster is “Lifetime,” featuring reverent violin melodies and Fink’s vocals steeped in childhood nostalgia: “We were young, that was then, and I have the feeling it’s never coming back again.” Overall, “Lifetime” is a rare shift in sound that temporarily revives the album.
The closer, “Not Too Late,” has a country charm. Egg shaker and acoustic guitar support Fink as he sings, “I want to fight in a war, don’t want to raise my hand, I want to find my own way to be a man.” The bridges are doused in warm synth waves and wandering electric guitar, lulling listeners into a sleepy trance. This is a gentle, relaxed closer, but ultimately lacks energy and originality.
Heart of Nowhere, while pleasantly subdued and mildly introspective, breaks no ground. The thrill of the music dies after track one and continues in monotony to the end. Noah and the Whale hardly ever changes its formula, its style, or its sound, and thus the music is flat and predictable. Beyond its technical faults, there’s no edge to the music—no drive, tension, or anxiety. Overall, the music feels manicured to be as clean and unobtrusive as possible.
Noah and the Whale – Heart of Nowhere tracklist:
- “Heart of Nowhere”
- “All Through the Night”
- “Silver and Gold”
- “One More Night”
- “Still After All These Years”
- “There Will Come a Time”
- “Now is Exactly the Time”
- “Not Too Late”