Noah and the Whale aren't doing anything hugely unique on their debut album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down. You can hear bands playing a quite similar brand of strummy, plummy folk-pop on indie film soundtracks, and there are quite strong threads of Belle & Sebastian, Arcade Fire, the Magic Numbers, and a hundred other popular indie poppers running through their sound. This familiarity could breed contempt very easily, but the band manages to escape relatively unscathed and come up with an album that adds to the canon instead of just being a pale exercise in copycat-ism. Credit singer/songwriter Charlie Fink for writing a batch of catchy songs with real emotional depth and singing them convincingly without ever coming close to overselling the emotion. Laura Marling deserves some credit, too, for providing lovely and absolutely essential backing vocals throughout (Fink produced her acclaimed debut record Alas I Cannot Swim), as does the band for providing subtle but dramatic backing at every turn. The core band of guitars, keys, and violins is accompanied by horns on most tracks and producer Eliot James is adept at blending all the instruments and creating dynamics. Without a light and agile touch, a track like "Give a Little Love" could have turned into a mawkish mess as the song swells to its emotional conclusion; as it stands, it becomes a heart-swelling moment of beauty instead. The group also do happy as well as they do heavy, for every melancholy tune like "Second Lover" there's a bouncy, smile-inducing song like "5 Years Time" that has a feeling of joy that's hard to convincingly convey in song without sounding trite and phony. Noah and the Whale never sound phony and they never feel forced, they also never seem in thrall to their influences. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down could have been all kinds of terrible but instead turns out to be an album that fans of the bands mentioned earlier, plus fans of intelligent and heart-felt indie folk-pop, should probably investigate.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra