Tales from Terra Firma

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Oxford-based indie pop outfit Stornoway's 2010 debut Beachcomber's Windowsill presented a group that was unafraid to treat the twin goal posts of love and heartache with affable, English refinement. In less skillful hands, such good sportsmanship could have dissolved into a treacly mess, but luckily, the band's penchant for wallowing in nostalgia and sentimentality was tempered by their gift for crafting great hooks. Recorded over the span of two Oxford winters, the nine-track Tales from Terra Firma, the group's sweet, soulful, and surprisingly epic-sounding sophomore outing feels like a logical progression from its predecessor, staying true to the quartet's folk-pop roots while exploring new arrangement-heavy, psych-tinged avenues that owe as much to the Incredible String Band as they do a less cynical Belle and Sebastian. While there's nothing as immediately gratifying as Beachcomber's ear worm opener "Zorbing," stand-out cuts like the Andrew Bird-inspired "Knock Me on the Head," the jaunty "Bigger Picture," and the gorgeous, moor-bound "Farewell Appalachia" feel lived in and loved, bursting with ideas and youthful idealism, yet measured enough to avoid all out whimsy. Elsewhere, the dissonant, jazzy woodwind arrangement that foretells the ambitious "Great Procrastinator" provides Terra Firma with an unexpected cosmopolitan ambience, as does the Guillemots-esque "Hook, Line, Sinker," and the simple, unadorned guitar/vocal closer "November Song" wraps things up with an effective meditation on mortality, rounding out a collection of songs that are both ardent and humble, hopelessly in love with the jubilant ephemera of pop music.

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